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No. 6 BYU vs. No. 11 Michigan State/UCLA preview for NCAA Tournament first-round matchup

The No. 6 BYU will face either No. 11 Michigan State or UCLA in the first round of the 2021 NCAA tournament. We’ve got an initial preview of what and how to watch following Selection Sunday.

BYU Cougars guard Alex Barcello celebrates after a 3-point basket against the Gonzaga Bulldogsin the first half of the West Coast Conference Tournament championship at Orleans Arena. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA Tournament begins on Thursday, March 18th with the First Four, and then moves on to the first round on Friday, March 15 and Saturday, March 16. No. 6 seed BYU will face the winner of a play-in game between No. 11 seeds Michigan State and UCLA in the first round. Game time has yet to be announced but we will update this article with that and game odds as soon as it comes available. For now, we’ve got a preliminary preview of the two teams to get you ready for March Madness!

Once the odds from DraftKings Sportsbook are made available for this game, we’ll add that information below. We’ll also add the game time and TV channel once it’s settled.

Game date: Saturday, March 20
Game time: 9:40 p.m. ET
TV channel: CBS
Location: Hinkle Fieldhouse

Odds: TBD

No. 6 BYU

The BYU Cougars would’ve run away with the West Coast Conference regular season title if not for the dominant Gonzaga Bulldogs. BYU finished in second place, 2.5 games ahead of the second third place team. The Cougars enter the NCAA Tournament on a bit of a hot streak with just one loss in the month of February against Gonzaga. They are a very balanced squad overall, ranking inside of the top 25 in adjusted defensive and offensive efficiency this season.

BYU comes in at No. 22 in the latest KenPom ratings and is led by senior guard Alex Barcello. He leads the team with 15.7 points, 4.6 assists and 1.0 steal per game. He is a dangerous threat from three-point range, shooting 48.9% from beyond the arc and averages 4.5 rebounds per matchup. Six-foot-8 freshman forward Caleb Lohner leads the team in rebounding with 6.8 boards per game to go along with 7.3 points per game. He has been a steady presence after the Cougars lost starter Gavin Baxter to a torn ACL in November.

Record: 20-6, 10-3 WCC
KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency: 28
KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency: 26
ATS: 14-8-3
Over Total: 12-12-1
Odds to win NCAA Championship: +10000

No. 11 Michigan State/UCLA

After a less than stellar regular season, Sparty somehow found its way into the NCAA Tournament. Unlike previous seasons where head coach Tom Izzo had Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman, and Jaren Jackson Jr., he had to lean on the likes of Joshua Langford and frosh Aaron Henry. The Spartans entered the tournament with a record of 15-12, but lost 68-57 in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament to the Maryland Terrapins. This season, they are only averaging 69.3 points per game, which isn’t great. But they are one of better teams sharing the basketball, producing 15.9 assists per game (45th in the nation).

We mentioned both of these players, but Aaron Henry and Joshua Langford will play key roles in Michigan State’s tournament run. Henry leads the team in scoring (15.3), assists (3.5), and (1.3) steals. He’s the lone player for the Spartans, who is averaging 10-plus points per game. Langford is the elder statesman for Izzo’s team. The senior guard out of Alabama is averaging 9.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game.

Record: 15-12, 9-11 Big Ten
KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency: 97
KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency: 33
ATS: 9-18
Over Total: 10-17
Odds to win NCAA Championship: +8000

The UCLA Bruins are back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2016-17 season. Mick Cronin has dealt with losing a couple key players with senior guard Chris Smith and junior forward Jalen Hil, however the Bruins did just enough to find their way into March Madness.

The Bruins had the fourth best three-point shooting mark in the Pac-12 with 36.7%, and they were led offensively by sophomore guard Johnny Juzang, who is averaging 14 points per game. Sophomore guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. has played well in what is a guard-heavy attack, and he is averaging 12.6 points with team highs with six rebounds, 1.2 steals and 0.7 blocks per game.

Record: 17-9, 13-6 Pac-12
KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency: 25
KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency: 87
ATS: 12-14
Over Total: 15-11
Odds to win NCAA Championship: +5000