(7) UCLA vs. (10) Michigan State
Coming off a season in which UCLA won just 14 games and failed to qualify for post-season play (the Bruins lost in the second round of the Pac-10 Tournament), Coach Ben Howland once again has one of the most storied programs in the history of college basketball back in the NCAA Tournament. UCLA has seen a mass exodus of underclassmen to the NBA in recent years and doesn’t have a single senior on its roster and that youth and inexperience has led to an inconsistent season for the Bruins. UCLA has wins over BYU (RPI No. 5), Arizon (No. 15) and St. John’s (No. 25), but also suffered defeats at the hands of Oregon (No. 135) at a neutral site and Montana (No. 105) at home. Sophomore forward Reeves Nelson leads the team in scoring (13.9 ppg), rebounding (9.0) and field goal percentage (.647; 17th nationally) and teams with Tyler Honeycutt and Josh Smith to form a solid front line. If the Bruins’ guards can consistently produce, this team could make a deep run in the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
(10)Michigan State Spartans
After making a surprise run to the 2010 Final Four, Michigan State came into this season ranked No. 2 in both national polls and appeared to be a legitimate threat to Duke’s crown. As remarkable a Coach as Tom Izzo is, however, he hasn’t been able to maximize the talent on this edition of the Spartans so far. The trademark of Izzo’s teams is typically rugged, stifling defense but this season MSU is allowing more than 66 points per game (7th in the Big Ten). Never known as an offensive juggernaut, the Spartans have really struggled putting points on the scoreboard this season. MSU is shooting a Big Ten worst .432 from the field while turning the ball over at a high rate, compounding the problem of the team’s poor shooting. This team still has a veteran core with Final Four experience but, if they can’t figure it out quickly, it could be a long off-season in East Lansing.
HOOPSWORLD’s Pick: Michigan State. Coach Tom Izzo’s team seems to play its best basketball come tournament time and this year will prove to be no different.