UCLA vs. Kentucky: Odds & Prediction for Sweet 16 Matchup

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Kentucky and UCLA, the two most successful programs in college basketball history in terms of national championships, meet for a spot in the Elite 8 on Friday night, and to no one’s surprise, there is little-to-nothing separating the two NBA-laden squads.

At least that’s how the oddsmakers see it. Here’s a closer look at the odds for Friday night’s highly anticipated matchup, as well as a prediction for the outcome:

UCLA vs. Kentucky Sweet 16 Odds

Spread: UCLA (-1), per OddsShark.com
Moneyline: UCLA (-116), Kentucky (-104)
Over/Under: 165
UCLA Record Against the Spread: 17-18
Kentucky Record Against the Spread: 17-17-2
Head-to-Head History: Kentucky is 7-6; UCLA won 97-92 earlier this season

Preview & Prediction

When these teams met in early December, they played at an absolute break-neck pace, combining for 166 offensive possessions and 189 points, with the Bruins prevailing, 97-92.

While games in the NCAA tournament tend to be played a little more deliberate, and with more of an emphasis on tough defense, it’s probably safe to say that the over/under of 165 is in trouble. The Bruins are 15th in the nation in adjusted tempo, per Ken Pomeroy, while the Wildcats, who typically play pretty slow under John Calipari, are 22nd. These teams love to play fast, and as we’ve already seen, they’ll be able to in this matchup.

In terms of the actual winner, there’s a reason this is considered mostly a toss-up.

UCLA has the most efficient offense in college basketball but often struggles to defend. They rank just 76th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency, and while they improved in that regard as the season went on, they still show lapses on that end and have given up a not-very-good 1.09 points per possession in the first two games of the tourney against Kent State and Cincinnati.

Kentucky, meanwhile, doesn’t have the same kind of consistent offensive firepower, but the Wildcats are more balanced, ranking 13th nationally in offensive efficiency and eighth in defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy. If there’s a place where they really struggle, it’s from the outside, where they are 171st in three-point percentage and 215th in three-pointers made per game.

It’s easy to project this one going either way, and when UCLA’s offense is clicking, it is as beautiful as it is unstoppable, but ultimately, Kentucky’s advantage both defensively and in the head-coaching department (John Calipari has 50 NCAA tournament wins and six Final Four appearances compared to Steve Alford’s 11 and zero, respectively) gives the Wildcats the slight edge.

Prediction: Kentucky 87, UCLA 85

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