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March Madness

Sweet 16



This is one of the few matchups the committee planned out and it could easily be the best game of the Sweet 16. UCLA looked slightly better in its first two games, which is part of the reason the 3-seed Bruins and 2-seed Wildcats are a pick 'em at 5Dimes Sportsbook for the game in Memphis.

Kentucky will have the majority of the fans, but that may not play a huge role. These teams met back in early December and UCLA won at Rupp Arena 97-92. But there isn't a whole lot to take away from that matchup. Both of these teams are a lot different than that game and are actually playing solid defense at the moment. Not to say this game will be low scoring, but these teams have won games through defense in the past month, something neither was playing in the early months of the season.

Either way, it's going to be a fun game. These teams match up fairly well in both metrics and in the lineup. The biggest outlier in the statistics is that UCLA doesn't often go to the foul line, nor does it draw any, which tends to lead to shorter games. The Bruins also don't turn it over, but rarely force turnovers themselves. Kentucky has the better overall team with the No. 8 defense in the nation according to adjusted efficiency, but it can't be overlooked that UCLA has been a lot better defensively over the past month.

The matchup to watch is obviously the three NBA prospects in Lonzo Ball vs. Malik Monk and De'Aaron Fox. Ball has been the difference for the Bruins this season and he only has two turnovers in the first two tournament games compared to 12 assists. He's not a big scorer, but he does everything else for the Bruins as seen in the assist totals when he dropped 18 points, seven rebounds and nine assists in the win over Cincinnati. Ball will also have a size advantage over any guard that Kentucky has, which could come in useful if this game comes down to the wire.

On the other side, Fox isn't a great shooter, but he can beat anyone off the dribble and that's where all of his value comes from. The UCLA defense doesn't have a bad block rate and stopping Fox from getting an easy look on every possession will be important. Monk has really struggled in the first two NCAA games, only with 26 points, but he's a guy that can go off at any time, although he hasn't topped 20 points in the last six games. With Monk being the only elite shooter on Kentucky, the Bruins could play some zone against this group and focus on limiting Monk's easy looks.

As for the rest of the players, Isaiah Briscoe has games when he comes through, but others when he struggles mightily, while Edrice Adebayo had 18 points and 13 rebounds in the first meeting between these teams. Stretch-four Derek Willis has been just as important in the tournament, giving the Wildcats offensive flexibility and rebounding to help them get wins.

UCLA also has a size edge in the frontcourt, but both TJ Leaf and Thomas Welsh will have trouble dealing with the strength of Adebayo. Still, both guys did just fine on the boards in that first meeting. Leaf matches up well with Willis, while Welsh gives up muscle, but has height on Adebayo. Isaac Hamilton is in the same mold as Briscoe, as he can be a big, all-around factor in some games, but not be much help in others. Last, but not least, is Bryce Alford for the Bruins and he's mainly there to shoot threes.

Maybe the biggest difference between the teams is that Aaron Holiday brings something off the bench in every game and Kentucky doesn't have that. UCLA has the better and more consistent offense and if Monk doesn't get things going, the Bruins will have the advantage. But if UCLA can't step up on the defensive side to reach Kentucky's level, that could be a problem. This one will come down to the wire and it's whether you trust Ball and UCLA to make shots or Monk and Fox to do their thing.

Our Pick - Kentucky +1

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