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Michigan State

March Madness



Michigan State killed the books early in the season, but as Big Ten play went along, that was no longer the case as it went 2-8-2 ATS in its last 12 games. That’s not a good number, but the Spartans are still getting plenty of bets before the tournament and were -14.5 point favorites at 5Dimes Sportsbook as of Tuesday in the 3-14 matchup with Bucknell.

A lot of people have the Spartans advancing far in the tourney, but their first game is far from a freebie. Bucknell is stocked with upperclassmen and has already played numerous high-end programs. It took West Virginia to the wire in last year’s tournament and was competitive this season in early trips to North Carolina and Maryland. In fact, the Bison were ahead 50-35 at the half against the Terps, which is better than Michigan State looked in their trip to College Park.

As for the Spartans, they only have four losses and won the Big Ten regular season, but nothing came easy for them. They struggled against Rutgers twice, were down by 27 points at Northwestern and barely got past teams like Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin. None of that screams team to bet on, but here they are getting money.

The Bison have the tools to compete in this game, boasting three guys that chuck it up from deep. The problem is that all of them shoot less than 37.5 percent and going against a good three-point defense won’t help. The Spartans also have the best block percentage in the nation led by freshman Jaren Jackson and that doesn’t bode well for second-leading scorer Nana Foulland, who averages 15.4 points and 7.1 boards per game. He’ll have to deal with Jackson, Nick Ward and the deep MSU bench all game.

The more interesting matchup may end up being with Bucknell’s best player, Zach Thomas, who leads the team with 20.3 points and 9.2 boards per game to go with the best numbers from deep. The issue is that he’ll likely be matched up with a combination of Jackson and Miles Bridges the entire game. He may have size over Bridges, but the length of Jackson could be problematic. If Thomas and Foulland struggle to score, that’s where Stephen Brown and Kimbal Mackenzie come into play. Brown may have a quickness advantage on Cassius Winston, but he’ll have trouble attacking the hoop with MSU’s bigs waiting for him. As for Mackenzie, he’s a similar player to MSU’s Matt McQuaid, which isn’t great for this matchup unless he hits a bunch of threes.

On the other end, Brown will have the test of stopping Winston from getting things going for the Spartans. There’s also the issue of guarding Miles Bridges and at the start of the game that may end up being 6-foot-3 freshman Jimmy Sotos. That could be problematic for the Bison. As for Jackson and Ward, Bucknell will need to stay out of foul trouble and that’s not an easy thing to do against Ward, who draws the fourth-most fouls per 40 minutes in the country.

The Bison have tools to cover this game and if Michigan State plays at all like it has the last couple months, there’s no doubt it will be close. If Bucknell doesn’t want to rely on shooting, it will come down to what Thomas and Foulland can do and from a matchup perspective, the advantage goes to the Spartans, which kind of goes without saying.

Our Pick - Michigan State -14.5

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