Michigan State is indeed going dancing this season, extending its active streak of NCAA Tournament appearances to 26 under head coach Tom Izzo!

After a lot of questions about the Spartans and a potential bubble status, Michigan State was safely into the final field as a 9-seed in the West Region. As a result, they bypass the First Four and will get a Round of 64 matchup against 8-seed Mississippi State from the SEC.

It’s the kind of draw Izzo has made a legacy out of exploiting in March, and he gets another shot to guide the Spartans to the second game of the weekend. Unfortunately, if Michigan State does get past the Bulldogs, a date with 1-seed North Carolina likely awaits in the Round of 32.

For now, it’s all about Mississippi State, and here are 3 things to know about the Bulldogs:

Big man matchup to watch

One of the big names to watch in this matchup is Tolu Smith, a veteran 6-foot-10 big man for Mississippi State. He was the second-leading scorer for the Bulldogs this season while averaging 15.2 points per game to go with 8.4 rebounds and 1.3 assists while shooting 56% from the field.

He’s a true problem in the post and an old-school big man, the type of player Michigan State has struggled against at times this season. Granted, the Spartans faced the best big man in the country in Purdue’s Zach Edey, and Smith is not on Edey’s level. But overall, it’s a position Michigan State has not received a lot of production from this year.

Down the stretch, Michigan State has heavily relied on Carson Cooper and Mady Sissoko alternating minutes while also sprinkling Jaxon Kohler into the rotation. None of those players is a serious offensive threat, but their defense against Smith will be important to watch.

A defensive struggle ahead?

Michigan State has heavily leaned on its defense after giving up just 65.9 points per game (27th in the country), and that’s unlikely to change in this matchup. Mississippi State also gives up less than 70 points per game, and both teams are well-represented in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency.

The Spartans are No. 8 in the metric, a particularly impressive number considering the kind of offenses Michigan State faced throughout the season. The Bulldogs are 20th in adjusted defensive efficiency but did not face quite as tough of a schedule.

In this matchup, it’s likely the two sides are gearing up for a grind it out affair, and the opening betting lines reflect that.

ESPN Bet opens with the Spartans as a slim 1.5-point favorite for the showdown and a point total set at 129.5 points for the game. Neither team appears to have the makeup to run away with this one, and the game could turn on a big defensive play late.

Fans can also track the latest odds for the NCAA Tournament with Tradition’s Michigan sports betting links and apps.

A youthful star to watch

Mississippi State does have a strong veteran presence on the roster, but the leading scorer this season is true freshman point guard Josh Hubbard. A 4-star recruit out of high school, Hubbard has shined while averaging 17.1 points and shooting 36% from 3-point range.

Hubbard has mainly been a scorer in his freshman campaign while averaging just 1.7 assists, but he is a star in the making. He scored 32 points in a win over LSU and 34 points in a loss to Kentucky and has 22 games with 3+ made 3-pointers.

The one area Michigan State may be able to exploit is Hubbard’s youthfulness. The true freshman has appeared in 34 games but made just 15 starts during the season, and Hubbard will be going up against one of the most experienced backcourts in the country.

Michigan State’s depth comes in the backcourt with veteran contributors Tyson Walker, AJ Hoggard and Jaden Akins all averaging 10+ points and 1+ steals this season. If that group can disrupt Hubbard and force him into some miscues, that will tilt the matchup in favor of Izzo’s group.