North Carolina vs UCLA: Betting Odds, Picks, and Predictions (3/24/22)

UNC vs UCLA Betting Odds

The Tar Heels are so confusing. One night, they look like a team that should be playing in the NIT. The next night, they’re blowing out Baylor on the way to a Sweet Sixteen.

It wasn’t without plenty of drama, but UNC did pull off the unlikely upset. The Tar Heels winning the overtime period was super impressive, as it’s hard for a team to regroup after blowing a 26-point lead.

Meanwhile, nobody is surprised UCLA is back here. Mick Cronin led his team to a Final Four last season, and his team is ready to do it again.

The Bruins are finally healthy, something they haven’t been all season. That’s a scary prospect.

UCLA is laying 2.5-points, although the line has been pushed up from 2.

Can we trust the Tar Heels? Or is this set up for a Bruin blowout?

UNC Tar Heels Odds

On February 16, the Tar Heels had just dropped a home game to Pittsburgh. They had yet to record a Quad 1 victory, going 0-7 in those opportunities, and it seemed UNC had missed the Field of 68.

UNC rolled off six straight victories, capped with wins over Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Duke. It got UNC off the bubble and onto the eight-seed line.

The talent has always been there. Brady Manek and Armando Bacot could be the best frontcourt in the nation. Leaky Black is a lockdown defender in the backcourt, and Caleb Love can be a dominant threat. RJ Davis shoots 39% from 3.

But the Tar Heels never put it all together. Until the first round against Marquette.

Laying 3.5 points against the Golden Eagles, North Carolina won by 32. Manek had a career game, dropping 28 points and grabbing 11 boards.

Then, catching 5.5 points against Baylor, North Carolina dominated that game. I’d be worried about the Tar Heels’ mental capacity after blowing a lead like that, but the refs were very one-sided in that game.

When North Carolina is rolling, the Tar Heels are grabbing rebounds (second in defensive rebounding rate), defending smart (10th in opponent free-throw rate), and running the floor (31st in tempo). Plus, the team relies on Manek/Bacot to overpower opposing front lines.

But that doesn’t always happen. The 2022 Tar Heels are a confounding team.

But North Carolina might be finally putting it all together.

UCLA Bruins Odds

UCLA is so tough, so steady, and so consistent. This team is experienced, battle-tested, and healthy.

The Bruins are also confounding. UCLA is the least analytically friendly team in the nation, relying almost entirely upon the mid-range. UCLA is sixth nationally in mid-range frequency while being sub-300 in both rim frequency and 3-point rate.

But the shots go in! And the shots go in constantly. The Bruins are top-10 nationally in mid-range efficiency, as you can tell by their season-long shot chart.

Screen Shot 2022 03 22 at 5.30.15 PM

Image credit: CBB Analytics

So, the analytics don’t like it, but the Bruins have a style of play that works. Johnny Juzang, Jaime Jaquez, and Jules Bernard are among the three-best shot makers in the game. And everyone excels in isolation situations, with the Bruins ranking top-20 nationally in isolation efficiency.

Moreover, UCLA takes care of the ball, finishing fifth nationally in offensive turnover rate underneath the leadership of Tyger Campbell. Campbell is one of the savviest and most-experienced point guards in the nation, and he knows how to get the ball to his teammate’s spots.

The defense is also tough. The Bruins’ two-through-four all stand between 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-9, and they all have the athleticism and ability to switch easily. UCLA finished in the 85th percentile in PPP allowed in man defense this season (.812).

It’s so hard to beat the Bruins when they’re healthy and making their shots. UCLA is both right now. During one stretch in the Saint Mary’s game, the Bruins made seven straight mid-range shots – that feels impossible.

UNC vs UCLA Prediction and Pick

This line is giving UNC too much respect.

KenPom makes this spread -4, as does ShotQuality. Bart Torvik makes it -3.5.

North Carolina is not suited to deal with UCLA’s attack. The Tar Heels were 163rd in defending midrange opportunities and 126th in defending isolation. They also don’t pressure the ball, so Tyger should have plenty of time to walk the ball up the floor and set the offense. This game is going to play at UCLA’s pace, and not UNC’s.

North Carolina will have advantages on the offensive end themselves, as Bacot and Manek will perform well against an undersized UCLA interior. But UCLA is smart on the interior, ranking top-50 in defending post-up situations and top-90 at protecting the rim.

UCLA will take care of the ball and continue to make shots, and the Heels will have no answer.

I like the Bruins up to -3 and will be throwing them in a couple of moneyline parlays.

March Madness Bracket

Tanner joined Lineups to cover everything, but he has vast experience in, and unlimited passion for, Major League Baseball and NCAA Basketball. He’s a McGill University grad and former (Canadian) Division-I alpine ski racer who now spends his time drinking beer and betting home underdogs. Patrick Mahomes is a poor man’s Tom Brady.

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