The road starts here: MICHIGAN STATE

Matchup: No. 7 UCLA vs. No. 10 Michigan State

For Starters:

G Lazeric Jones 9.4 ppg/3.66 apg vs. G Kalin Lucas 17.2 ppg/2.1 rpg/ 3.3 apg
G Malcolm Lee 13 ppg/2.1 apg/2.9 rpg vs. G Durrell Summers 11.5 ppg/4.3 rpg
F Tyler Honeycutt 12.6 ppg/3.1 apg/7.4 rpg vs. G Mike Kebler 1.5 ppg/.9 rpg/.5 apg
F Reeves Nelson 13.9 ppg/9 rpg vs. F Draymond Green 12.3 ppg/8.6 rpg/4 apg
C Joshua Smith (Anthony Stover starts, Smith plays more minutes) 10.6 ppg/6.5 rpg/1.0 bpg vs. C Adreian Payne 2.7 ppg/2.4 rpg

Bench Press:
UCLA’s bench has been very inconsistent, with sporadic production from Jerime Anderson, Brendan Lane, Tyler Lamb and Stover, who for posterity’s sake is being placed here. Anderson has been the most reliable bench player, and probably makes an argument for starting, given Zeek Jones’ decreased production since injuring his right middle finger and left wrist. UCLA gets roughly 11.5 points per game out of the bench, but Anderson has shown the ability to go off on some nights, and he seems to be able to rise to the occasion.
Michigan State, meanwhile, gets major production from backup forward, and Big Ten All-Defensive pick Delvon Roe (103 career blocks), and from guard Keith Appling, who started 18 games this season and has averaged 12 points in his last four games. Centers Garrick Sherman and Derrick Nix also give the Spartans size in the post, and they’re good for a few fouls each, which could hurt the Bruins if foul-trouble becomes an issue.

Jeckyl and Hyde…squared:
Both UCLA and Michigan State have shown the ability to rise to the occasion and to play up to their opponents. But the results have been vastly different. Playing in the Pac-10 and with tough non-conference games against Kansas, BYU and St. John’s, the Bruins have gone 22-10, 19-6 over the last 25 games. Against a tough Big Ten gauntlet and with non-conference tilts with UConn, Washington, Duke, Syracuse and Texas, the Spartans finished 19-14, but just 10-10 in their last 20 games.

Old vs. New:
As I wrote in my story yesterday, Michigan State is more than battle-tested. They’re lifelong soldiers at this point. The Spartans have been to back-to-back Final Fours and that followed a Sweet 16 birth. Kalin Lucas alone has 322 NCAA Tournament minutes. UCLA’s 14-man roster? Thirty-two, total.

Coach’s Corner:

Undoubtedly, this matchup pits two of the preeminent minds in the game against each other: UCLA’s Ben Howland and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. The two have combined for six straight Final Four berths and are very adept at handling the Tournament’s ebbs and flows.
Izzo had a very public flirtation with the Cleveland Cavaliers during the offseason that seems to have caused a bit of a drag on his Spartans. Howland, meanwhile, has struggled to get his team motivated at times this season, evidenced by a shocking loss to Oregon in the Pac-10 Tournament.

What to Expect:
With UCLA, this is almost unanswerable. But we have seen the Bruins rise to the level of their opponents – wins over BYU, Arizona, St. John’s and a one-point loss at Kansas that included a controversial last-minute call – and that bodes well for UCLA here and for the rest of the tournament, if they survive.
I expect them to (my prediction: a 67-61 UCLA win), but I also know that the team can both individually and collectively lay an egg. Ultimately, though, UCLA’s balance and front-court strength outmatches Michigan State and sets up a matchup with Florida.

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  • UB (Ultimate Bruin)

    To my way of thinking, the Bruins should be able to handle the Spartans, if they play with intensity and focus. A focused UCLA team this year has beaten AZ, BYU, St. John’s and almost beat Kansas at home. The trick, of course, if for them to play at that level for 40 minutes. Izzo’s teams almost always bring intensity. This season has been an anomoly in that regard. With the experience returning on MSU, it is a bit surprising that they have lost 14. We should have the edge in the front court (if we don’t get in foul trouble). MSU is not that big, but they can be physical. They do get some bump on the front line from their bench. If we get past MSU, I don’t think Flopida is a legit #2 seed. Maybe a 4 or 5 seed. Aside from the Tampa location, I think we have a good shot at the Sweet 16. — Or, we can crash and burn against the Spartans. Take your pick.

  • Reformed Droog

    That’s kind of my thinking, too. Logic be damned, but I feel like we’re either going to lost tragically to MSU or we’re going to the Sweet 16.

  • Steve Miller

    Jon you wrote “UCLA’s balance and front-court strength outmatches Michigan State and sets up a matchup with Florida.” Are you aware that Florida would have to beat UCSB to meet UCLA in the second round? We all know that UCSB is going to win, so a FL vs UCLA match wont happen. UCSB vs UCLA!!! Go Gauchos!!!!!

  • ucla-of-the rockies

    RD: I agree … we may very well be done Thursday or could be going dancing for awhile. This may be our best draw I can ever remember.
    Of course, this is a down year of NCAA ball.
    Funny, no one scares me more than MSU all the way to Pitt.
    JG: If victorious, that pace (67-61) seems like a fair call for UCLA.

  • Anonymous

    I see us going down to BYU in a trap game… i.e, we knew we would win so we didn’t really give a crap ala Oregon.

    Regarding MSU, I just hope Reeves can keep his cool and not let a little bump under the rim throw off his game. As Reeves goes, so does UCLA.

  • AJTovar

    The problem here isn’t thinking that this is an easy draw, the problem here is thinking at all. Inconsistency is the only thing that you can rely on with this year’s club. Much like your team, they have shown they can beat anybody (BYU, St. Johns, and getting jobbed at KU), and have shown that they can lose to anybody (Montanta St., Kal, and Oregon recently). With that thought in mind, putting both teams best efforts against one another, I’d say this is a pretty even match-up with UCLA having a slight athletic edge and MSU having a greater experience/coaching advantage.

  • Lifelong Bruin Fan

    Despite their physical talents this team’s mental game unfortunately is not where it needs to be yet for a championship run, IMHO, but perhaps it was a blessing that we drew a big name for our first-round and potentially second-round matchups, as this will hopefully get the attention of the players.

    UCLA has shown it can compete with any team in college basketball (and, unfortunately, also lose to any team in college basketball). But win or lose on Thursday my sense is that the players will come ready to play and put up a good fight. I just hope Malcolm Lee’s knee is not bothering him as much because his overall hustle level is probably tops on the team. I think getting Josh Smith going early and controlling the boards will be key to winning.