The NCAA committee got plenty of ridicule from Michigan State fans for the region it was placed in, but not because it’s playing Bradley. The Spartans were -18.5 point favorites (at 5Dimes Sportsbook) early in the week and that could go up due to their 24-10 ATS mark this season.
There aren’t a ton of advantages in Bradley’s favor in this matchup as it plays extremely slow and struggles to make shots inside the arc, ranking last in the MVC from two-point range. It’s in this position despite going 9-9 in Conference play, managing to win its three Tournament Games by a combined eight points. It beat Penn State earlier in the season, but the Nittany Lions didn’t have big man Mike Watkins in that Game.
The thing about Michigan State is that it’s top 10 in the country in terms of efficiency on both ends of the cOurt. It doesn’t allow easy looks, but also takes a ton of good ones and ranks first in the country in assist rate. It could be argued that Bradley is a much lesser version of Michigan in that it plays slow and excels on the defensive end, but also has offensive limitations. The Spartans beat the Wolverines three times in the last month.
against smaller teams, MSU tends to lean on Nick Ward and Xavier Tillman in the paint and that’ll likely be the case in this Game. That means Bradley’s only two big men, LUuk van Bree and Koch Bar, can’t get into foul trouble because if that happens, Elijah Childs will be forced into the post and that’s not what it wants. The lone positive is that Ward recently returned from injury and he still didn’t look right in the Big Ten Tournament, and he’s MSU’s best post player. Of course, Cassius Winston (18.9 ppg, 7.6 apg) is still the best player in this Game and will be a handful however Bradley decides to guard him. The Braves have Four guys that can switch on him at all times, but if van Bree or Bar are involved in a ball screen, that’s bad news for the underdog.
The problem with Bradley being a defensive-focused team is that MSU rates better on that end and will likely struggle scoring unless it can hit some threes early to break the ice. Starting with leading scorer Darrell Brown (14.7 ppg), the Braves have three guys that shoot regularly and make at least 39% of their threes. The issue is that MSU had two of the best perimeter defenders in the Big Ten in Matt McQuaid and Aaron Henry, both of whom will be problems for Bradley. It also doesn’t help that their bigs aren’t offensive presences in the paint, which gives another advantage to Ward, who sometimes struggles on the defensive end.
If Bradley doesn’t get back on defense, this Game could be over early. They’ll need to play even slower than usual and hope Michigan State doesn’t hit its outside shots. Another issue for the underdog is that Bradley ranked second to last in the MVC in defensive rebounding, which happens to be an area MSU excels at. The Braves had a nice run in their Conference Tournament, but unless they catch fire from deep, this could be a long Game for them.
Our Pick – Michigan State -18.5