2021 NCAA Tournament Odds, Picks: Alabama vs. UCLA (March 28)
Sarah Stier/Getty Images. Pictured: Jaden Shackelford of Alabama.
- Nate Oats and the Alabama Crimson Tide will take on Mick Cronin's UCLA Bruins with a spot in the Elite Eight on the line this Sunday.
- The Bruins made it to the Sweet 16 after entering the NCAA Tournament as a play-in team, but the Tide are looking to roll.
- College basketball betting analyst Stuckey breaks down the game below and shares his betting pick based on his analysis.
UCLA vs. Alabama Odds
|Moneyline||+240 / -315|
|Time||Sunday, 7:15 p.m. ET|
You have to give a lot of credit to UCLA head coach Mick Cronin. Not only did the Bruins lose highly-touted point guard Daishen Nix to the G-League before the season ever started, but they also lost Chris Smith and Jalen Hill to injury during the season.
Yet, Cronin still found a way to get his team through the play-in game against Michigan State and then through two more games to reach the Sweet 16. Point guard Tyger Campbell and company seem to be peaking at just the right time.
The same can be said for Alabama head coach Nate Oats, who also had to deal with a number of injuries throughout the season. Yet, the Tide exceeded their preseason expectations and locked up a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Alabama’s defense has been the biggest surprise this season as it has graded out as elite throughout the entire season. The offense is a high-variance unit due to its 3-point reliance, but the defense can still win games on off-shooting nights.
Plus, it had to be a good sign for Alabama fans to finally see the 3s start to drop in their most recent victory. After hitting a bit of a rough stretch, the Tide hit 16-of-33 from beyond the arc against Maryland in the Round of 32.
If they can carry that through the rest of the tournament, look out.
Can UCLA slow them down from 3? The Bruins might be able to slow the game down, but I’m not sure they can contain the Alabama offense. Let’s take a closer look.
The Tide is Rising
Alabama is leading the rim-and-3 revolution. The Tide take almost no 2-point jump shots (national-low of 12%). Everything is either at the rim or from 3. They lead the nation with a 79% rim-and-3 rate, per ShotQuality.
The Bruins are almost the complete opposite. In fact, this is a matchup of two teams that contrast each other in many ways.
- Alabama wants to play fast (11th in Adjusted Tempo), while UCLA wants to grind games to a halt under Cronin (337th)
- The Tide either take a shot at the rim or from 3, while UCLA ranks 336th in rim-and-3 rate and takes the fifth-highest percentage of 2-point jumpers.
- Alabama is very 3-point reliant with a top-20 3PA rate, while UCLA ranks outside the top 300 in 3PA/FGA.
So, what gives?
Well, per Synergy, UCLA ranks in the top 50 in limiting transition opportunities and in the top 25 in points per possession in those scenarios. That’s critical against an Alabama offense that gets out in transition at the sixth-highest rate in college basketball.
In its first two games, UCLA faced two extremely post-reliant offenses in BYU and Abilene Christian, which each rank in the top 40 in post possessions, per Synergy.
Not only did Cody Riley and company do a tremendous job of defending the interior, but the Bruins also exploited the opposing bigs with mismatches on the other end. Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang, who has been tremendous of late, was usually the primary beneficiary.
That won’t be the case on Sunday. Alabama ranks in the bottom-15 in possessions run through the post. If it can’t get out in transition, it wants to use its guards to dribble-penetrate and either get to the rim or kick out for a 3.
That’s a glaring weakness for a UCLA defense that ranks outside the top 200 in 3-point attempt rate and is allowing teams to connect on 34.2% of those shots (198th).
Alabama is an excellent catch-and-shoot offense, ranking in the 86th percentile in those situations, per Synergy. The UCLA defense ranks in the fifth percentile in that department. Big yikes.
Alabama also recently saw the return of Josh Primo, who brings another outside shooting threat. I just don’t see how the Tide won’t get plenty of open looks here created by dribble penetration in the half-court.
And on the other side of the ball, UCLA won’t be able to exploit matchups in the pick-and-roll as it did in its last two games.
The Tide have one of the most versatile defenses in the country featuring Herb Jones, who can take out Juzang if need be. The offense gets all of the press for Alabama, but it’s the defense that ranks third in Adjusted Efficiency, per KenPom.
UCLA won’t turn it over at least, but it won’t get many easy looks here against a suffocating Alabama defense. The Bruins do love to shoot 2-point jumpers, which Alabama will welcome.
However, unless the Bruins can’t miss, this is a tough ask for a very talented but young bunch.
Betting Analysis & Pick
I just don’t think this is a very good matchup for UCLA. Yes, the Bruins do a tremendous job of keeping teams out of transition. However, I’m not sure its guards are up for the task in the half-court.
The kicker for me is that while Alabama gets out in transition a ton, it hasn’t been overly efficient when it does so. The Crimson Tide rank in just the ninth percentile in transition efficiency compared to the 80th percentile in the half-court, per Synergy.
Meanwhile, the UCLA defense ranks in the 93rd percentile in transition but just the 17th percentile in the half-court.
So, while it may seem counter-intuitive, UCLA making this more of a half-court game — which I think it will achieve — will actually play right into Alabama’s hands.
I personally think the line is pretty fair, per my power ratings. However, the matchup heavily favors Alabama.
I used the Tide as a ML parlay piece and will look for a great opportunity to back the Tide live. If the line dips back below 6, that would also be a buy point for me.
Pick: Alabama ML as Parlay Piece | Alabama -6 or better