Last Updated: 2019-03-20
The Missouri Valley Conference champions Bradley Braves will meet the Big Ten champions Michigan State Spartans in the East Region First Round showdown at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. The Spartans are listed as massive 18.5-point favorites with the total at 133.5 points and the Braves at +1500 money line odds. The No. 15 seed Braves will take a short trip to Des Moines, but they will have a mountain to climb against one of the best teams in the country, meeting the No. 2 seed Spartans for the first time since 2008 when they lost 75-59 as 15-point dogs.
The Bradley Braves finished the regular season at the 5th spot of the Valley standings with a 20-14 overall record, winning half of their 18 conference matchups. However, the Braves recorded three narrow victories in the Valley championship tournament, beating Missouri State 61-58 in the quarterfinals, Loyola-Chicago 53-51 in the semis, and Northern Iowa 57-54 in the finals to earn their place in the Big Dance. Bradley enters the tournament as a No. 176 at the NCAA NET Rankings.
The Braves are scoring 100.5 points per 100 possessions (232nd in the country) on 49.7 effective field goal percentage (220th) and 36.8% shooting from the field (57th), conceding 100.9 points in a return (124th) on 47.6 effective field goal percentage (39th). Bradley’s strength of schedule was 208th in the country, and the clash with the Spartans will be their toughest challenge of the season by far. The coach Brian Wardle mostly uses eight players in the rotation, and the junior guard Darrell Brown is leading the way with 14.7 points and 3.1 assists per game, hitting 39.3% of his field goals. The sophomore forward Elijah Childs is posting 12.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per contest, while the senior guard Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye is tallying 8.6 points, 5.4 boards, and 2.2 dimes per game.
Bradley made it to the National Championship Game in 1950 and 1954, losing on both occasions, while the Braves will play in their ninth NCAA Tournament this year. In their last appearance in 2006, the No. 13 seed Braves upset the No. 4 seed Kansas 77-73 and the No. 5 seed Pittsburgh 72-66 to reach Sweet Sixteen where they lost to the No. 1 seed Memphis 80-64.
The Michigan State Spartans shared the Big Ten regular-season championship with Perdue, finishing with a 16-4 record in the conference play and 28-6 overall. The Spartans won their sixth Big Ten championship tournament, defeating the Michigan Wolverines 65-60 in the finals to earn their spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans were trailing by eight points at halftime, scoring 42 points in the second half to overcome their arch-rivals for the third time this season. Michigan State enters the Big Dance as a No. 8 at the NCAA NET Rankings.
The Spartans are tallying 120.4 points per 100 possessions (6th in the country) on 55.8 effective field goal percentage (16th) and 38.4% shooting from beyond the 3-point line (17th), allowing 91.5 points in a return (15th) on 43.7 effective field goal percentage (5th). The Spartans’ strength of schedule was 3rd in the country, so the coach Tom Izzo did a great job with his team. The junior PG Cassius Winston is driving the Spartans’ offense, averaging 18.9 points and 7.6 dimes per game while making 47.2% of his field goals and 40.4% of his 3-pointers. Tom Izzo will certainly miss his junior guard Joshua Langford who’s out for the season with an ankle injury, but he can count on plenty of talented guys including the senior guard Matt McQuaid who dropped 27 points on the Wolverines in the Big Ten finals.
Michigan State won two NCAA Tournament Championships in 1979 and 2000. In 32 appearances so far, the Spartans have recorded 65 wins and 31 losses, while this will be their 22nd consecutive partaking. Last year, they lost as a No. 3 seed to the No. 11 seed Syracuse 55-53 in the second round. In 2016, the Spartans lost their first-round matchup with the No. 15 seed Middle Tennessee 90-81.
Pick: Michigan State Spartans -18.5
The Bradley Braves are 0-14 straight up and 2-12 ATS in their last 14 outings when listed as underdogs by 18 or more points, while they are 4-9 ATS in the last 13 games as double-digit dogs. On the other side, the Spartans are 11-0 straight up and 8-3 ATS in their last 11 showings as favorites by 18 or more points, and they are 8-3 ATS in the last 11 games overall. The Braves can play good defense, but they are limited offensively and will have a tall task against the Spartans’ defense that is among the best in the country. Hereof, I’m backing Michigan State to thrash off Bradley. The Braves were pretty lucky to get here, and I don’t see them staying close to the Spartans.
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