BYU Awaits Winner Of Blue Blood First Four Between Michigan State/UCLA

Mar 18, 2021, 8:57 AM
Michigan State - Tom Izzo...
EAST LANSING, MICHIGAN - FEBRUARY 23: Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans reacts in the first half of the game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Breslin Center on February 23, 2021 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana – The highlight game of the opening night for the 2021 NCAA Tournament is Michigan State taking on UCLA in a rare matchup of blue blood programs in the First Four. Both programs have combined for a total of 27 Final Four appearances between the two of them.

This matchup winner moves on to a First Round game against BYU at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday night.

Tip-off for Michigan State/UCLA is at 7:45 p.m. (MDT) and will be televised nationally on TBS at Mackey Arena, home of the Purdue Boilermakers in West Lafayette.

BYU head coach Mark Pope has grown used to juggling multiple scouting reports during this unprecedented season amidst a global pandemic. This is just par for the course. The stakes are a tad bit higher in this NCAA Tournament setting than in a week of regular-season WCC action.

Michigan State not fazed by expectations in NCAA Tournament

Michigan State is used to these heightened expectations in March. National College Basketball insider Jon Rothstein, who always has a one-liner for everything, refers to his calendar as “January. February. IZZO. April. May…” and so on.

That’s for Michigan State’s legendary coach Tom Izzo, who, in his 27 years as head coach, is 52-21 in NCAA Tournament games during his career. Including an NCAA Tournament title 21 years ago here in Indianapolis.

This year is different for Sparty as Michigan State barely snuck into the field of 68 as one of the last at-large teams with a 15-12 record. The Spartans are the lowest-ranked at-large team in the field, according to the current KenPom ratings (No. 57). But that doesn’t worry Izzo heading into the Big Dance.

“I’m not worried about facing anybody in this tournament. I mean, I don’t feel comfortable with UCLA, and BYU, or Texas. But I don’t feel afraid of UCLA, BYU, Texas, or anybody else,” said Izzo on Wednesday. “We truly, truly played the best teams in the country on a night-in, night-out basis. Especially that last two, three weeks.”

Dating back to February 20th, Izzo’s Spartans took down a pair of No. 1 seeded teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament in Illinois and Michigan. And also took down Ohio State. All of those wins came at the Breslin Center. Away from the banks of the Red Cedar, Michigan State is 1-7 in their last eight. Including a neutral site loss to Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament at nearby Lucas Oil Stadium.

UCLA on a losing streak but boast an overachieving roster

UCLA has lost their last four games heading into the Big Dance. A lot of that coincides with the departure of 6-foot-10 big man Jalen Hill who left the team last month due to personal reasons. But this is a UCLA squad under second-year head coach Mick Cronin that has overachieved thus far.

With a 17-9 record in what looked to be a rebuilding year, Cronin appears to be the right fit in Westwood. They don’t have the clear-cut star atop an opponent’s scouting report, but they feature a roster that boasts five players averaging 10 points or more per game this season.

Michigan State/UCLA: Who will face BYU in the NCAA Tournament?

All three of these teams: BYU, Michigan State, UCLA, were in the Maui Invitational in November 2019. BYU faced UCLA in the opening round and beat the Bruins, 78-63. One of the big breakthroughs for Mark Pope since he became BYU’s head coach.

The last time BYU faced Michigan State was in 2007 in Salt Lake City at the Vivint Arena. Spartans won that game 68-61.

Ken Pomeroy has this game close to a toss-up, with UCLA having the slight advantage with a 55 percent win probability.

Follow Mitch Harper and his NCAA Tournament 2021 coverage from Indianapolis with BYU and Utah State by following KSL Sports on InstagramTwitterFacebook, and the KSL Sports app.

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