BYU is officially headed to the NCAA Tournament as a 6 seed, BYU’s highest since 2011 when the Cougars were a 3 seed.
BYU will draw “last four” teams UCLA or Michigan State in the first round. The first reaction from many BYU fans was “WELL THIS IS NOT IDEAL” because of the names on the jersey. Both teams are very capable, but they are both down from what their history would suggest.
UCLA finished the season 17-9 and 4th place in the Pac 12. They ended the year on a 4-game losing streak, which is why they find themselves as one of the last 4 at-large teams in.
UCLA is one of the slowest offensive teams in the country, ranking 307 in average possession length. Although slow, they are very efficient. They don’t turn the ball over a ton and are 83rd nationally in effective field goal percentage. They have decent size and rebound the ball on both ends.
UCLA is very balanced, with 5 guys averaging double figures. Their guards are their top 4 scorers, led by 6-foot-6 sophomore Johnny Juzang at 14 ppg. UCLA plays 3 guys that are 6-foot-9 or 6-foot-10, so they won’t overwhelm BYU with their size.
Defense is where they are most vulnerable. They don’t have any real rim protectors, so BYU could do some damage inside with Haarms and Harward. The Bruins also don’t force many turnovers and teams shoot well against them — their 3PT defense is 242 nationally and their 2pt defense is 156 nationally.
Michigan State is 15-12 on the season and got back in the tourney after a late season surge. This isn’t the typical Tom Izzo team, but they are more than capable — they beat one seeds Michigan and Illinois this season. There is a reason they were on the bubble, though.
6-foot-6 forward Aaron Henry is the leading scorer at 15.3 ppg and leads the Spartans with 3.5 apg. Henry was 3rd-team all Big Ten and 1st-team all defense. He was the lone Spartan that received Big Ten Honors. Henry only shoots 28% from deep despite averaging 3 attempts per game, so he does most of his damage inside the arc. This matchup will be huge for Gideon George, as he has the length and athleticism to slow down Henry. 6-foot-9 Marquette transfer Joey Hauser averages just under 10 points a game and is the leading rebounder with 5.7 rpg.
Defense is the strength of this MSU team. They don’t turn teams over much, but they don’t allow many three points attempts and defend well. Their 3PT defense is 56 nationally and their 2PT defense is 112 nationally. Gonzaga’s defense in the second half really stymied BYU in the WCC championship, and Michigan State has the perimeter guys to give BYU trouble.
Offensively is where MSU has struggled more this year. They aren’t bad, but they have some weaknesses. They have only one rotation player shoot above 37% from deep and are 255th nationally in 3PT% as team. They don’t shoot inside the arc particularly well either, as they are 252 nationally in 2PT defense. They are top 100 in offensive rebound %, so BYU would need to be strong on the boards.
Overall, both teams are capable of beating BYU but aren’t world beaters either. UCLA has the better offense and guard line, but Michigan State plays better defense and has better forwards. Personally, I’d rather see BYU play UCLA as the Bruins are on a bit of a skid and their offense scares me less than Michigan State’s defense.