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On the opening day of the Round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament, there were numerous close games, including a buzzer-beater and a few major upsets. UCLA and Northwestern were not all that interested in following suit on that trend.
The Bruins and Wildcats dominated from the opening tip, with the game’s outcome not being in question. Now, these two teams will take their strong play into the Round of 32, where they will compete for a spot in the Sweet 16.
Check out below which team we believe will secure a date for next weekend’s games and keep dancing!
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Despite recently losing its third-leading scorer and best defender, Jaylen Clark, to a season-ending injury, the UCLA Bruins dominated the UNC Asheville Bulldogs, winning by a monstrous 33 points.
Further, the Bruins held UNC Asheville’s best player, 6-foot-10 sharp shooting forward Drew Pember, to just 13 points. The Bulldogs’ squad, as a whole, shot just 37% from the field; it turns out that UCLA’s defense didn’t falter in Clark’s absence.
The Bruins finished with 15 more rebounds than UNC Asheville, turned the ball over eight fewer times, and had 24 total assists, an insanely strong number for any team at the collegiate level.
If UCLA brings that chemistry, cohesiveness, and intensity that it had in the Round of 64 into this game, it will be difficult to beat.
UCLA is a guard-heavy team that relies on defensive versatility, shot-making, and ball-handling to win games, which is quite the combination. As a matter of fact, the Bruins’ top five scorers are all listed as guards, even though two of them are usually defending forwards.
Jaime Jaquez Jr (17.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game), Tyger Campbell (13.4 points and 4.9 assists), and David Singleton (9.2 points, 43.2% from three), three players who were on UCLA’s miraculous 2020-21 Final Four team, highlight the leaders for this team.
Freshmen Amari Bailey and Adem Bona also chip in a relatively substantial amount of offense, rounding out the Bruins, who rank 21st in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency.
However, what is the most impressive about this UCLA team is its defense, which now ranks first in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. The loss of Jaylen Clark (2.6 steals per game) hurts significantly, but it has enough talent to still be elite on that end of the floor.
Northwestern’s top 20 defense (18th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency) showed up and flexed its muscles against Boise State. While the Mountain West has gotten pummeled in the NCAA Tournament so far, with San Diego State being the only team to move into the Round of 32, it is still impressive to post 75 points on a 49/38/83 team shooting split against a top 30 defense.
The Wildcats’ offense was the biggest question mark heading into the NCAA Tournament. However, Chase Audige and Boo Buie each posted 20+ points, providing that one-two punch that will be necessary if they want to advance any further in the tournament.
The other concern about Northwestern was rebounding; it ranks just 229th in total rebounding rate, while Boise State is a much stronger team on the glass. The Wildcats were outrebounded, allowing 20 offensive boards to the Broncos, but still managed to win.
As alluded to above, Boo Buie and Chase Audige are the twin engine for this Northwestern offense. Without them, Northwestern would likely be an average Big Ten team, at best; luckily, it does not have to worry about that right now.
Buie averages 17.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game, while Audige posts 13.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.8 assists. However, the Wildcats’ play on that end of the floor does not overwhelm, ranking merely 100th in adjusted offensive efficiency.
Northwestern’s defense highlights this team, as it would be merely average otherwise. The Wildcats are efficient and force over 14 turnovers per game while boasting an adjusted defensive efficiency (KenPom) that ranks 18th in the country.
UCLA is an eight-point favorite on Saturday against the Northwestern Wildcats, with a moneyline set at -380 for the Bruins. The point total for this game sits at 127.5, as the sportsbooks are clearly expecting a more defensive-minded battle.
During the first day of the Round of 64, there was not a team that looked more impressive than UCLA, which mitigated its opponents’ best player, while balancing a combination of intense defense with efficient scoring; the Bruins only allowed 53 points to a team that averages just shy of 74 and boasts an effective field goal percentage of 53.6% (39th in the nation.)
Additionally, Asheville shot just 30% from deep against UCLA, despite having the ninth-highest 3P% in the country. If the Bruins can hold the Bulldogs to that kind of clip, what do you think they could do to Northwestern, which shoots near the bottom-fourth of the NCAA in 3P%?
The bottom line: despite Audige and Buie’s big scoring nights, the Wildcats’ nine assists were underwhelming, relying too often on hitting tough shots. Allowing 20 offensive rebounds is deeply troubling, too, considering the Bruins rank 29th in offensive rebounding percentage; they grab 32.1% of their missed shots.
Head coach Chris Collins will have to adjust to this UCLA team if the Wildcats want even a slight chance of upsetting one of the best two-way teams in the nation. For now, the play is UCLA against the spread.
Andrew has always been an avid sports fan and followed his hoop dreams all the way to college. He’s well-versed in everything betting with multiple years of experience and is qualitatively and quantitatively knowledgeable in sports statistics and analytics.More info on Andrew Norton
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