Michigan State vs UCLA is Biggest Brand First Four Game Ever


michigan state basketball

Typically, the First Four, the play-in games of the NCAA Tournament, bring us match-ups of mid-majors and low-majors, but this year is quite different. Usually, the play-in games are staged on the Wednesday night before March Madness begins in earnest on Thursday.

This year, the tournament really begins on a Friday, with the First Four on a Thursday, and one really marquee matchup- Michigan State vs UCLA.  While both teams are the embodiment of middling mediocrity this season, when you look at the bigger picture, in historical context, it’s the blue blood bowl.


Tipping off at 9:57 EST (so very rough start time for MSU fans, but optimal for Bruins supporters) from Purdue’s Mackey Arena, it’s chance to see the Big Ten and Pac 12’s banner programs square off. It’s like a basketball Rose Bowl, of sorts (if you look at the whole body of work, obviously not so much this year).

In March of 2017, the Associated Press released their “all-time” poll, with UCLA coming in #4 and Michigan State #13. At the time, the study showed that the Bruins had appeared in 60.17% of all AP polls up to that point, with 134 rankings, the most of any program. In the 1970s, during the apex of the John Wooden era, they appeared in 100% of the polls, the only program with a perfect percentage over an entire decade.

In fact, the Sons of Westwood didn’t miss a single poll for 221 weeks, starting with the preseason 1966-1967 poll and ending with the fifth poll of the 1979-1980 season, the longest consecutive streak of any program.


As for the Spartans, they’ve been ranked No.1 by the AP 11 times. In the 2000s, they appeared in 71.58% of polls, but so far on pace to top that in the 2010s. Two-thirds of the Spartans’ total AP poll appearances have come since Tom Izzo became head coach in 1995.

Michigan State made the Final Four in the most recent March Madness that was staged, in 2019, and they were definitely leading contenders to return last year, had the tournament not been cancelled on account of the pandemic.

Overall, this is the sans blue bloods tournament, as the following programs, with their respective rankings in that all-time AP poll, will all be missing: Kentucky #1, Duke #3, Indiana #6, Louisville #7, Arizona #8 and Cincinnati #10.


“Obviously, the marquee value of those teams is extraordinary,” said CBS Analyst Bill Raftery on media conference call (Zoom call) today.

“I just feel this particular year, it won’t feel the impact, which in other years it would. There is just such an incredible thirst for basketball.

“This is an opportunity for others, different locales and communities, will be thrilled by their teams involved, and some other people will feel it’s nice to have an opportunity quite frankly.”

grant hill

He’s absolutely right- we don’t care that this March Madness doesn’t have the blue bloods to root for/against. We’re happy just to have a bracket.

Former Dukie and current CBS Commentator Grant Hill agreed: “this tournament is bigger than one or two programs (Duke and Kentucky).

“All that we’re going through, we’re starving for sports, we desire this tournament. These three weeks, there’s nothing quite like it.”


The game will be broadcast on TBS with Brian Anderson, Jim Jackson and Allie LaForce on the call. MSU are 2 point favorites, with an o/u of 135.5.

You can grab the Spartans on the moneyline at -136. So with that in mind, check out BetQL for point spreads, moneylines, over/unders and much more, for every single tournament game.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGNSports IllustratedChicago Tribune and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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