Abilene Christian vs. UCLA NCAA Tournament Odds, Picks: Bet the Bruins to Move to Sweet 16
Andy Hancock/NCAA Photos via Getty Images. Pictured: Johnny Juzang.
Abilene Christian vs. UCLA Odds
The two lowest combined seeds in the Round of 32 will meet on Monday, when No. 11 UCLA battles No. 14 Abilene Christian. Both teams pulled huge upsets and will battle for a surprising trip to the Sweet 16 in the East Region.
UCLA continued the pattern of First Four teams advancing past the Round of 64 with a comfortable 73-62 win over No. 6 BYU, in a game the Bruins never trailed. Sophomore guard Johnny Juzang continued his hot shooting with 27 points on 10-of-16 (62.5%) shooting.
Abilene Christian accomplished one of the biggest upsets of the tournament with its 53-52 win over No. 3 Texas. The Wildcats suffocating defense forced the Longhorns into 23 turnovers, which included 11 steals.
Which team should bettors support as the 2021 Cinderella moving into the Sweet 16?
The Bruins certainly fit the profile of the ideal First Four team that could make the Sweet 16.
In its opening game, UCLA earned an impressive overtime win over a physical Michigan State team, 86-80. The undersized Bruins matched the Spartans with 33 total rebounds, and their defense forced Michigan State into four more turnovers. UCLA can get hot from deep, having shot a blistering 50% (9-of-18) from beyond the arc led by sophomores Jaime Jaquez and Juzang against Sparty.
Entering the second round against BYU, there were major concerns about the health of Juzang, who was carried off the court late in overtime against Michigan State with an ankle injury. Juzang’s huge performance against the Cougars assuaged those fears and has the Bruins at full strength for this matchup.
Juzang has received huge help on offense from Jaquez, who is averaging 12.3 points and 6.1 rebounds). Jaquez had a streak of seven single-digit scoring performances within 10 games from late January to mid-February. He has now found his scoring touch, averaging 15.6 points over the last five games. Jaquez is shooting 41.2% from 3-point range, and 56.3% (9-of-16) during that five-game stretch.
With guards like Jacquez and point guard Tyger Campbell combining for 2.5 steals per game, the Bruins should be able to limit the Abilene Christian backcourt. They stifled the BYU shooters from beyond the arc, holding the Cougars to just 17.6% (3-of-17) from deep.
This will be one of the few games that UCLA will have a height advantage. Abilene Christian ranks 339th in average height, which will be an advantage for UCLA 6-foot-9 forward Cody Riley (10 points, 5.1 rebounds). Riley struggled to score against BYU’s 7-foot-4 center Matt Haarms but had success against smaller frontlines during the season. Riley had two great games of 22 points and 17 points against diminutive Arizona State (263rd in height).
Abilene Christian’s path to a win is clear: force turnovers and hit 3-pointers. The Wildcats rank first in the nation in defensive turnover percentage and shoot 37% (45th-best) from beyond the arc. They need to shoot well from deep to compensate for a poor 69.2% free throw efficiency.
Against Texas, the Wildcats shot poorly from beyond the arc, only connecting on 3-of-18 (16.7%) shots from 3-point land. They made up for the poor shooting by forcing those 23 turnovers, but that is unlikely against a UCLA that ranks 41st-best in offensive turnover percentage.
Abilene Christian should be able to slightly limit the Bruins from beyond the arc, ranking 13th-best in opponents shooting from 3-point range (29.4%). Mick Cronin’s disciplined Bruins team will not give the Wildcats nearly as many extra chances as the Longhorns did, though.
Forward Joe Pleasant (10.8 points, 47.6% 3-point shooting) and guard Coryon Mason (10.7 points, 37.7% 3-point) will likely need to combine for more than the 22 points they scored against Texas, and 7-foot center Kolton Kohl (12 points, 4.8 rebounds) needs to contribute more than six points and five rebounds.
This is a significant step up in class for Abilene Christian, who brought a season-best effort against Texas. Even with the benefit of 23 forced turnovers, the Wildcats needed two made free throws by Pleasant (a 59% free throw shooter) to advance.
Betting Analysis & Pick
I’ll back the Bruins to continue their superb play as a First Four team.
UCLA is well-coached by Cronin and the UCLA guards, led by Campbell, will be able to handle the Wildcats’ pressure. Abilene Christian was fortunate to survive against Texas, and this is a letdown spot against a disciplined Bruins team. Once the Bruins get a lead, they will find opportunities for 3-point shots by Jaquez and Juzang.
This line opened at UCLA -5 and has dropped to -4.5. I would wait to see if it goes to -4, but I’d be confident taking it up to UCLA -5.
Pick: UCLA -4.5 (up to -5)