NCAA Tournament Picks: Take Michigan State & Under vs. Middle Tennessee

Matthew Jordan

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 8:23 PM UTC

Wednesday, Mar. 16, 2016 8:23 PM UTC

The final Midwest Region game of the NCAA Tournament's first round is Friday afternoon (2:45 p.m. ET) from St. Louis when No. 2 Michigan State faces off against No. 15 Middle Tennessee. Sparty is -18 on BetOnline's NCAA Basketball odds with a total of 143.5.

Blue Raiders Good In Close Games
Middle Tennessee (24-9) is a Conference USA team that finished 13-5 in the regular-season standings and second to UAB. The Blue Raiders were able to avoid the Blazers in the conference tournament as UAB was upset by Western Kentucky in the other half of the bracket. Middle Tennessee beat Charlotte by 18, Marshall by nine and then Old Dominion 55-53 in the title game. Reggie Upshaw made two free throws with 2.9 seconds left to beat the Monarchs and was named tournament MVP. That improved Middle Tennessee to 9-1 in games decided by three points or fewer.

It was Middle Tennessee's first league tournament title since winning in the Ohio Valley Conference in 1989. The school was last in the Big Dance in 2013 despite not winning the Sun Belt Tournament title that year. The Blue Raiders were a No. 11 seed and lost to Saint Mary's in the First Four.

Coach Kermit Davis' team played just one Power 5 school in the regular season and beat visiting Auburn, which isn't very good, 88-81 in overtime on Dec. 12. The Blue Raiders did play NCAA Tournament team VCU and lost 62-56 at home.  MTSU's star is sophomore guard Giddy Potts. He leads the team scoring at 15.0 points per game and is a great 3-point shooter, making 50.3 percent (73-for-145). That leads the country. Upshaw averages 13.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.

The lone common opponent between Middle Tennessee and Michigan State this season was Florida Atlantic. MSU defeated the Owls 82-55 on Nov. 13, while Middle Tennessee defeated them twice, 85-73 and 76-59.

The Blue Raiders are 17-14 against the spread on NCAA Tournament odds and 13-17-1 'over/under.'


Spartans Deserved No. 1 Seed
Michigan State (29-5) is the +525 favorite at Bovada to win the national title. MSU finished second in the Big Ten regular-season standings, two games behind Indiana. But Sparty won the Big Ten Tournament, beating Ohio State by 27, Maryland by three and Purdue by four in the title game.

So explain to me how MSU is the No. 2 team in the Associated Press Top 25 and a Big Ten Tournament champion yet got a No. 2 seed in the Midwest behind Virginia, which won neither the ACC regular season or tournament titles? It appears MSU and Virginia are on a collision course in the Big Dance for a third straight season -- Sparty won the last two. And the Spartans are +180 favorites in the Midwest Region.

Many thought Tom Izzo's team would be slightly rebuilding this year after surprisingly reaching the 2015 Final Four as a No. 7 seed but losing two key players off that club. Senior Denzel Valentine stepped up this season in a big way to be named both Big Ten and National Player of the Year as well as a First-Team All-American. Valentine is averaging 19.4 points, 7.6 assists (both team and Big Ten bests) and 7.6 rebounds. He is set to become the first player to average at least 19/7/7 in a season since the NCAA first recognized the assist as an official statistic in 1983-84. Valentine was a fringe NBA first-round pick entering this season but is now a likely lottery pick. Valentine leads the Big Ten in made 3-pointers per game at 3.4 per game overall. The Spartans have 310 3-pointers this season, a school record. Bryn Forbes is among the national leaders in 3-point percentage at 48.4.

This is Sparty's 19th straight NCAA Tournament appearance, a Big Ten record for consecutive berths. It's the third-longest active streak in the nation (Kansas with 27, Duke with 21).  Michigan State is 22-11 ATS on NCAA Tournament picks and 16-17 O/U.

The Spartans have played Middle Tennessee once, an MSU 72-51 home win during December 1977, which was Magic Johnson's freshman season. The winner here will face either No. 7 Dayton or No. 10 Syracuse on Sunday. I previewed that game here at SBR and leaned Syracuse.

A No. 15 seed has beaten a No. 2 just seven times and it's not happening here. Also say the Spartans cover here. They have covered 12 of their past 14 overall. Go 'under' the total. The 'under' is 4-1 in MSU's past five non-conference games. It is 5-1 in MTSU's past six overall. 

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NCAA Basketball Picks: Michigan State -18 & Under 143.5
Best Line Offered: at 5Dimes

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