Saint Mary’s vs. UCLA Odds & Picks: Can the Gaels Cover This NCAA Tournament Matchup?
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images. Pictured: Tommy Kuhse (Saint Mary’s)
- Saint Mary's meets UCLA in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.
- The Gaels ran through Indiana in the first round, while the Bruins struggled against Akron before ultimately pulling out a win.
- Check out Anthony Dabbundo's top pick for this second-round matchup below.
Saint Mary's vs. UCLA Odds
|Saint Mary's Odds|
-110o / -110u
-110o / -110u
Despite a wild first day of upsets that included the betting favorite in the East region being eliminated (Kentucky), chalk held to form in the top half of the region. Saint Mary's and UCLA had different paths to their first-round victories, but both successfully avoided potential upsets to Indiana and Akron.
Saint Mary's thrashed Indiana by 29 points, using a 34-5 run to end the first half and begin the second half. The Hoosiers' offense was taken out of sorts by the Gaels' stellar defense, and four players scored in double figures for SMC in the blowout win.
Akron gave UCLA a very difficult challenge and led by as many as eight points late in the second half. The Bruins needed a late 15-2 run to pull ahead and win yet another close NCAA Tournament game.
This crew has consistently found late-game postseason magic in the last two seasons, winning three games in last year's tournament by one possession or in overtime.
This matchup will be decided almost exclusively in the half-court, as these are two of the slowest-paced teams remaining in the field. With two slow-it-down and grind-it-out, defense-first coaches, three is too many points for UCLA to be favored by in a game between two fairly evenly-matched teams.
The Gaels have a clear defensive game plan when you watch them. Saint Mary's takes teams out of their offensive rhythm by keeping them out of transition. It forces you to win with isolation and it doesn't let you take many 3-pointers at all.
The Gaels are first defensively in assist per field goal made rate, meaning teams aren't able to easily move the ball and pass through this compact defense.
They allow the fewest catch-and-shoot 3s in the entire country by chasing shooters off the line. They instead let teams take mid-range shots.
We might see an adjustment here from head coach Randy Bennett, given how effective UCLA is in mid-range offense. But you can't get second-chance looks against the Gaels, and you won't be able to get much at the rim.
Saint Mary's is top-40 in half-court defense, post-up defense and finishing at the rim defense, per ShotQuality. It has a bit of weakness guarding the mid-range, but that's more of a choice because of how aggressively it closes out on shooters.
From an offensive point of view, there's two key areas I like in the matchup with this UCLA defense. Tommy Kuhse is the best point guard you probably haven't heard of if you don't watch the West Coast Conference often. He runs pick-and-roll as well as any point guard in the country.
The Gaels are top-35 in PnR frequency, and that results in a lot of rim looks or catch-and-shoot 3s. The Bruins have a solid defense, but the two weakest areas for them is guarding the pick-and-roll and catch-and-shoot 3s.
Saint Mary's isn't going to turn the ball over, and will keep UCLA out of transition, where the Bruins are elite when they choose to run.
Akron caused more than a few problems for the Bruins by playing stout interior defense, slowing the game down to a crawl and forcing UCLA to play exclusively in the half-court.
The Zips didn't make anything from the perimeter at all and were still live to win that game deep into the second half and into the final minute.
In many ways, the Gaels are a better version of the Zips. UCLA's offense thrives off of maximizing its shot attempts by never turning it over and generating second-chance looks.
While the Gaels won't really turn over opponents much, they are one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the entire country, and won't let Myles Johnson or Cody Riley live on the offensive glass.
The Bruins' offense should be able to find some success in isolation and in the mid-range, given that's what Saint Mary's forces opponents to do, and that's two of the biggest strengths of the Bruins' offense.
UCLA is top-25, per ShotQuality, in both mid-range offense and isolation offense. Johnny Juzang, Jules Bernard and Jaime Jaquez Jr. are plenty comfortable getting shots for themselves in this game if the Gaels are clogging the passing lanes.
Saint Mary's vs. UCLA Betting Pick
The market opened UCLA as a 3.5-point favorite, and it was immediately bet down to 3, with Gaels money hitting the market opener.
We're even seeing 2.5s pop at some places as of Friday afternoon, so there's signs that the market is expecting this game to be closer than the opener indicated.
Bennett is one of the best in-game coaches in the entire country, and trying to prepare for the Saint Mary's offense and play style on just one day of rest is quite difficult.
The total is set at just 126.5, but this could be a sneaky potential over game because there are some paths to offensive efficiency for both units.
Saint Mary's PnR offense should lead to rim looks and open 3-pointers on assists from Kuhse, and UCLA is comfortable hitting mid-range and isolation shots to help this game from an efficiency point of view.
Without the necessary pace or second-chance looks, it's just a lean to the over for me. But the Bruins are too big of a favorite in what projects as a true toss-up game.
The Bruins are about a point or two better than the Gaels, but three isn't showing Saint Mary's enough respect in the market. I'll take SMC at +2.5 or better.