Who has the edge: Michigan State vs. Bucknell
Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News breaks down Friday night’s NCAA Tournament game between Michigan State and Bucknell.
The Bison will start a three-guard offense that features senior Stephen Brown, who scored 22 in the Patriot League tournament title game and is shooting nearly 37 percent from 3-point range. Junior Kimbal Mackenzie also can stroke the ball, shooting 39-for-114 from 3-point range, while sophomore Avi Toomer doesn’t shoot as many threes, but is nailing 40 percent of them when he does. Freshman Jimmy Sotos and junior Nate Jones come off the bench. Sophomore Cassius Winston has been the catalyst to the Spartans’ offense most of the season, ranking second in the nation in 3-point shooting and leading the Big Ten in assists. Sophomore Joshua Langford will need to pick up his shooting, while sophomore Miles Bridges is the most dynamic player on the court. Junior Matt McQuaid comes off the bench as a good shooter and solid defender, while senior “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. is a high-end defender but provides a significant drop offensively. Edge: Michigan State
Senior forward Zach Thomas leads Bucknell in both scoring and rebounding, averaging 20.3 points and 9.2 rebounds a game while earning Patriot League Player of the Year honors. The 6-foot-7 Thomas will be the focus of Michigan State’s defense, while 6-10 senior Nana Foulland is a force on the block, scoring 15.4 points and grabbing 7.1 rebounds a game. Junior Nate Sestina is effective off the bench, shooting 55.5 percent this season. The Bison will be without 6-8 sophomore Bruce Moore, who was suspended for violating team rules. While Bridges can sometimes play the four, freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. will see most of the minutes for MSU. At 6-11, he can post up and score from the perimeter and is a defensive standout, establishing a program record for blocks in a season. Sophomore Nick Ward is an effective low-post scorer who will need to re-emerge for the Spartans. Depth is the key for Michigan State, as junior Kenny Goins can play almost any spot with senior Gavin Schilling and freshman Xavier Tillman spelling Ward. Edge: Michigan State
Bucknell has played top teams tough this season and nearly knocked off West Virginia in the first round of last season’s NCAA Tournament. And the Bison won’t be intimidated by the moment as Brown, Thomas and Foulland are all seniors. Michigan State has far less experience — only Nairn and Schilling remain from the 2015 Final Four team — but it has the talent edge and gets to play close to home at Little Caesars Arena. That might not seem like a big deal, but when a game is close in the tournament, the crowd often pulls for the underdog. That won’t be the case this weekend. Edge: Michigan State
Most expect this to be a tight game, and considering the experience Bucknell has, that’s not a surprise, especially considering the fact the Bison have lost just once in the last two months. But Michigan State is one of the tournament favorites for a reason — its size and depth being big advantages in this game — and there’s little chance there’s a repeat of the Middle Tennessee loss of two years ago. It won’t be a blowout, but the Spartans should advance. Michigan State 84, Bucknell 72
Michigan State vs. Bucknell
Tip-off: 7:10 p.m. Friday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
TV/radio: CBS/760 AM
Records: No. 3 seed Michigan State 29-4; No. 14 seed Bucknell 25-9
Next up: Winner faces the winner between No. 6 TCU and No. 11 Syracuse on Sunday.