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#10 Michigan State (19-14) vs. #7 UCLA (22-10)
Betting Line: Michigan State -1.5 o/u 125
The 10th-seeded Michigan State Spartans (19-4) have a difficult road to what they hope will be their third consecutive Final Four appearance, starting with a Southeast Region first-round matchup with the seventh-seeded UCLA Bruins (22-10) on Thursday at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa. But at least the Spartans (-1.5) made the NCAA tournament field after going 5-8 in their last 13 games of the regular season and 9-9 in conference play.
Michigan State came alive in the Big Ten tournament after struggling down the stretch, getting a bubble-bursting victory when they routed #2 seed Purdue 74-56 last Friday. The Spartans were iffy to make the Big Dance going into the conference tourney but held off Iowa 66-61 in their first game before earning arguably their biggest win of the season against the Boilermakers, who had beaten them in the previous two meetings by a combined 30 points.
Head coach Tom Izzo's ability to get the most of his teams during March Madness is the main reason Michigan State is favored against UCLA despite being a lower seed. Izzo's squad entered this year as the second-ranked team in the country behind defending national champion Duke. However, the Spartans never really lived up to their billing until they beat Purdue in the Big Ten tournament.
Kalin Lucas scored a career-high 30 points against the Boilermakers, but he was not nearly as effective in a 61-48 loss to Penn State in the semifinals last Saturday. Lucas finished with 16 points on 5 of 12 shooting against the Nittany Lions and had suffered a severely sprained ankle against the Hawkeyes, so his status is worth monitoring in the NCAA tournament.
UCLA's path to the Big Dance was less treacherous after finishing second in the Pac-10 during the regular season with a 13-5 mark. The Bruins are back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009, although they are coming off a brutal 76-59 loss in quarterfinals of the conference tournament last Thursday. Tyler Honeycutt was the only UCLA player to score in double figures with 19 points as the team shot just 35.2 percent from the field.
The Bruins had won 13 of their previous 16 games to end the regular season, going 11-5 against the spread in those games. They have seen the UNDER cash in four of their last five games along with eight of their past 11.
Predicted Score: Michigan State 69 UCLA 64
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