Villanova vs. UCLA Betting Odds
The biggest game of the first week of the season takes place on the West Coast Friday night. Both the Bruins and Wildcats return almost their entire rosters, which are loaded with talent and experience.
UCLA made an unlikely run to the Final Four last year, and there was an extreme amount of luck on their side. However, don’t be fooled, Tyger Shaw, Johnny Juzang, and Jaime Jaquez are going to roll through the Pac-12.
Meanwhile, Villanova lost Jeremiah Robinson-Earle, but the retention of Collin Gillespie will do wonders for this team.
Both teams blew out inferior opponents in their season openers, and both look like they’re already in mid-season form.
So, in a battle between goliaths, how do we pick a side in this matchup?
Villanova Wildcats Odds
With Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels returning, Villanova goes from Big East title contender to National Championship title contender. It will bring a level of leadership, chemistry, and scoring that’s unmatched by most teams.
However, there’s one lingering question when it comes to the Wildcats.
First issue: Defense. That end of the court plagued the Wildcats all year long last season. Villanova finished outside the top-200 in 2-point percentage, 3-point percentage, and effective field goal percentage. Plus, they finished outside the top-275 teams in block and steal rate.
Those problems will only be exacerbated by losing Robinson-Earle, who was a force on that end.
But the additions of freshman Trey Patterson and Nnanna Njoku will significantly improve the frontcourt depth. And their backcourt rotation is versatile and relatively long, plus the extra year of experience should lead to improvements on the perimeter. I hope.
Anyway, look for Jay Wright to do what he always does. The Wildcats will play slow, avoid turnovers (second in the nation last year with 9.1 per game), run a lot of pick-and-roll, bend the defense, and pass crisply around the perimeter.
It’s an offense that bends the defense but relies on a lot of solid perimeter shooting. The Wildcats didn’t shoot awesome from deep last year, but they finished in the 99th percentile of teams in spot-up situations (1.129 points per possession). They’ll score points in bunches.
UCLA Bruins Odds
UCLA is a controversial team among many college basketball fans. The hypothesis behind their uber-high ranking is as such: A team that made the Final Four returns almost their entire roster and should be ranked this high as a result.
UCLA’s NCAA tournament run was so improbable. They went on a run of shooting variance luck that was unforeseen in college hoops up until then. Here’s a look at the FT% and 3P% of UCLA’s tournament opponents last season, compared to in their tournament game vs. UCLA. Courtesy of Three-Man-Weave:
Meanwhile, UCLA shot above 40% on long 2-point jumpers in four of those six games, including 68% on those shots against Gonzaga.
But that isn’t to take away from the overwhelming amount of talent. Tyger Campbell is one of the savviest point guards in the nation, and he’s started every single game of his UCLA career. Plus, Johnny Juzang is an elite shot-creator and shot-maker who averaged 22.8 points per game during the Bruins’ tournament run.
Add in Jaime Jaquez and Cody Riley in the frontcourt, and this team will score on anybody while being stifling on the defensive end.
Moreover, the Bruins added Myles Johnson, who transferred from Rutgers. UCLA finished outside the top-200 in block rate and outside the top-300 in steal percentage, and Johnson’s 7-foot-7 wingspan and monstrous interior presence will help in that regard.
Myles Johnson with an incredible play here for Rutgers: pic.twitter.com/SiU6hCAobY
— Lukas Harkins (@hardwiredsports) January 16, 2021
Plus, Mick Cronin is entering his third year in Southern California. This team is poised to make a huge jump.
So, are the Bruins overvalued? Maybe. But at the minimum, this is a top-10 roster.
Prediction and Pick
My pick: Villanova +4.5 (-108 at UniBet)
These teams are pretty evenly matched, so taking the points is a no-brainer choice for me. However, there are other reasons I’m buying the Wildcats in this spot.
I’m skeptical of UCLA after their tournament run. It feels like the world is overvaluing UCLA coming into this season. UCLA finished the regular season outside the top-40 in KenPom adjusted efficiency.
Plus, Wright and Villanova have been here so many times before. The Wildcats were the preseason #3 team last season. How will such high expectations affect UCLA early in the season?
To me, this Bruins roster hasn’t shown me how dominant they can be. Until that happens, I’ll be fading them early.