It’s weird to see first-round NCAA Tournament games scheduled for Saturday, but betting on March Madness looks a little bit different this year. The First Four featured a few thrilling games on Thursday, including UCLA’s impressive come-from-behind victory over Michigan State in overtime.
Moneyline Betting Odds
Spread Betting Odds
Over/Under Betting Odds
|BYU||O 139 -110|
|UCLA||U 139 -110|
The win was huge for the Bruins, but it may have come at a cost. UCLA’s leading scorer, Johnny Juzang, appeared to roll his ankle in the OT session. The sophomore was huge in the win over the Spartans, finishing with 23 points, four rebounds, and two assists in 41 minutes of action. UCLA hasn’t yet updated his status for Saturday, but he had to be helped off the floor without putting weight on his injured leg. At the very least, he seems highly questionable to be healthy enough to suit up on Saturday when the Bruins take on BYU.
BYU, the No. 6 seed in the West Region, should be much more well-rested than their opponents in this one. The Cougars are 4.5-point favorites in a game with a 139 over/under at BetOnline.
How Did BYU Get Here?
BYU finished second in the West Coast Conference behind Gonzaga. Gonzaga is quite clearly the best team in the nation, so there’s no shame in finishing second. BYU finished 20-6 during the season, with exactly half of those defeats coming at the hands of the Zags. Gonzaga got the better of BYU twice during the regular season and again in the WCC title game last weekend. All three games were decided by double digits.
However, this is still an excellent team. The Cougars rank 24th in the nation in the KenPom rankings for offensive efficiency and 26th in defensive efficiency. There aren’t many teams in America that rate out as elite on both sides of the floor, but the Cougars are one of the few.
Did BYU benefit from an easy schedule? It’s possible. When you exclude their trio of games against the best team in the country, the Cougars faced just one ranked foe all year long. That was San Diego State, but BYU did wind up winning that game by 10 points. BYU also has wins over tournament teams like Texas Southern, Utah State, and St. Mary’s, but they did lose to USC early in the year.
Alex Barcello named AP All-American Honorable Mention. 👏 👏 👏 pic.twitter.com/xJdq7ioXgf
— Daily Universe Sports (@DailyUnivSports) March 16, 2021
Alex Barcello is the Cougars’ leading scorer at 15.9 points per game, while Brandon Averette and Matt Haarms both average double-figures. Barcello was one of the best three-point shooters in the country during the season (48.6 percent). BYU is one of the better rebounding teams in the nation, which should come in handy after the Bruins were aided by 13 offensive rebounds in their comeback win over Michigan State.
Will Juzang Play?
Whether Juzang suits up is the big question for UCLA in this one. They wouldn’t have erased an 11-point halftime deficit on Thursday were it not for Juzang’s second-half heroics. Jaime Jaquez Jr. actually led the team in scoring with 27 points of his own, but we can’t really bank on the sophomore picking up the slack like that again. Jaquez averaged a little over 12 points per game during the regular season, and Thursday’s game was just the second all year in which he topped 20 points.
Jaime Jaquez Jr. totaled 27 points and Johnny Juzang finished with 23 in the Bruins’ comeback win (86-80) against Michigan State in the “First Four” on Thursday night.
— UCLA Men’s Basketball (@UCLAMBB) March 19, 2021
Juzang averaged 14.5 points during the season while knocking down about 34 percent of his treys. Add his uncertainty for Saturday in with the fact that three of his teammates all logged at least 34 minutes on Thursday and you could have a thin roster with some tired legs here. This is also a UCLA team that really struggled offensively in the latter stages of the campaign. Before Thursday’s 86-point explosion, the Bruins had been held to 79 or fewer points in five straight games.
UCLA still finished a strong 25th in the KenPom offensive efficiency rankings, but their defense left plenty to be desired. The Bruins were just 89th in that category this season.
What’s the Best Bet?
There’s a chance Juzang pulls a Willis Reed and suits up for this one, but even if he does, it’s worth wondering whether he’ll be operating at 100 percent. The Bruins may have a difficult time putting points on the board against one of the best defenses in the country, especially if their leading scorer is unable to play.
The Cougars will be a popular bet here, but with good reason. The 4.5-point spread will likely grow from here, especially if we hear before tip that Juzang will sit out. BYU is just the better team overall, so this is shaping up to be a great spot to back the favorites. Take BYU to cover on Saturday and advance to the round of 32.
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu …