East Region: Bradley vs Michigan State Prediction
Bradley vs Michigan State Preview
Michigan State is staying in the Midwest to start the NCAA Tournament and playing a mid-major opponent from the same region. The No. 2 seed Spartans will face No. 15 seed Bradley in the first game of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa.
The winner advances to face No. 7 seed Louisville and No. 10 seed Minnesota on Saturday.
It’s been a while since the Braves were in the dance, but the last time they were there they made some noise. No. 13 seed Bradley upset No. 4 seed Kansas then No. 5 seed Pittsburgh to make the Sweet 16 in 2006 before eventually falling to Memphis.
Bradley is hot–they were not supposed to be in this position. As the No.5 seed in the MVC Tournament (and a 9-9 conference record) they upset top-seeded Loyola-Chicago, last year’s NCAA Tournament darling, to reach the league final. There, they came back from 18 down in the second half to beat Northern Iowa and win the conference tournament for the first time in 31 years. They have won 9 of their last 11 games.
The Braves are led by a duo of underrated players. Junior guard Darrell Brown leads the team in scoring (14.7 points), assists (3.1), steals (1.0) and three-point shooting (44 percent) while sophomore Elijah Childs is the dominant force in the paint for the MVC squad. He is second on the team in scoring (12.2 points) and leads them in rebounding (7.8) and blocks (1.4)–he ranks in the top percentile in the nation in total blocks this season.
The Spartans are just as hot as the Braves–Michigan State, winners of five-straight games and 10 of its last 11 games, improved to 28-6 overall after defeating rival Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament final.
MSU will be without Kyle Ahrens who had an ugly ankle injury in the Big Ten finale. The team is already limited on the wing with Joshua Langford out for the rest of the season after foot surgery in early February. Ahrens also has been battling a bad back since December that has forced him to miss time and limited how much he could play.
“I really don’t, except that it’s a very, very bad sprain,” Izzo said Monday at his weekly press conference to preview the fifth-ranked Spartans’ opener against Bradley. “He’s come back from the dead a couple times, but I am guessing that he’s done.”
Even with the injuries the team has endured, many pundits were shocked they were given a No.2 seed. A popular opinion was the championship — along with conference tournament losses from Gonzaga and Tennessee — would be enough to move Michigan State to a No. 1 seed, or at least a high No. 2 seed away from Duke’s region.
That didn’t happen. Not that it’s going to matter, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi says:
“Yes, Michigan State should be in the West,” Lunardi says in a video posted to ESPN. “Yes, the committee probably goofed with the Wolverines and the Spartans. But, I think Michigan State’s a tough matchup for Duke, and it may have been Duke that was disadvantaged by this potential Elite Eight pairing.
“I’m putting the Spartans — shorthanded, or not — in the Final Four. No one has more Quad 1 wins (13) in the country. No one has played better away from home.”
With their injuries, the team will rely on two players specifically:
Cassius Winston– 18.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 1.0 steals per game. He is the unquestioned leader of the team and the Spartans will go as far as he can take them.
Nick Ward– 14.0 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.3 blocks per game. The 6’8 junior will be the inside presence MSU will need if they are going to dominate the paint. Look for Ward to have a great game against Bradley.
LINE: -18.5 Michigan State
Dan’s Bet: Over 133.5
Bracket Pick: Michigan State
Score Prediction: Michigan State 75 Bradley 59