Akron vs. UCLA Odds, Picks, Predictions: Can Bruins Cover First-Round NCAA Tournament Spread On Thursday?
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Johnny Juzang (UCLA)
- Akron head coach John Groce is an against-the-spread machine in March. Can he cover against UCLA?
- Our college basketball betting analysts think so. Find their picks and predictions based on the latest Akron-UCLA odds below.
Akron vs. UCLA Odds
-110o / -110u
-110o / -110u
UCLA makes its 51st NCAA Tournament appearance and looks to mimic the success it had last season. The Bruins took Gonzaga down to the wire in the Final Four before losing on an unforgettable buzzer-beater.
Mick Cronin has his group poised to make another run after returning nearly all of its production. This year’s group is extremely well-balanced, ranking in the top-15 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
Akron enters the tournament winners of eight games in a row. It ran through the MAC Tournament, as well. The group matched up with just one tournament team this season in Ohio State, losing by one point.
This is an intriguing coaching duel between two of the best during tournament time. John Groce owns a 6-1 record against the spread while Mick Cronin is 12-8 in his career. With two similar hard-nosed coaching styles, this matchup is sure to be a hard-fought slug fest.
I always love backing Groce in a tournament setting. The former Ohio and Illinois coach is 6-1 against the spread in his seven tournament games, which included some major upsets with the Bobcats. He took down Georgetown as a 14-seed in 2010 and then led those same ‘Cats to the Sweet 16 in 2012.
Akron plays slow, ranking outside the top 300 in both average length of possession and average length of possession allowed — which is also great to back in a tournament setting or as an underdog in general.
The Zips were very efficient, finishing second in the MAC and top-60 overall in eFG%. It’s also great that Akron draws so many fouls, finishing top-five nationally in free-throw rate. At the minimum, that gives it a consistent source of offense.
Of course, a lot of those fouls come from the Zips’ big men. Akron post-ups at the 10th-highest frequency nationally, as Ali Ali and Enrique Freeman get the ball near the rim and get a shot up.
But don’t look for Akron to get the ball in the post every time. Akron is top-100 nationally in 3-point rate, and its two highest-usage players — Ali and point guard Xavier Castaneda — shoot a combined 38% from 3. The Zips shoot 35.6% from 3 as a whole.
Akron is a very intriguing bet in this first round. Its style of play and coaching leads me to believe the Zips can cover in this round.
Cronin has done a sensational job with UCLA in this third season. This isn’t the hard-nosed defensive squad of year’s past, rather it’s a well-balanced roster that has multiple players that can take over a game at any time.
The Bruins play exceptionally smart basketball. They turn the ball over at the fifth-lowest rate nationally and often slow down the tempo and work out of the half-court.
They’re healthy at the right time, with Johnny Juzang seemingly back at full health and playing 38 minutes in the Pac-12 Tournament title game.
While UCLA sits inside the top 100 in 3-point shooting, the Bruins don’t shoot 3s at a high rate. Instead, their offense often comes in isolation and out of the mid-range.
They have three talented scorers in Juzang, Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Jules Bernard, all of whom can take over a game at any point. They also have an efficient playmaker in Tyger Campbell at the point.
Juzang remains the primary option for UCLA. The key to the Bruins’ deep tournament run, the 6-foot-7 junior takes nearly 30% of shots while on the floor and has the second-best turnover rate in conference play.
Defensively, UCLA is well-rounded. It is the No. 1 defense in conference play in adjusted efficiency, as it defends both the perimeter and inside well.
The Bruins’ only glaring weakness on the defensive side comes on catch-and-shoot 3s, where they rank 286th, per ShotQuality. But it’s also the shot type opponents take the least.
This is a team that loves to slow it down and play defensive slugfests from the half-court. The Bruins trust their talent to get the job done while limiting possessions in the process.
Akron vs. UCLA Betting Pick
Both Groce and Cronin demand hard-nosed defensive playing styles. This matchup should be played at a slow pace, and will likely see a limited number of possessions.
Akron ranks 351st in adjusted tempo and walks the ball up before setting up for a half-court offensive set. UCLA plays at a similarly slow tempo, and Cronin loves getting into slugfests.
Akron is buoyed by four double-digit scorers and has capable outside shooters. The Zips rank in the top 100 in 3-point attempts and makes this season. That could prove to be the great equalizer when matching up against a UCLA defense that has struggled defending the perimeter at times.
The Zips get to the charity stripe at the fifth-highest rate in the country, which has led to 21% of the team’s points.
Akron will be able to compete on the interior with Ali Ali and Enrique Freeman, who won MAC Defensive Player of the Year.
Given the expected slow tempo, this game will come down to which team performs better in half-court sets. UCLA has the higher talent level and should be able to escape with a victory, but it won’t be in blowout fashion.