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2011 NCAA Basketball Tournament: Michigan State Takes On UCLA

The Big Ten's action for the first day of the 2011 NCAA Basketball Tournament will conclude with some Southeast Regional action at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Florida, as the UCLA Bruins will lock horns with the Michigan State Spartans.

The Bruins went 22-10 on the season and 13-5 in the Pac-10 Conference, while the Spartans ended the year with a 19-15 record and an even 9-9 mark in the Big Ten.

The Only Colors, SB Nation's home for all things Michigan State, they think that the Spartans not only have the ability to win this one, but to move even farther in the tournament.

All things considered, I feel about as good as I've felt about the team going back to the very start of the season.  Given how the season's gone that's not all that dramatic a vote of confidence, but he team has found some identity down the stretch (defense first, with a close-to-100% Kalin Lucas making things happen on offense) and finally showed what it's capable of when everything's clicking on both ends of the court in Indianapolis.

At this point, I wouldn't be all that surprised if the team was one and done in the tournament--or if it advanced decisively to the tournament's second weekend.  The fresh start for a team that's badly needed one all season comes tomorrow night.  The question is whether the team can use that fresh start to delay the finish of the season for a few more games.

SB Nation's UCLA blog, Bruins Nation, also likes their team's chances of advancing.

The Bruins are underdogs by most of  the experts and the services, they have some health issues, but there really is some reason for cautious optimism. UCLA has come a long way this season, especially on the defensive side, which will serve them well tonight.

The last thought goes to the leader of one of those final four runs, AA himself, who recently said of Ben Howland (emphasis mine):

"He puts in so much time and effort into preparing for every detail that an opponent can throw at you that you feel like you know what they are going to do before you step on the court," Afflalo said. "He's a great defensive mind and once players truly understand that, they begin to have success as a team."

Here's hoping the Bruins ignore the critics, the oddsmakers, and the experts and listen to the one voice that matters right now, Ben Howland.

The tip-off for this one will take place at 8:20 PM Central time, and you can follow the action on TBS, Channel 247 on your DirecTV. Check your local listings for where your cable provider has them slotted.

Photographs by Micah Taylor, clairity, and Fibonacci Blue used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.