Gonzaga vs. UCLA Empire Classic Preview and Best Bet

A serving of No. 1 vs. No. 2 is on the Feast Week menu, and it comes with a side of college basketball odds when the Gonzaga Bulldogs take on the UCLA Bruins at the Empire Classic on Tuesday.

Johnny Juzang #3 of the UCLA Bruins. Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images/AFP.

Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. UCLA Bruins

Tuesday, November 23, 2021 – 10:00 PM EST at T-Mobile Arena

Now that Mick Cronin has UCLA back to prominence, we could all use an annual clash between the Bruins and Mark Few’s Gonzaga cagers. Both teams topped the latest set of conventional rankings, the Bulldogs occupying the top rung on the ladder with the Bruins a somewhat distant second in the AP and coaches polls. Gonzaga is also No. 1 in the Ken Pomeroy ratings where UCLA sits in seventh.

Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins. Jamie Squire/Getty Images/AFP.

Each side also got Feast Week started with wins in the first round of this event, though Monday’s matchups were really just a chance for the Bruins and Bulldogs to tune-up for their clash with one another. We’ve even got a recent matchup from last year’s NCAA Men’s Tournament to help whet our college basketball betting appetites for this tilt.

Zags Own 4-2 Edge in All-Time Series

Playing this in Las Vegas should really help boost action on the 1-2 matchup, and Bet365 has installed Gonzaga as a 5½-point favorite. Those interested in playing the scoreboard are looking at a 156½-point total.

This will be the seventh meeting between the programs, all six previous tilts taking place in the last 22 years with half of them coming during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. One of those matchups should still be fresh on the minds of college hoops fans after the Bulldogs beat the Bruins 93-90 in an overtime thriller in the Final Four nearly eight months ago.

The fact that UCLA even took Gonzaga to overtime was an achievement in its own right considering the 11th-seeded Bruins were 14-point underdogs. That was UCLA’s second consecutive cover after the unranked Bruins pulled off a mild upset of the then-No. 20 Bulldogs in Spokane in December 2015.

The other two March Madness meetings between the two took place in the Sweet 16 of 2015, a 74-62 win and cover for Gonzaga, and the Sweet 16 of the 2005 event, UCLA posting a 73-71 win in that one.

Few Empties Bench in Monday’s Rout of CMU

Gonzaga got the week started by almost doubling up the Central Michigan Chippewas on Monday, 107-54. The Bulldogs were favored by 34½ on the sportsbooks, and Few was quick to turn the game over to his bench as Drew Timme and Andrew Nembhard each only played 15 minutes.

The Bulldogs split the covers in their first four games, the two spread defeats coming to Dixie State and Alcorn State who were each 40-point underdogs. They warmed up for this tournament with a 92-50 win over Bellarmine last Friday. Gonzaga was giving up 31 at home to the Knights and took a 20-point lead into the break. Timme netted 25 points in 25 minutes, and the Bulldogs sank 11-of-23 attempts from 3-point range.

Just as they did a year ago, the Bulldogs are leading the nation with a 55.5% field goal conversion rate. Timme and freshman Chet Holmgren are contributing heavily to that with the pair a combined 61-for-89 (68.5%) from the field.

Were Bruins Caught Looking Ahead on Monday?

We’ll take a little pity on Bellarmine after the Knights faced UCLA on Monday just three days after getting whipped in Spokane by Gonzaga. Bellarmine even put up a pretty good fight against the No. 2 team in the country in the 75-62 Bruins victory. That final failed to cover the 19-point spread at online betting sites, and UCLA struggled a little on the offensive end.

The backcourt trio of Johnny Juzang, Jules Bernard, and Jaime Jaquez Jr. had been leading the Bruins, but they combined to shoot just 10-for-33 from the field – 4-for-13 from 3-point range – against the Knights. Juzang, Bernard, and Jaquez are averaging 50 points a game between them, but could only muster 24 on Monday. Freshman guard Peyton Watson (19 points) came off the bench to lead UCLA in scoring, while senior David Singleton added 13.

Cronin’s crew has been without forward Cody Riley since injuring a knee in the opening minutes of the season opener. That really leaves only Myles Thompson, the transfer from Rutgers, to man the paint for UCLA, and that’s a tall order – no pun intended – against the likes of Timme and Holmgren. I’m willing to lay the points with my free college basketball pick.

NCAAB Pick: Gonzaga -5½ (-110) at Bet365