UCLA vs Kentucky Odds, Picks | Saturday College Basketball Betting Preview

UCLA vs Kentucky Odds, Picks | Saturday College Basketball Betting Preview article feature image

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images. Pictured: Tyger Campbell of the UCLA Bruins.

College Basketball Betting Preview

UCLA Bruins vs Kentucky Wildcats Odds

Saturday, Dec. 17
5:15 p.m. ET
UCLA Bruins Odds
-110o / -110u
Kentucky Wildcats Odds
-110o / -110u
Updated odds via FanDuel. Get up-to-the-minute college basketball odds here.

There are so many great matchups this Saturday, but UCLA vs. Kentucky is definitely one of them. These are two blue-blood programs with blue-blood coaches, and both have Final Four aspirations.

But while UCLA has picked up some monster victories in the last two weeks, I am still waiting for Kentucky’s statement win.

Is this the game where the Wildcats finally pull through?

UCLA Bruins

Mick Cronin and the Bruins were provided three opportunities to overcome the Illinois and Baylor losses, and they took full advantage of them.

The Bruins beat Stanford by 14, Oregon by 10 and rocked Big Ten hopeful Maryland by 27. But that’s always been the identity of these Cronin-led Bruins. The Bruins always punch back.

UCLA hasn’t changed how it plays basketball.

Tyger Campbell dribble penetrates through every defense, and Jaime Jaquez hits every interior shot he’s provided, leading to a top-five offensive turnover rate and a top-25 eFG%.

All-in-all, this is KenPom’s third-best offense.

Defensively, UCLA tries to force turnovers so the Bruins can get out in transition, and they've been pretty good at both so far (14th in defensive turnover rate, 90th percentile in transition PPP).

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Kentucky Wildcats

Wins over KenPom top-100 teams in Michigan and Yale shed some light on the 2022-23 Kentucky Wildcats. Or do they?

The Wildcats won both games but failed to cover each. They needed a 9-for-15 3-point shooting performance to beat Michigan by four points. Yale kept up with the Wildcats on the boards, as Oscar Tshiebwe’s 12 rebounds led to just a +1 rebound differential.

They continue to struggle defensively. The last time I wrote about the Wildcats, I mentioned they “posted their three worst defensive performances in the three biggest games, allowing:

  • 104.7 points/100 possessions to Michigan State
  • 115.4 points/100 possessions to Gonzaga
  • 97.5 points/100 possessions to Michigan”

Well, Kentucky went ahead and allowed 98 points/100 possessions to Yale. That’s not what I expect from a team ranked eighth in KenPom’s defensive efficiency mark.

Actually, it reminds me of a certain NCAA Tournament game in which the Wildcats got cooked for 1.13 PPP against a MAAC team.

To be fair, the Wildcats are likely due for some positive regression defensively. They’ve been excellent at running teams off the 3-point line (131st in 3-point rate allowed) and defending the interior (14th in 2-point shooting allowed).

As you can see, Kentucky has been elite at forcing inefficient, long 2-point attempts.

Image Credit: CBB Analytics

I’d probably project Kentucky for some moderate defensive improvements moving forward.

Offensively, the Wildcats likely need more Tshiebwe at the rim. They’re shooting almost 70% on attempts at the rim but managing only 16.6 attempts per game, the latter ranking in the 37th percentile of Division-I teams.

The 3-point shots are falling. Kentucky sits top-25 in 3-point shooting (39.2%) and top-10 in catch-and-shoot PPP (1.10). That could indicate a great shooting team, or it could mean the Wildcats have run hot during nonconference play.

Either way, Kentucky needs a signature win after losses to Michigan State and Gonzaga. This is that opportunity.

UCLA vs Kentucky Prediction, Betting Pick

This entire game will be played on the interior. Both teams rank above the 87th percentile in FGAs in the paint, although UCLA is shooting much better from that area.

Moreover, both teams have been high-volume and high-efficiency in the mid-range.

Surprisingly, neither team has been good at defending the paint or the mid-range. Both are solid at defending the rim but loosen up past that.

This leads me toward a play on the over. But the problem is, both teams boast solid transition defenses, and neutral-court overs are a death sentence.

From a performance perspective, it’s hard not to back UCLA. Kentucky hasn’t impressed me this season, while the Bruins already look Final Four bound. And if anyone is up for a huge game, it’s Jaquez, who could dominate in an uptempo, mid-range barnburner.

But the motivation angle pushes me toward Kentucky, as Calipari’s squad badly needs an elite nonconference victory. And if you’re looking for which player will win in the painted area, I’d have to take Tshiebwe over Adem Bona.

Historically, UCLA has owned this matchup, winning three of the past four, with all four games being wildly high-scoring. So, while I’ll likely pass on this game, I’d look toward UCLA -1.5 and over 142.5 if I had to make a play.

Betting Leans: UCLA -1.5Over 142.5

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