UCLA vs. Michigan State Betting Odds, Picks, Predictions: Can Either Team Find Offense in NCAA Tournament First Four?

UCLA vs. Michigan State Betting Odds, Picks, Predictions: Can Either Team Find Offense in NCAA Tournament First Four? article feature image
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Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images. Pictured: UCLA guard Tyger Campbell (10).

  • Updated odds list Michigan State as a small favorite over UCLA in Thursday night's final NCAA Tournament First Four matchup.
  • The Spartans are drawing the attention of bettors, but we're focused on the total instead.
  • Get our complete breakdown and B.J. Cunningham's Michigan State vs. UCLA pick based on his model below.

UCLA vs. Michigan State Odds

UCLA Odds +2.5
Michigan State Odds -2.5
Moneyline +125 / -148
Over/Under 135
Time 9:57 p.m. ET
TV TBS
Odds as of Thursday morning and via DraftKings.

Two of the blue bloods of college basketball surprisingly meet in the First Four on Thursday with the winner taking on BYU in the Round of 64.

UCLA started the season red-hot, winning 12 of its first 14 games, but the team stumbled down the stretch. The Bruins lost each of their last three regular season games before Oregon State bounced them from the Pac-12 Tournament.

This isn’t a typical Mick Cronin team. Unlike other Cronin-coached squads, UCLA’s strength is on offense. Also unlike previous teams under Cronin’s tenure, the Bruins have struggled defensively all season long.

Additionally, UCLA has been without starting center Jalen Hill for the second half of the season, which has clearly had an impact. The Bruins recorded a 12-2 straight-up record with Hill active versus their 4-6 record playing without him in the lineup.

However, the Bruins will have a solid opportunity to end their four-game skid against an underachieving Michigan State squad.

The Spartans took a complete nose-dive in the wrong direction once Big Ten conference play began.

Tom Izzo’s squad started the season 6-0 but only managed a 9-11 conference record by season’s end. However, the Spartans pulled off huge upsets late in the season, beating Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan en route to a somewhat unlikely NCAA Tournament at-large bid.

The Spartans are talented enough to hang with any team in the country, but their Achilles’ heel has been their inconsistency on offense. The Michigan State offense only put up 0.81 points per possession in its loss to Maryland in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, which is emblematic of how streaky the team has been all year.

So, which Spartan offense will show up in the First Four on Thursday?


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UCLA

BJ Cunningham: You might be surprised to see a Mick Cronin-led team as one of the best offensive units in the country, but the Bruins have been incredibly efficient all season long. UCLA ranked 26th in offensive efficiency, averaging 1.06 points per possession.

Frankly, UCLA’s offense does everything well. It starts at the top of the key: UCLA protects the ball on offense, boasting the 62nd-lowest turnover rate in the nation. The Bruins do not normally shoot many 3-pointers (31.7% of their field goal attempts). But, when they do launch it from deep, the Bruins convert over 36% of those long-range attempts.

However, tonight UCLA will have to do most of its scoring in the paint, since that is where you beat Michigan State’s defense. Nonetheless, UCLA has little concern with playing a physical game inside. The team shoots over 50% from 2-point range and hits 60.5% of its shots at the rim, per Hoop-Math.

The loss of big man Jalen Hill has been a big one, but his loss is more acutely felt on the defensive end of the floor, since he was the team’s best rebounder and post defender. There’s little doubt that Jalen Hill’s absence had an effect on the UCLA defense, but the Bruins defense has struggled all season long — with Hill or without him — which I am sure is driving Mick Cronin crazy. In particular, UCLA has really struggled guarding the perimeter, ranking 241st in 3-point defense. The defense also struggles to force turnovers in the halfcourt (254th in turnover rate forced).

In fairness, the Bruins have done a decent job of defending inside. Opposing offenses shoot less than 50% from 2-point range and 57.5% on shot attempts at the rim. But, the team’s two key defensive strengths are rebounding (37th nationally in defensive rebounding rate) and limiting opposing free throw attempts (2nd in the Pac-12 in free throw rate allowed).

Those are two fortuitous defensive strengths against Michigan State specifically, because those are basically the only two things that the Spartans do well offensively.


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Michigan State

Andrew Norton: Michigan State is one of the most volatile teams in the nation.

At its best, it can beat teams like Illinois, Ohio State, and Michigan. At its worst, it drops bouts to Minnesota and Northwestern. An season, to say the least, has landed it in a First Four game against another blue blood school in UCLA Bruins.

While the Spartans do have a great defense, ranking 32nd in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom, their offense is what will dictate how far they advance in this tournament. They struggle mightily on the offensive end, ranking 207th in points per game.

While on the topic, the Spartans’ biggest struggle within their offense is their 3-point shooting, making only 32% from behind the arc. It hasn’t exactly gotten better either. They have only made 22.2% of their 3s in the past three games.

Aaron Henry, the Spartans’ junior forward from Indianapolis, is the top dog for the team, averaging 15.3 points per game. No other player that Michigan State has averages over 10 points per game.

The trend is clear.

When Henry scores over 20 points, the Spartans are 6-1, with their only loss coming against Iowa by a score of 84-78. That would be considered a good loss, in my opinion. And to be fair, Henry didn’t exactly get a lot of help. Actually, he got no help. The team in total shot 35.5% that game, which includes Henry, who went 10-for-16 from the field.

Head coach Tom Izzo always gets his teams ready for March.

Knowing Izzo, he will find a way to fire up his team about the fact it got slotted in the First Four. The Spartans will play intense defense and give a lot of effort, but he can’t put the ball in the hoop for them. That’s completely up to the five players on the floor.


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Matchup & Betting Analysis

BJ Cunningham: This game is likely to be played at a slow pace, as UCLA ranks 332nd in adjusted tempo, while Michigan State is right around the NCAA average.

The Spartans have been terrible offensively for most of the season, averaging only 0.98 points per possession and ranking 266th in effective field goal percentage, so I have a hard time seeing how the Spartans are going to score over 70 points given the pace this game is going to be played at.

On the flip side, UCLA offensively has been abysmal the last few weeks and doesn’t have a lot of confidence going up against the 32nd-ranked defense in terms of efficiency (KenPom). So, I think we’re going to see a low-scoring affair between two struggling offenses.

I have only 133.03 points projected for this game, so I think there’s some value on under 135.5 points or better.

Pick: Under 135.5 points or better.

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