Sports

Michigan State vs. UCLA odds, prediction: Ignored Bruins have value

Four VSiN experts give their best bets for Thursday’s NCAA First Four games.

UCLA vs. Michigan State

Appelbaum: This East Region play-in game offers an interesting buy-low opportunity for contrarian bettors. Michigan State opened at a pick ’em or a short 1-point favorite depending on the book. The public sees Tom Izzo and is biased toward the Spartans, as they’ve watched Michigan State make countless deep runs over the past two decades. As a result, recreational bettors are rushing to the window to back Michigan State against a UCLA team that finished the regular season with four straight losses. This lopsided support pushed Michigan State up to -2 or even -2.5 at some shops. If you’re betting the Spartans now, you’re getting the worst of the number after it has been steamed.

On the flip side, UCLA is getting almost zero support in a heavily bet prime-time game, which offers excellent contrarian value along with an inflated line. The Bruins also offer a notable KenPom edge, as he projects UCLA to win this game by one point. He also has UCLA ranked as the better team (44th vs. 56th). I’ll put on my hazmat suit for this one and grab the points with the Bruins.

Pick: UCLA +2.

Mount St. Mary’s vs. Texas Southern

Murray: The first game of the 2021 NCAA tournament will have the SWAC champion, Texas Southern, facing the winner of the Northeast Conference, Mount St. Mary’s. The Mountaineers defeated top-seeded Bryant in the NEC Tournament thanks in part to a smart defensive game plan. They have tremendous size for a team from the NEC. Its starting frontcourt is Mezie Offurrum (6-foot-8), Nana Opoku (6-9) and Malik Jefferson (6-9).

Similar to Bryant, Texas Southern will look to run, as the Tigers are 41st in the country in adjusted tempo. Texas Southern, however, ranks just 342nd in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage (27.7). With the Mountaineers’ size, I anticipate them to pack the paint and force Texas Southern to score from the outside. It won’t be the prettiest game, but I expect Mount St. Mary’s (356th in adjusted tempo) to dedicate the pace and win a low-scoring affair.

Pick: Mount St. Mary’s ML (-110).

Drake's ShanQuan Hemphill
Drake’s ShanQuan Hemphill
AP

Wichita State vs. Drake

Stall: Drake looked dead in the water about a month ago after losing Roman Penn and ShanQuan Hemphill. Well, it looks as if Hemphill is set to return and Joseph Yesufu, who picked up massive minutes along the way, has turned into Superman. This is an offense that carries some very impressive numbers, including 19th in adjusted offensive efficiency, 30th in effective FG percentage and 11th in turnover rate. Yesufu has added electricity to Drake’s offense that wasn’t there even when the team was playing well.

On the other side, the Wichita State offense has some issues, the main one being that the Shockers simply can’t shoot. They rank 278th in effective field-goal percentage, 322nd in two-point FG percentage and 217th in free-throw percentage. This was a case of the wrong team being favored originally, and the early line movement has supported that.

Pick: Drake, -1

Norfolk State vs. Appalachian State

Peterson: After a slow start to the season, Justin Forrest, Appalachian State’s top scorer from the 2019-20 season, has picked it up, averaging 18.8 ppg since the beginning of February to give the Mountaineers five different players averaging at least 9.9 ppg. Norfolk State does a good job of scoring with the clock stopped, ranking second in the country in free throws attempted per offensive play in road and neutral-court games.

Pick: Over 133.5

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