UCLA vs. Michigan State odds, prediction, betting trends for 2021 March Madness First Four game

UCLA vs. Michigan State odds, prediction, betting trends for 2021 March Madness First Four game

Michigan State and UCLA meet in a First Four matchup  in the 2021 NCAA men’s basketball tournament Thursday.  

The game is at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind. Tip-off is scheduled for 9:57 p.m. ET, and the game will be televised on TBS. Michigan State (15-12) is making its 23rd consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance under Tom Izzo. The Spartans have four victories against top-five teams on their resume this season, but they also finished with a 9-11 record in Big Ten play. 

UCLA (17-9) is back in the tournament under second-year coach Mick Cronin. The Bruins have five players who average double figures, but UCLA last its last four games of the regular season.  

Who has the edge in this battle of college basketball bluebloods?  

Here’s everything to know about betting on UCLA vs. Michigan State in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, including updated odds, trends and our prediction for the First Four game. 

MORE MARCH MADNESS: TV schedule | Printable bracket | Odds

UCLA vs. Michigan State odds    

  • Spread: Michigan State -2 
  • Over/under: 135.5 
  • Moneyline: Michigan State -136, UCLA +116 

Three betting trends to watch 

— Michigan State is 3-11 ATS as a favorite this season. The Spartans have been favored in just of their last 10 games.    

— The Bruins are 2-3 ATS as an underdog this season, but they are 11-7 ATS as an underdog the last two seasons with Cronin.  

— UCLA is 8-3 S/U in games decided by five points or less. The Spartans are 2-1 S/U in the same situation.  

Michigan State key players  

Junior Aaron Henry leads the Spartans with 15.3 points per game. The 6-6 forward is tied with Joey Hauser with 5.7 rebounds per game. Josh Langford is an all-around player for the Spartans, and guard Rocket Watts leads Michigan State with 2.7 assists per game.  

UCLA key players  

Guard Johnny Juzang leads the Bruins with 14.0 points per game. Guard Jamie Jaquez averages 11.7 ppg. and 6.0 rpg. Tyger Campbell averages 10.5 points and 5.6 assists, and Jules Bernard averages 104 points per game. Forward Cody Riley averages 10.2 points and 5.2 rebounds.  

Best individual matchup: Juzang vs. Henry 

Juzang transferred to UCLA from Kentucky. He’s a dynamic scorer, but the Bruins are just 1-3 when he scores 20 or more points. With the Bruins using a four-guard lineup, Henry might slide up to guard Juzang. The Spartans are 6-1 when Henry scores 20 points or more.  

UCLA vs. Michigan State stat to know

The Spartans are typically one of the best defending rebound teams in the country, but they averaged 26.7 rebounds per game this season. That’s down from last year’s average off 29.5, which was top-10 in the nation. Michigan State does not force a lot of turnovers, so limiting those second-chance points will be critical.  

Get to know … Rocket Watts  

Michigan State tournament runs typically hinge on the point guard, and Watts has been up and down this season for the Spartans. He had 21 points in the regular-season finale against Michigan, but he had just three points in the Big Ten tournament loss to Maryland. Given UCLA’s strength at guard, Watts will need to be more assertive on both ends.  

UCLA vs. Michigan State prediction  

It’s a contrast in styles, and UCLA presents a challenge for the Spartans with their 3-point shooting. Michigan State committed 13 turnovers per game, so Watts and Langford will have to control the tempo. The Spartans can disrupt the Bruins with their typical physical style, and we like how Michigan State finished the season. It will be an entertaining game and a lot of those close-game trends favor UCLA. We will still go with the Spartans here.  

Final score: Michigan State 71, UCLA 68