NCAA March Madness: UCLA Bruins vs. Northwestern Wildcats betting preview, odds and predictions
In a 2 vs. 7 matchup in the West region of the NCAA Tournament, the UCLA Bruins take on the Northwestern Wildcats with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line. All tournament long, VSiN will be providing you with March Madness betting odds, in-depth team analysis and expert college basketball picks. Make us your one-stop shop for all of your betting needs.
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How to watch UCLA vs. Northwestern
When: Saturday, 8:40 p.m. ET
Where: Sacramento, California
Odds for UCLA vs. Northwestern
Spread: UCLA -8
(Odds accurate as of Thursday, March 16th at 11:45 p.m. ET)
Real-time betting splits at DraftKings Sportsbook
West Region No. 2 Seed UCLA Bruins
UCLA has already been to a Final Four under Mick Cronin, but this is the best team the Bruins have had since hiring the former Cincinnati coach. This just might be the best defensive team in the entire nation, which will be a nice thing to lean on in tournament play. However, UCLA is also very good offensively, with Jaime Jaquez Jr. being one of the best players in all of college basketball. He’s the main cog for the Bruins’ offense, and his ability to make plays in the mid-post will be huge when games become more difficult to win. Also, keep an eye on star freshman Amari Bailey, who could have some big moments in March. He’ll need to step up with Jaylen Clark being out for the season with an Achilles injury. The Bruins didn't feel Clark's absence in a blowout win over UNC Asheville, but there's no way it will go unnoticed against better teams.
West Region No. 7 Seed Northwestern Wildcats
Northwestern is exactly the type of team that you don’t want to face in March Madness. The Wildcats are outstanding on the defensive end, but they also happen to have some offensive juice in the backcourt. Boo Buie had 13 games in which he scored at least 20 points for Northwestern during the regular season, and he’s the type of guard that can single-handedly win a tournament game when he gets it going. Chase Audige is another good guard for this Wildcats team, but the biggest question mark for Chris Collins’ team is depth. Outside of Buie and Audige, will anybody step up and have a moment throughout this tournament? Ty Berry and Brooks Barnhizer both played well in a win over the Boise State Broncos in the first round. It would be massive for Northwestern if those two can contribute moving forward.
UCLA vs. Northwestern matchup analysis
UCLA played its usual brand of smothering defense in a win over UNC Asheville in the first round. This season, the Bruins are second in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Bart Torvik. So, it’s no surprise that they were able to bottle up a mid-major program to get March Madness started. However, the real test begins against Northwestern. The Wildcats scored 75 points in a first-round win against Boise State, and they have some legitimate firepower out of the backcourt.
With Clark out for the season for the Bruins, it’ll be interesting to see how UCLA’s defense holds up against better competition. Clark was one of the best defenders in all of college basketball, and he had the ability to check guards and smaller wings. Without him, the Bruins don’t have the same defensive versatility. They’re also missing a guy that became a reliable third option for them offensively.
Without Clark in the fold, the Bruins are going to have a little bit of a tougher time defending guys like Boo Buie, Chase Audige and Ty Berry, who combined to score 55 points against a Boise State defense that was ranked 26th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency this season per Bart Torvik. That’s not to say that UCLA is completely out of options when defending the perimeter, but Northwestern is deep with contributors and the Bruins being down one isn’t ideal in this specific situation.
It should also be noted that Northwestern is 8-1 against the spread when playing away from home this season. The Wildcats aren’t going to be too uncomfortable in this neutral-court setting. In fact, some of their gunners might embrace the situation. Buie is the type of player that could easily swing a tournament game with his ability to score, and he’s going to be amped up to face one of the top teams in the nation.
UCLA does have Jaime Jaquez Jr. to lean on here, and his ability to execute in the mid-post area is a valuable safety blanket for the Bruins. That’s something Mick Cronin can always count on, and Northwestern doesn’t really have big men that can guard him — or tire him out on the other end of the floor. Along with just being a little more talented than the Wildcats, Jaquez’s ability to score inside the three-point line could make all the difference in the world in this game. Both teams like to play slow, but UCLA is a bit better at executing in the half court because of Jaquez’s patience.
Perhaps the Bruins’ ability to win grind-it-out games will force Chris Collins to open things up a little more. Northwestern has the personnel required to bomb away from three-point range and hope for the best. They’re better off doing something like that than playing to UCLA’s strengths. However, the oddsmakers set a low total on this one, so that might not be all that realistic.
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