In a year when upsets seem to be the norm, we have an exception in this West Region Sweet 16, as 2-seed UCLA (31-5) takes on 3-seed Gonzaga (30-5). These teams last met in the Final Four in 2021, when Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs nailed a buzzer-beater in overtime to deliver the win. Both teams had some hiccups during the regular season, but they also both finished hot down the stretch. Mark Few facing Mick Cronin is a matchup of two of the sport’s top coaching minds. Let’s break down this prime-time showdown as you plan your March Madness sports betting.
NCAA Preview: UCLA Bruins vs Gonzaga Bulldogs
- When: Thursday, March 23, 2023, 9:45 pm ET
- Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
- TV: CBS
- Radio: ESPN Radio
- Live Stream: Sling TV
- NCAA Odds: UCLA -1.5 / UCLA -133 / Gonzaga -105 / O/U 145.5
Why should you bet on the Bruins?
UCLA is a defense-first team that comes in ranked second in adjusted efficiency according to KenPom. They permitted just 60.5 points per game during the regular season, and it helps that they play more of a grinding pace. Their opponents shot just 40.5% from the floor overall and 31% from three-point land. Both of those defensive numbers are in the top 40 in the nation. On offense, the Bruins score 74.1 points per game, with Jaime Jaquez Jr (17.5 points per game) leading the team. Their ball security is also impressive as they only turned the ball over 10.1 times per game during the regular season.
UCLA downed Northwestern in the second round, in a game that was closer than it probably should have been. The Bruins did hold Northwestern to 37.3% shooting (27.3% on three-pointers), and Jaquez had an impressive game with 24 points and eight boards. Winning when everything isn’t going well on the shooting end is a must in tournament games, as teams are shooting on unfamiliar courts and dealing with the pressure that builds with each round. If you like UCLA, you see their defense smothering Gonzaga more effectively than TCU’s did.
Why should you put your money on the Bulldogs?
KenPom ranks Gonzaga tops in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency. No team scores more points per game, and no team shoots better from the floor overall. Their three-point shooting is 11th in the nation, which means that their shooting inside the arc is even more impressive. Their ball security is top-notch as they rank 29th in fewest turnovers committed per game even though they run a high-tempo offense. These factors are all reasons for the 11-game winning streak they are currently riding (as is their membership in the largely mediocre West Coast Conference).
In their last game, Gonzaga struggled to put away a middling TCU team. They were down five at the half, but then their offense found a new gear in the second half, and they took the lead near the midpoint of the second half and did not look back. The Horned Frogs did earn the backdoor cover, knocking down an uncovered shot from the logo at the buzzer to make the final margin three points (with a 4 ½-point spread). Gonzaga did win the rebounding battle by seven, and with the backcourt struggling, they turned to Drew Timme for 28 points. The defense that Gonzaga plays is not nearly as elite as their offense, as they permit just over 70 points per game (and allowed 81 to TCU). If Gonzaga is going to beat UCLA, it will be on the strength of their up-tempo offense.
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Final Score and Prediction
UCLA has had the more challenging regular-season schedule, facing a Pac-12 slate, while Gonzaga’s slog through the WCC, in my opinion, keeps them from being as ready when the tougher matchups of March Madness appear. I see UCLA’s defense being ready for this challenge and delivering a 69-66 win.
Media Availability: Coach Cronin
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