Know Thy Enemy is a weekly Q&A where the perspective changes from the eyes of The State News to the eyes of the student newspaper of Michigan State basketball's opponent. This weekend State News beat writer Sara Tidwell spoke with Jack Perez of The Daily Bruin ahead of Thursday's game between UCLA and MSU.
To get to a meeting with No. 6 seed BYU, Michigan State men's basketball has to first win a contest against UCLA. After getting ejected in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, they have shifted locations to Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Indiana, for a 9:57 p.m. Thursday tipoff.
The Spartans enter the postseason matchup 15-12 overall, fighting for the chance to advance as a No. 11 seed.
This week State News sports reporter Sara Tidwell spoke with Jack Perez of The Daily Bruin ahead of the Spartans' matchup with the Bruins.
Q: With an overall record of 17-9, what were UCLA’s strong suits in the regular season? Weaknesses? How are they looking with the postseason opener coming up, being apart of the First Four and having to play-in to actually secure their seed in the tournament?
A: UCLA's strong suit was a surprisingly good offense that was complemented by an accurate 3-point shooting clip. Led by sophomores Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Johnny Juzang, the Bruins are pretty lethal if they get hot from deep. However, their weakness comes on the other side of the court. Despite coach Mick Cronin's reputation as a defensive guru from his Cincinnati days, UCLA has struggled to stop teams on defense, giving up multiple double-digit and late leads this season, especially in the past four games. Having to play in the First Four would have seemed unthinkable just a couple of weeks ago, but the Bruins fell time and time again down the stretch. While those four games came against teams that would make March Madness, UCLA held leads in all the games but couldn't hold on once.
Q: Both UCLA and MSU are coming off of early, immediate losses from their conference tournaments. How will this affect UCLA’s energy? Do you expect them to be sweating going in or more relaxed and ready?
A: UCLA might be nervous going into this First Four game. For a team that was leading the conference in late February, going into the NCAA tournament on a downslide is not great for confidence. Additionally, no active player on Cronin's roster has ever competed in March Madness, so there may be some early jitters. However, UCLA will come out swinging as this team has shown they do not fear opponents because of their names. It will come down to whether they execute their gameplan and are able to stick to it as the clock winds down.
Q: Who are UCLA’s team leaders, and how much does the team rely on them in play action? Who else is emerging into the spotlight that could cause problems for the Spartans?
A: The Bruins lost their main leader in Chris Smith when he tore his ACL during a New Year's Eve game against Utah. In his place, Jaquez and fellow sophomore Tyger Campbell have stepped up. Campbell runs the offense from the point guard position, and almost every offensive possession goes through him when he's on the court. Jaquez is the leader on defense, combining solid perimeter and post defense to take on the opposing team's best wing players. Two other players to look out for are Juzang and redshirt junior Cody Riley. Juzang took a big leap in scoring during conference play and can be lights out from downtown. Riley is the team's main big man, and since Jalen Hill left for personal reasons, he has become the only true threat down low. If either of those guys gets hot, UCLA will feed them all game long.
Q: What is your score prediction and why?
A: This game features two teams that have had less than stellar seasons after being spoiled for most of the 2000s. While Michigan State finished conference play 9-11, the Spartans' wins over Ohio State, Michigan and Illinois prove they can beat the best teams. On the flip side, UCLA was mostly solid in conference play, but the Bruins finished a combined 2-7 against teams that made the tournament. I'm going to say 70-66 UCLA in a gritty game for both teams.
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