College Basketball Odds, Picks, Predictions for Gonzaga vs. UCLA: Betting Guide to No. 1 Against No. 2
Icon Sportswire/Getty Images. Pictured: Chet Holmgren
- No. 1 Gonzaga takes on No. 2 UCLA in the Good Sam Empire Classic in Las Vegas.
- The Bulldogs have defeated Texas already this season while the Bruins topped Villanova in overtime.
- Which team will cover? Shane McNichol has you covered with two best bets for this high-quality matchup.
Gonzaga vs. UCLA Odds
-105o / -115u
-105o / -115u
Critics often gripe about the ease of Gonzaga’s schedule when March rolls around. You won’t hear any of that this week, with the Zags set to battle with two titans in Las Vegas. Friday, Gonzaga is set to face Duke in a battle of blue blood and new blood, but the Zags have a more pressing matter this evening.
Mark Few and the top-ranked Zags will first tussle with a familiar foe: the UCLA Bruins. Last season, these two programs produced one of the Final Four’s greatest games, ending with Jalen Suggs’ game-winning buzzer-beater in overtime from halfcourt.
Both teams return plenty of the same key cogs from that game, though both have newcomers who will spice up this matchup as well.
In this tilt between the top two teams in the AP Poll, who has the upper hand?
In April, Gonzaga entered the Final Four as the second-largest favorite in a national semifinal game, facing a UCLA team that was a double-digit seed on a miracle run.
Much of UCLA’s successes in that game foreshadowed Gonzaga’s struggles against a more physical and more athletic Baylor team in the title game. The Bruins and Bears both looked to attack Drew Timme on the defensive end of the floor, forcing Gonzaga’s scoring big to work on both ends.
Timme returns this season as the front-runner for National Player of the Year and is off to a hot start. He is averaging 18.8 points in just 23 minutes per game. Timme’s 37-point effort against Texas (on 15-of-19 shooting from the field) was this season’s first iconic individual performance.
Timme’s defense has looked better this season, thanks in large part to the Zags’ newest star.
Chet Holmgren, who is viewed as a consensus top-five selection in next year’s NBA draft, is a versatile big man who can score from all over the floor, but most importantly for Gonzaga this season, he’s a valued rim protector. He ranks in the top-20 nationally in Block Rate and is averaging more than 5.5 blocks per 40 minutes of play.
This Gonzaga team may not be as efficient as last year’s team. Suggs and Corey Kispert elevated that team’s offense to new heights.
This year’s team may not wow on a nightly basis or pop analytically like that team did, but these Zags are better built to play the elite opponents and win in March and April.
If Gonzaga wants to test itself against the nation’s elite, UCLA is a place to start. The second-ranked Bruins have taken care of business against four lesser opponents and knocked off highly-touted Villanova in an overtime thriller at Pauley Pavilion.
That game was a perfect reminder of UCLA’s veteran-laden nucleus.
Few players in college basketball can heat up and take over a game like Johnny Juzang. Jaime Jaquez Jr. is one of the toughest, sturdiest inside-and-outside scorers in the sport. And Tyger Campbell is more than capable of running the show and putting the UCLA offense in a position to succeed.
Two newcomers will determine the Bruins’ ceiling. Rutgers transfer Myles Johnson will be relied on in the paint, both as a rebounder and a rim protector. Against these monstrously sized Zags, his defense and ability to stay out of foul trouble will be paramount.
Freshman Peyton Watson may be UCLA’s most purely talented player. He’s still raw, having just turned 19-years-old in September.
In the Bruins’ first four outings, he had been unreliable and barely made an impact. In their fifth game against Bellarmine, Watson had a breakout game, scoring 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the field.
If he is a factor for UCLA, it can play with anyone this season.
Gonzaga vs. UCLA Betting Pick
People will debate this year’s Gonzaga team against last year’s Zags for much of the season. However, it’s not a debate which is more dominant amongst its peers.
Last year, the Zags ran neck-and-neck with Baylor all season, save for Baylor’s brief dip due to COVID issues in the program. There was certainly a drop-off from the Zags and Bears to the next level of other strong teams like Illinois, Michigan, Houston and Alabama.
This season, the Zags are a little more comfortably a tier above the rest of the elite. Tonight, Few and his Bulldogs have a second chance to prove that after dispatching Texas with ease earlier this month.
Cronin doesn’t have the horses to battle Timme and Holmgren in the paint. That might not be the case if Cody Riley were able to play, but he’ll miss this contest due to injury.
I would assume we’ll see Johnson guard Timme, and though Johnson is one of the better post defenders in the nation, he can’t slow Timme without a double team. That leaves 6-foot-8 Jaquez to tangle with Holmgren. Jaquez is a pitbull and will try to wear down the thin-framed freshman.
Over 40 minutes, I don’t think that will be a prudent strategy.
UCLA’s best chance is to attack in transition, finding Timme and Holmgren in the open court, rather than settling in the half court.
That isn’t Cronin’s preferred style of play. His teams have ranked outside the top 300 in tempo in each of the last eight seasons prior to this year. Gonzaga, meanwhile, has been one of the 65 fastest teams in each of the last three years.
Running with the Zags is a scary proposition. That likely gives Gonzaga the upper-hand in Vegas on Tuesday night. With both teams trying to set the tempo, the first half total of 74 is also appealing.
Pick: Gonzaga -6 (Bet to -7.5) | 1st Half Over 74