Northwestern vs UCLA Odds, Picks & Prediction: Offenses to Step Up?

Northwestern vs UCLA Odds, Picks & Prediction: Offenses to Step Up? article feature image

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images. Pictured: Amari Bailey (UCLA)

Northwestern vs UCLA Odds

Saturday, March 18
8:40 p.m. ET
Northwestern Odds
-110o / -110u
-110o / -110u
Odds via bet365. Get up-to-the-minute college basketball odds here.

Northwestern and UCLA both cruised through their first-round matchups, relying on elite defense to overwhelm inferior opponents.

UCLA rates out as KenPom's top defense, while Northwestern sits at 18th. However, the Bruins and Wildcats get to those spots with different defensive schemes.

So, how do the defenses match up? And how will each offense look to score?

And, how do we bet on this second-round matchup?

Northwestern Wildcats

Northwestern made its jump this year on the back of Chris Collins' patented post-trap defense. The Wildcats pack the paint on that end, sagging off everyone except the ball-handler, and relentlessly trap any opposing post-ups.

Opponents that can shoot over the top can beat the Wildcats (324th in 3PA% allowed), but the scheme has largely worked to perfection. It's been especially good against some of the more dominant Big Ten big men while propelling Northwestern to a second-place Big Ten regular season finish.

While Northwestern packs it in on defense, the Wildcats aren't passive on that end. They're top-25 nationally in both steal rate and block rate, with every defender actively working to prevent motion and buckets.

Image Credit: CBB Analytics

Northwestern struggles a bit more on the offensive end. However, the Wildcats do have a few avenues to offense.

First, Boo Buie and Chase Audige have reached new heights this year, giving the Wildcats a competent backcourt tandem. Say it with me now: Great guard play plays in March!

Behind the guards, the Wildcats run a ton of ball-screen action and finished Big Ten play third in the conference in pick-and-roll PPP.

Finally, Buie and Audige have been surprisingly adept at creating against drop coverage. Both can pull up in the midrange or kick out, so the Wildcats have been solid in those situations.

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UCLA Bruins

I had to wash my eyes out when I saw UCLA was KenPom's top defensive team. However, a deeper dive sheds some light on the Bruins.

Every Bruin is an elite on-ball defender, and they are happy to switch one through five. Plus, Adem Bona has turned into an elite rim protector, which has taken the ULCA defense to another level.

Conversely, UCLA's offense is another mystery. The Bruins own in the midrange, with Tyger Campbell and Jaime Jaquez Jr. getting anything they want in that area.

Jaquez is a particularly tough matchup. Staring down Jaquez in an isolation situation is the scariest thing in the sport as he has every move in his bag.

How do you stop this?

Jaime Jaquez pulling out all the moves to beat the shot clock 🔥

— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) March 26, 2022

So, UCLA goes against modern-day basketball thinking, where the rim-and-3 rate is the most important factor. UCLA's offensive metrics will often be dragged down by the fact that they take "inefficient" shots, but Mick Cronin and company know exactly what they're doing.

Of any second-round matchup, UCLA pulling Northwestern is the most interesting. Can the Bruins shoot over the top of Northwestern's compact defense?

It's a big question mark because UCLA will try to attack Northwestern in the midrange, which is where Northwestern could get caught in the middle of protecting the paint and the perimeter.

However, UCLA's biggest issue is health. Bona is questionable and Jaylen Clark is done for the year.

Clark's injury is a massive issue. Per EvanMiya's DBPR ratings, Clark is the Bruins' best defensive player. So, how will his absence affect the nation's "best" defense?

Northwestern vs UCLA Betting Pick

The world thinks this will be a grinder. While it should be an ugly game, I could actually see both offenses scoring with some level of efficiency.

Both teams will run a ton of pick-and-roll while both defenses are poor against ball screens. Per ShotQuality, UCLA is 213th while Northwestern is 230th in pick-and-roll points per possession allowed.

Moreover, Clark's absence didn't mean a ton against UNC Asheville, but it could be huge against an actual Big Ten offense. Buie and Audige should have an easier time at the rim without Clark in the fold.

I also expect Campbell and Jaquez to score at will over the top of the Wildcats' post-trap defense. The Bruins will struggle to get into the paint, but they are happy to score from beyond the charity stripe.

So, ultimately, I think we'll get more points than expected here. I'm going with a contrarian bet and taking the over, expecting a slightly higher-scoring game than expected.

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