UCLA vs. Kentucky Odds, Picks, Predictions (12/17/22)

Saturday’s neutral site matchup between UCLA and Kentucky is one of the highlights of a loaded college basketball schedule. The Bruins haven’t lost in four weeks and are coming off a rout of Maryland, while Kentucky will be trying to regather momentum after playing only four games over the last four weeks.

Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks and predictions for Saturday’s game at Madison Square Garden.

UCLA vs. Kentucky Odds

UCLA enters as a slight 2-point favorite in this neutral site matchup, sitting at -140 on the moneyline. The over/under is set at 142 points.

It’s a very close line for two teams with Final Four potential. UCLA has proven more than Kentucky so far this season, considering the Wildcats only have one genuinely impressive win (vs. Michigan) and have a history of coming together slowly under John Calipari. Still, Kentucky has strong depth and one of the nation’s best players in Oscar Tshiebwe.

UCLA vs. Kentucky Prediction & Pick

Kentucky hasn’t always looked the part this season, with a pretty decisive loss to Gonzaga and close ones against Michigan and Michigan State (one win, one loss). By all indications, UCLA is better than all of those teams. Kentucky hasn’t seen guard play like what the Bruins have, and the defense seems to be improving after shaky performances early in the season.

The major concern for UCLA is the size disadvantage. These two didn’t play last year, so we don’t know exactly how dominant Oscar Tshiebwe can be with the Bruins’ talent gap in the frontcourt.

At the same time, Kentucky won’t be able to rely entirely on Tshiebwe’s defense with so many UCLA guards who can score. Slowing down all of those options will be a real challenge for John Calipari’s team, and it has me leaning toward UCLA -2.

UCLA vs. Kentucky Key Matchups

Kentucky doesn’t have the wins to be considered one of the nation’s elite teams just yet, but the talent is there. The Wildcats are top-10 in the nation in rebounding and are shooting better than 39% from beyond the arc. Tshiebwe, who is averaging 16.1 points and 13.3 rebounds per game so far this season, gives Kentucky a clear advantage in the paint. Tshiebwe and Jacob Toppin make the Wildcats a dangerous rebounding team.

Defense will be something to watch for Kentucky. The Wildcats’ overall numbers are solid, but they allowed 86+ points in losses to Gonzaga and Michigan State. Against a UCLA team with some experienced scorers and a collection of talented guards, guys other than Tshiebwe will have to step up on the defensive end.

UCLA averages close to 82 points per game, shooting 50.4% from the field. The Bruins are also one of the best teams in the nation at limiting turnovers, thanks in part to the experience of PG Tyger Campbell. Campbell and Jaime Jaquez are two established scorers, while Jaylen Clark’s emergence as a legitimate No. 2 scorer has helped elevate this team.

Amari Bailey’s performance will be key in this game. The standout freshman has shined in certain games and struggled mightily in others. Considering he’s mostly struggled against tougher competition, the bright lights of MSG may be an issue. Overall, though, UCLA has overcome those struggles thanks to such a talented group of guards.

A consequence of being so reliant on guards is a lack of size. This is a small UCLA team, with 6’10” Adem Bona and 6’7” Jaquez giving the Bruins their only taste of size among their high-usage players. UCLA averages only 31 rebounds per game, well behind Kentucky’s 39.2.

UCLA has been very solid defensively of late. The Bruins have held every team other than Illinois and Baylor under 70 points this season. While Kentucky should get past the 70 mark, UCLA should also have more than enough to win a shootout.

Dan is a lifelong sports fan and graduate of Boston University. He’s covered several sports on Instagram since he was 12 and now writes about everything from betting trends to breaking news for Lineups.

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