BYU vs. UCLA Betting Odds, Picks, Predictions: Cougars Undervalued in NCAA Tournament First Round (March 20)

BYU vs. UCLA Betting Odds, Picks, Predictions: Cougars Undervalued in NCAA Tournament First Round (March 20) article feature image
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Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Kolby Lee (left) and Mat Haarms (right).

  • BYU is favored over UCLA in the 2021 NCAA Tournament first round on Saturday night.
  • BYU has been the only team to give top-seeded Gonzaga a scare all season, but can Mick Cronin and UCLA do the same to the Cougars? With UCLA's Johnny Juzang's status in question, our college basketball betting analysts don't think so
  • Our staff breaks down the game and gives their BYU vs. UCLA pick below.

BYU vs. UCLA Odds

BYU Odds -4
UCLA Odds +4
Moneyline -186 / +155
Over/Under 139
Time Saturday, 9:40 p.m. ET
TV CBS
Odds as of Friday afternoon and via DraftKings.

UCLA put together a crazy second-half comeback to win in overtime against Michigan State on Thursday.

The Bruins forced overtime with a three-point play in the final minutes and put away the Spartans in the extra period. However, it did come at a cost because one of their best offensive players, Johnny Juzang, went down with an ankle injury late in the game.

UCLA started the season red-hot, winning 12 of its first 14 games, but the team stumbled down the stretch. The Bruins lost each of their last three regular-season games before Oregon State bounced them from the Pac-12 Tournament.

Additionally, UCLA has been without starting center Jalen Hill for the second half of the season, which has clearly had an impact. The Bruins recorded a 12-2 straight-up record with Hill active versus their 5-6 record playing without him in the lineup.

BYU is one of the most balanced teams in the country and was the only team that gave top-seeded Gonzaga a scare, as it led by double digits in the first half of the WCC Championship game. The Cougars are top-30 in both offensive and defensive efficiency and only have three losses this season to teams not named Gonzaga.

BYU is one of the best shooting teams in the country, ranking 21st in effective field goal percentage and will be a massive problem for UCLA to shut down defensively.

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BYU Cougars

Shane McNichol: The Cougars have flown under the radar this season, with their conference rival Gonzaga receiving any and all national media attention turned towards the West Coast Conference.

BYU is no slouch though, boasting six wins over the KenPom top 100 and two more wins over No. 101 San Francisco. The Cougars just have three losses outside of being swept in three tries against the mighty Zags.

BYU used its strengths to give Gonzaga its toughest test of the season in the West Coast Conference Tournament final, stretching a lead to 14 points late in the first half. Mark Pope runs an open offense, using Purdue transfer Matt Haarms as a screener to open the lane for guards to create and kick-out.

Senior Alex Barcello, a transfer from Arizona, is the primary ball handler for the Cougars and averages 4.5 assists per game. He’s also a lethal outside shooter, shooting over 48% from deep this year on 105 attempts.

When the other BYU wings are making jumpers, the Cougar offense hums like a well-oiled machine.

The first half of the Gonzaga game typified that. Yet when shots aren’t falling, Barcello and Haarms aren’t skilled enough to overcome the lack of spacing. A late January loss to Pepperdine in which BYU shot just 5-of-20 from outside the arc is proof of that.

On the other end of the floor, BYU relies on Haarms as a rim protector to make up for the defensive limitations of its backcourt. The Cougars really struggle to force turnovers, looking instead to force opponents into tough shots over the outstretched arms of Haarms.

UCLA Bruins

BJ Cunningham: UCLA used its offense to get by Michigan State, putting up 1.19 points per possession. It’s not typical of Mick Cronin-coached teams, but the Bruins boast one of the best offensive units in the country. UCLA ranks 18th in offensive efficiency, averaging 1.07 points per possession.

However, the Bruins may have suffered a big blow late in overtime on Thursday as Johnny Juzang went down with an ankle injury. He is currently listed as questionable to play against BYU, and if he is out, that will be massive because he takes 28.9% of the Bruins shots on offense.

UCLA’s offense does everything well. It starts at the top of the key; UCLA protects the ball on offense, boasting the 53rd-lowest turnover rate in the nation. The Bruins do not normally shoot many 3-pointers (31.7% of their field goal attempts), and without Juzang, they probably won’t take many against BYU.

However, when they do launch it from deep, the Bruins convert over 36% of those long-range attempts.

But tonight, UCLA will have to do most of its scoring in the paint, since that’s where teams beat Michigan State’s defense. Nonetheless, UCLA has little concern with playing a physical game inside. The team shoots over 50% from 2-point range and hits 60.5% of its shots at the rim, per Hoop-Math.

Not only could UCLA potentially be without Juzang, but it’ll also be without big man Jalen Hill, who has been a big loss for the Bruins. His absence has more been felt on the defensive end of the floor, as he was the team’s best rebounder and post defender.

There’s little doubt that Hill’s absence had an effect on the UCLA defense, but the Bruins defense has struggled all season long — with Hill or without him — which would probably cause Cronin to lose his hair — if he had any.

In particular, UCLA has really struggled to guard the perimeter, ranking 239th in 3-point defense. The defense also struggles to force turnovers in the half-court (245th in turnover rate forced). That’s going to be a problem against BYU, which hits over 37% from 3-point range.

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Matchup & Betting Analysis

BJ Cunningham: Without Juzang in the lineup, I am not sure how UCLA is going to keep up with BYU’s offense.

The Cougars can hit teams from all over the court, and the Bruins don’t have a good enough defense to stop them. BYU’s offense is top-35 in both 2-point and 3-point percentage, which is going to be a major problem for UCLA since it struggles to defend all over the court.

Based on my projections, I have Juzang worth 1.22 points to the spread, so handicapping this game is somewhat dependent on his status. Either way, I think this is terrible for UCLA with how good BYU is at both ends of the floor.

If Juzang is not in the lineup, I have BYU projected as -6.67 favorite, so I think there’s a lot of value on the Cougars at -4 and would play them up to -5.

Pick: BYU -4 (Up to -5).

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