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