Top Sportsbooks have released their odds for tonight’s high-profile matchup between Villanova and UCLA. If you believe the early-season rankings, then two of the nation’s four best teams will be squaring off.
I don’t, however, lend credence to the current rankings. I’ll explain why when I defend the side that I recommend you invest in by playing the spread.
Villanova Wildcats vs. UCLA Bruins
Friday, November 12, 2021 – 11:30 PM EST at Pauley Pavilion
Ranked Too Highly
Currently, UCLA is ranked at number two. This could easily not be the case, though. After losing its last three regular-season games and its Pac-12 Tournament opener, the Bruins snuck into the play-in game against Michigan State. It took a second-half collapse on the part of Michigan State for the Bruins to advance.
During the Tournament, they benefitted from incredibly fortunate shooting variance. While their opponents underachieved massively — relative to their season average from the free-throw line and from behind the arc — they benefitted from uncanny shooting efficiency on the offensive end.
Of course, the Bruin defense and UCLA scorers deserve plenty of credit. My point is not simply that UCLA is undeserving of its run last year.
I am only saying that this quite likely isn’t the second-best team in the nation. UCLA is also simply not going to begin the season in March form with its playmakers draining every pull-up or fade away inside the arc.
The Bruin defense, as I will describe, likewise merits pessimism. As a whole, this Bruin squad under Mick Cronin tends to start slow. In 2020, UCLA’s first year under Cronin, the Bruins lost their first serious — against a KenPom top-50 opponent — matchup as BYU beat them by 15 points.
Likewise, in 2021, the Bruins lost their season opener against San Diego State, a KenPom number 30 team that beat them by 15 points. Both years saw the Bruins get hot late as, in 2020, they produced a seven-game win streak in February. In 2021, they made that March run.
It’s easy to be seduced by your most recent memories of UCLA. But recognize for your sports betting that this game takes place in November in a new season.
Of course, just because it isn’t March, and even if UCLA hadn’t made the run it did last year, the Bruins could still win tonight’s game if they had meaningful matchup advantages.
If UCLA has a matchup advantage, it will come at the basket. Last year, Villanova’s greatest weakness on defense came in rim protection. The Wildcats ranked middle-of-the-pack nationally in limiting opposing field goal percentage at the rim.
They ranked “only” this poorly because they packed the paint. This concentration of players in front of the basket explains the giant uptick in three-pointers allowed: they made sacrifices defending the perimeter in order to prevent more easy layups.
Consideration of the team’s returning personnel indicates that Nova will continue to be weakest in this respect.
UCLA Shot Profile
UCLA is a relatively unlikely candidate to take advantage of this weakness. Last season, the Bruins attempted the 19th-lowest rate of shot attempts at the rim. Know for your best bets that they are even less likely to show inclination or comfort in this area of the court due to the injury-induced absence of Cody Riley.
The Bruins will miss Riley because of his size and strength, which allowed him to be one of the Pac-12’s most efficient scorers inside the arc. The center was UCLA’s top option at the rim.
His replacement, center Myles Johnson, is a big man, for sure, but the transfer from Rutgers has never been very much of a shot-taker. At the position, the Bruins also lack scoring depth behind him.
Lack of scoring at the basket will compel UCLA to continue shooting more from the analytically dreadful mid-range and from behind the arc, where Villanova under Jay Wright is often one of the nation’s best teams at limiting three-point efficiency and/or attempts.
Villanova Offense vs. UCLA Defense
With its plethora of returning scorers — literally all of the top ones after Robinson-Earl, Villanova promises once again to have one of the country’s most efficient offenses.
The Wildcats thrive in the pick-and-roll where they have multiple guys who comfortably create for others finishing inside or scoring from behind the arc. Point guard Collin Gillespie, the preseason Big East Player of the Year, is obviously a known element.
Also look out for guys like Caleb Daniels, who ranked in the 84th percentile last year in PPP (points per possession) when passing off a pick-and-roll.
Villanova’s playmaking guards will create open shots, such that the Bruin defense won’t be able to count on similar levels of opposing inefficiency that benefitted it last March.
UCLA will begin its fall down to Earth as it will fail to take advantage of Villanova’s defensive weakness while a ruthless Wildcat offense ball-screens and passes a Bruin defense to death that often surrendered massive scoring outputs against capable offenses.
For the above reasons, invest in Villanova with your NCAAB Picks.
NCAAB Pick: Villanova +4 (-109) at SugarHouse