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March Madness on Thursday night features Round of 64 giants UCLA taking on a program looking to complete a historic upset in UNC Asheville. Read on to get the edge on your NCAA Tournament picks! Our experts are here to bring you bonuses and predictions for the match to come.
In the Round of 64, second-ranked UCLA takes on fifteen-ranked UNC Asheville on Thursday night in March Madness. Hosted at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California, UCLA will be comfortable playing in their home state. For this matchup between Big South and Pac-12, read on for the Round of 64 UCLA vs. UNC Asheville predictions!
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Head Coach: Mike Morrell
Record: 27-7 (16-2, 1st in the Big South)
UNC Asheville returns to the big dance for the first time since 2016. It was a quick exit for them in 2016, losing in the first round, and they’ll have the cards stacked against them when they face the UCLA Bruins.
Don’t discount the body of work that UNC Asheville has created through this season. The Big South might not be the most competitive conference, but they went 27-7 overall and lost just twice in conference play. Their success came from their rebounding and scoring, averaging 72.2 points per game (2nd in the Big South) on 47.6% from the field (1st in the Big South) and 40.6% from three (1st in the Big South) while also winning the rebounding battle by 1.2 per game.
Converting almost eight three-point field goals per game, UNC Asheville could cause UCLA problems. But unless the Bulldogs can establish their patented inside game, they won’t be able to create good enough looks to beat the Bruins from deep.
Drew Pember is one half of a classic inside-outside pairing for UNC Asheville. The 6-10 big man is averaging 21.2 points per game, 9.4 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks on 46.3% from the field and 37.3% from three. His offensive versatility has created problems for teams all season, and he’ll have his biggest test against the Bruins.
Supporting Pember is a sharpshooting guard, Taijon Jones. Jones can spark the Bulldogs’ offense, so he must overcome the Bruins’ tenacious perimeter defense. The 6-5 senior is averaging 15.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 2.9 three-point field goals per game on 51.4% from the field and 45.6% from the three-point range.
Head Coach: Mick Cronin
Record: 29-5 (18-2, 1st in the Pac-12)
One of the most storied basketball programs in the nation, the UCLA Bruins aim to return to the heights of their program after losing in the Final Four in back-to-back years. UCLA dominated the Pac-12 this season, and Mick Cronin’s side will look to win the national championship behind the production of some super seniors.
The Bruins were known for their defense this season, which should intimidate their opponents. UCLA allowed just 59.3 points per game (1st in the Pac-12) on 40.7% shooting from the field (2nd in the Pac-12) and 31.3% from three (3rd in the Pac-12) while limiting their opponents to just 28.2 rebounds per game (1st in the Pac-12).
They lost to Arizona in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament final, but it was by a two-point margin that shouldn’t discourage them. If they go on a deeper run, UCLA has some issues, but against UNC Asheville, controlling the paint should be priority number one.
As has been the case for UCLA over the past two years, the Bruins are led by their strong seniors. Jaime Jaquez has been the leader for the Bruins this season, averaging 17.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 1.4 steals on 47.4% from the field but just 31.3% from three-point range. Despite being a guard, Jaquez’s activity on the glass has helped the Bruins be dominant in the paint.
The other half of the Bruins’ dynamic duo is senior point guard Tyger Campbell. UCLA’s second-best scorer, Campbell, has averaged 13.7 points, 4.7 assists, and 1.2 steals on 39.0% from the field and 34.7% from three. He may not have the size to get his points against paint patrollers, but he’s crafty and capable of finding his teammates for better opportunities.
Many will be looking past this matchup as UCLA is one of the biggest favorites of the first round, but UNC Asheville can cause problems and surprise the Bruins.
UCLA opens this game as heavy favorites over UNC Asheville. At DraftKings, the Bruins are an 18.5-point favorite to win this game, with the points total at 134.5. At a -2800, the UCLA Bruins are one of the biggest favorites of the first round.
UNC Asheville are heavy underdogs, and it's for a good reason. While they were excellent this season and among their conference, the UCLA Bruins present a uniquely difficult challenge for them. Where the Bulldogs are efficient in the paint and from three-point range, the Bruins have also shown their quality. Proving their offensive quality will be hard enough, but they'll also have to keep the blue-collar Bruins out of the paint.
Mick Cronin's side is one of the hottest teams in the country entering this tournament. Had they not lost to Arizona in the Conference Tournament final, they would have entered March Madness on a 13-game winning streak. Over that 13-game span, they held teams to just 59.8 points per game while winning by a 12.7-point differential.
UNC Asheville enters this game with nothing to lose and everything to gain. Unfortunately, the Bruins outmatch them in the paint, an area where the Bulldogs excel. While UNC Asheville's three-point shooting sends them on hot streaks, UCLA's defense should be enough to reward the Bulldogs with a first-round exit.
Location: Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, CA
Game Time & Date: 10:05 PM EST, Thursday, March 16, 2023
TV Network: truTV
Streaming: YouTube TV, Paramount+, Sling TV, Hulu + Live TV
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Christian Jope is a writer, social media strategist, and data analyst. A Queen’s University Alumni, Christian is an author and social media strategist with Raptors Cage, while also working closely with MLSE and Canada Basketball through community-driven events.
Email: [email protected]More info on Christian Jope
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