UNC or Michigan State? How to pick 8 vs. 9 matchup in 2024 women’s March Madness bracket

One of the highlights of the opening round of the 2024 women’s March Madness tournament, 8-seed North Carolina and 9-seed Michigan State tip off on Friday morning in Columbia, South Carolina (11:30 a.m. ET, ESPN2).

First-year Spartans head coach Robyn Fralick has helped end MSU’s two-year absence from the tourney, thanks to a 22-8 record on the season. Her squad enters the tourney on a 7-3 stretch over its past 10 games. A well-rounded team, the Spartans swept rival Michigan in the regular season and scored 90-plus points a whopping 12 times on the campaign. 

Having lost six of its past 10 games, North Carolina is nowhere near as hot as Michigan State. The Tar Heels dropped six of their past nine ACC games and suffered an epic collapse in their one-and-done conference tournament game, blowing a 14-point second-half lead to Miami and falling 60-59. 

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UNC has plenty of size and experience, though, and fifth-year head coach Courtney Banghart will be looking to turn things around for a chance at top-seeded South Carolina in Round 2. Here’s a complete guide to Friday’s matchup between UNC and Michigan St., including odds, picks, and key stats and trends to know. 

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UNC vs. Michigan State odds

Early odds have Michigan State as a modest 4.5-point favorite entering Friday’s matchup, according to BetMGM

  • Odds: Michigan St. (-4.5)
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 11:30 a.m. ET
  • TV: ESPN2
  • Arena: Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Connecticut


Michigan State (22-8, 12-6 in Big 10)

Michigan State lost to Nebraska in the first round of the Big 10 tournament, but the Spartans have won nine of their past 12 overall. Senior guard Julia Ayrault has exploded 19.3 points and eight rebounds per game over MSU’s past three games, but Robyn Fralick’s squad has plenty of depth, experience, and scoring ability outside of Ayrault.

The Spartans rank sixth in the nation in scoring (83.7 PPG), and they have scored 90-plus points a dozen times on the season. Six of those nine games were against non-conference opponents, and they also enter with a winning record on neutral ground (3-2).

Long story short, Michican State can score. They rank amongst the top 10 in the nation in shooting (48.4%) and top 12 in three-point shooting (37.3%), and both Ayrault and DeeDee Hagemann took massive steps forward between last season and today.

The big issue facing this Spartans squad is rebounding — they finished 275th in the nation in boards — but perimeter defense can sometimes present issues, too. They did, however, force 18.2 turnovers per game this season, and they nearly upset Caitlin Clark and the Hawkeyes earlier this season. This is a complete team and a nightmare of a first-round matchup for UNC regardless of the setting.

Key players

Julia Ayrault, G, Sr. (6-2): 15.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.3 apg, 2.1 bpg

Moira Joiner, G, Sr. (5-10): 14.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.7 apg

DeeDee Hagemann, G, Jr. (5-7): 12.4 ppg, 5.1 apg, 2.4 rpg

MORE: Buy tickets to 2024 March Madness games

UNC (19-12, 11-7 in ACC)

The Tar Heels get the benefit of playing their first-round game in the Carolinas, but that didn’t help them much when they visited N.C. State and Duke this season (both UNC losses). They’ve also dropped three of their past four games and six of their past 10, and looked terrible against conference opponents down the home stretch of the season. 

Deja Kelly can score (16.7 PPG), but she’s far from efficient or consistent. She made just six of her 20 attempts in North Carolina’s conference tourney loss to Miami and shot just 35 percent on the entirety of the campaign (and 28.8% from three). The team’s field goal percentage as a whole is just 41.9.

But the Tar Heels defend well, averaging 4.6 blocks per game (31st in the nation) and holding opponents to a collective 37.7 percent from the floor on the season. They also take good care of the ball, averaging just 12.8 turnovers per game. Michigan State can’t have its guard down against this bigger, physical team if it expects to get out of the opening weekend of the tourney.

Key players

Deja Kelly, G, Sr. (5-8): 16.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.3 apg

Alyssa Ustby, G, Sr. (6-1): 12.4 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 3.6 apg

Maria Gakdeng, F, Jr. (6-3): 8.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.4 bpg

WOMEN’S BRACKET GUIDES: Iowa | South Carolina | LSU | USC | UConn

UNC vs. Michigan St. prediction

Michigan State enters the tournament much hotter than its foes and the Spartans shoot a whole heck of a lot better. As long as MSU can dictate the pace early and connect from long range, this could be a runaway by intermission.

North Carolina will try to get physical and take advantage on the glass, but poor shooting always seems to catch up with times at tournament time. We’re taking the Spartans against the spread up to -6.5.

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