Michigan State overcame more than just one major injury this season to win a share of the Big Ten’s regular season championship and the conference tournament trophy. The Spartans came from behind to beat Michigan in the Big Ten Championship on Selection Sunday and will be your 2-seed in the East Regional.
They meet Bradley, which put together an impressive comeback of its own in the Missouri Valley Conference Championship game, down 18 to Northern Iowa before storming back to win in regulation, 57–54. It was their first MVC Tournament Championship since 1988, when the legendary Hersey Hawkins averaged over 36 points per game. The last time Bradley went dancing was 2006, when it upset Kansas as a 14-seed.
Historically, the Missouri Valley produces tough, smart, defensive-minded teams and, as a result, has produced a first round winner in the last seven NCAA Tournaments and 10 first round victories in a row, overall. Of course, Loyola-Chicago won more than just one game a year ago.
I sincerely believe that streak will end on Thursday in Des Moines. Michigan State is cut from the same cloth; it’s hard-nosed with a defense-first mentality, and coached by the great Tom Izzo, who has already been upset early in the Tournament more times than I previously though possible in recent seasons. Michigan State can match Bradley’s defensive intensity and features more offensive weapons, inside and out.
Bradley struggles on offense and has to keep the scoring in the 60s to avoid a blowout. That will be nearly impossible if Matt McQuaid is shooting as well as he was in the conference tournament. If McQuaid doesn’t find room and Bradley simply defends Cassius Winston hard on every possession and keeps MSU off the offensive glass, it can make things interesting, which is what I’m rooting for.
That’s because I like Bradley with the 18.5 points. This isn’t a game that’s going to get up into the 80s or 90s, which makes each point on the spread that much more valuable. When you play against a team as deliberate and disciplined as Bradley, covering such a big number is a challenge. The Braves will play slowly and they will play 40 minutes, no matter how much they get down; that’s the kind of team Head Coach Brian Wardle has. Bradley won’t simply break when it reality sets in that it isn’t Cinderella.
Give me Michigan State by a dozen but Bradley is too proud to let it stretch out much more than that.
Play: Bradley +18.5