NCAA Tournament First Four Parlay Picks of the Day

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NCAA Tournament First Four Parlay Picks of the Day
Julius Marble II #34 of the Michigan State Spartans. Justin Casterline/Getty Images/AFP

We finally arrived at the opening day of the most exiting time in college basketball. Tonight, two games will happen in order to determine which two teams will advance as an 11 seed to play a six seed this weekend. From a betting perspective, my favorite of the two games is UCLA vs. Michigan State. Sportsbooks have released their odds for this game. For match-up-related reasons, you will want to parlay the spread and the total. Read on for my analysis and best parlay bet for this evening.

UCLA Bruins vs. Michigan State Spartans

Thursday, March 18, 2021 – 09:57 PM EDT at Mackey Arena

Easier Defense 

It’s easy to make too much out of Michigan State’s bad offensive games. In the Big Ten, the Spartans regularly face stout defenses. 

Seven of the last 10 teams that they played rank top-30 nationally in defensive efficiency. Conversely, UCLA ranks 86th nationally in the category.

Now that the Spartans have finally gotten a decent amount of rest and now that they face a weaker defensive team from another conference, the Spartans will produce a scoring output that resembles their non-conference games when they were producing 70-80 points against other Power 6 competition.

Masters of the Mid-Range 

One key match-up detail to note for your sports betting is that Michigan State’s offense loves the mid-range game. It attempts the nation’s 16th-highest rate of two-point jumpers. So a lot of its offense is designed to produce favorable looks in the paint.

One way in which the Spartans will attack the mid-range is with positive spacing. See 7:24 in the following video for an example:

With four-out, one-in spacing — meaning four Spartans are positioned outside the arc, one inside the arc — Rocket Watts has a lot of room. As he penetrates inside, the one Spartan player inside plays a subtly important role. As Watts drives, he moves toward the basket. By approaching the basket, Marcus Bingham takes Michigan’s big man with him in order to create space for Watts to attempt an open shot inside.

Offensively, Michigan State becomes more intricate while pursuing an open mid-range shot attempt. See 6:24 in the following video for an example:

In the half-court, Michigan State likes to operate with two bigs in the high post and two players in the corner. These latter two players put pressure on the opponent’s perimeter defense. Positioned this way, Spartan players create more room in front of the basket for a driver. An off-ball screen gets set for AJ Hoggard, who catches it in the mid-range.

The defender in front of him has a lot of space behind him to worry about also since this Spartan screener likes to roll to the basket. So Hoggard could attempt an open jump shot or drive to the basket. He elects the former option.

Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 and Tyger Campbell #10 of UCLA Bruins and Gianni Hunt #0 of the Oregon State Beavers. Ethan Miller/Getty Images/AFP

Michigan State Offense vs. UCLA Defense

Michigan State’s comfort in the mid-range is a decisive offensive factor against a UCLA defense that, based on opposing field goal percentage and opposing field goal attempts, is uniquely vulnerable to the mid-range game. Another reason for liking the Spartan offense is UCLA’s tendency to switch on ball-screens.

While it can design plays for other players to succeed, Michigan State will hunt primarily for Aaron Henry. Henry is Michigan State’s top shot-taker, its go-to scorer. He’ll stop-and-go on the way to the basket where he is a clever finisher inside. He’ll pump fake or switch hands during his shot attempt to prevent his shot from being blocked. So to counter UCLA’s emphasis on switching, the Spartans will create more ideal match-ups for Henry.

At 12:31 in the first video above, you also see an example of Michigan State slipping a ball-screen in order to punish the defense for switching. This ability to succeed in the paint is crucial against a Bruin defense that, against PAC-12 competition like recently Oregon State with Ethan Thompson, is vulnerable in one-on-one match-ups against important individual scorers looking to penetrate inside.

The importance of succeeding inside for Michigan State is evident in the following key trend: when the Spartans convert over 45 percent of their two-point attempts, they are 14-2 SU. In a game that is almost a pick-em on the college basketball lines, this straight-up trend is highly meaningful.

Galin Smith #30 of the Maryland Terrapins posts up against Marcus Bingham Jr. #30 of the Michigan State Spartans. Justin Casterline/Getty Images/AFP

UCLA Offense vs. Michigan State Defense 

On offense, UCLA primarily wants to score inside. It will sometimes use ball-screen actions where Michigan State will flex its characteristic physicality and strength in fighting through screens.

In its ball-screen coverage, Michigan State likes to keep a player in front of the opposing ball-handler until the initial defender is able to recover to him. More often, the Bruins will play with four-out, one-in spacing to try and create an isolation match-up for a ball-handler at the top of the key.

Michigan State has recently been well-tested, being able to stick with the speediest of point guards in Michigan’s Mike Smith. Marcus Bingham’s rim protection provides a boost to the defense as his length and athleticism help the Spartan defense rank 36th nationally in block rate. Bingham, other Spartan bigs, and the defense as a whole will be comfortable in this match-up since UCLA lacks a physical post presence.

Defensively, Michigan State does not like to double the post. It can easily play straight-up with an opposing center who is more likely to drift away from the basket to try to become a face-up scoring threat.

March Madness


It’s a mistake to like a total in a Spartan game based on tempo, in this case the fact that UCLA is typically an extremely slow-paced team. Tempo is already baked into the total posted by betting sites.

There are countless examples of Spartan games against a slow-paced opponent going “over.” With its mid-range effectivity, Michigan State will hurt the Bruin defense where it’s relatively vulnerable.

UCLA has enough playmakers to help push the total “over” as they regularly reach the mid-60s even in losses. With the total dropping, there is all the more value in an “over” play for your college basketball picks.

Best Bet: Parlay Spartans Moneyline (-135) & Over 134.5 (-115) for +225 odds with BookMaker (visit our BookMaker Review)

UCLA-MSU Parlay(+225)
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*The pick reflects the line at the moment the writer made the play, the odds at the beginning of this article show the live line movement. Since the lines might vary, don’t forget to refer back to our live odds.