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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, March 18, 2017 at 3:00 PM

Cincinnati might be the LAST team the UCLA Bruins wanted to face in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. And, the kids from the City of Angels already had an unlucky draw getting stuck up front in the same region with North Carolina and Kentucky!

Cincinnati plays very slow, UCLA likes it very fast

Cincinnati plays tough physical defense, UCLA wants to put on a show

Cincinnati has improved its offense, which matches up well vs. UCLA’s soft defense

It’s not quite Kryptonite across the board. UCLA is still a market betting favorite after all. But, the Bruins must shine in a style they don’t particularly like if they want to advance to the second week of action.

We start our preview of this Sunday night TV showcase with a look at Friday’s boxscores…

 

UCLA 97, Kent State 80

2-point Shooting: Kent State 45%, UCLA 67%

Three Pointers: Kent State 9/22, UCLA 7/14

Free Throws: Kent State 9/12, UCLA 16/23

Rebounds: Kent State 36, UCLA 33

Turnovers: Kent State 8, UCLA 6

Phantom Score: Kent State 80, UCLA 93

This was a relatively soft draw for the Bruins because of the matchups. They still couldn’t cover an inflated spread though. Even though UCLA won handily, you can see in the boxscore that they didn’t force many turnovers in a high-possession game, didn’t rebound with intensity, and didn’t protect the arc very well. They figured Kent State couldn’t stay up with them in a track meet. They were right! Will be tougher going the next time out. (If you’re a newcomer, Phantom Score is a quick estimate of what a score “should” have been based on fundamentals. It’s simply the sum of two-point scoring plus rebounds. Here it was close to the actual scoreboard count. UCLA hitting 50% of their treys helped push them toward the century mark).

 

Cincinnati 75, Kansas State 61

2-point Shooting: Kansas State 39%, Cincinnati 69%

Three Pointers: Kansas State 7/18, Cincinnati 5/11

Free Throws: Kansas State 12/15, Cincinnati 16/22

Rebounds: Kansas State 23, Cincinnati 31

Turnovers: Kansas State 7, Cincinnati 11

Phantom Score: Kansas State 51, Cincinnati 75

Kansas State was a much tougher opponent for Cincinnati than Kent State was for UCLA. And, the underdog had that “head start” advantage that often helps the play-in winners. They don’t have jitters but do have confidence! Yet, Cincinnati dominated…and showed how they could bully UCLA too. Look at those shooting numbers inside. The Bearcats patiently found easy inside shots, and earned some trips to the free throw line. Look at rebounding. If UCLA isn’t hot, will they get many second chance points? Phantom Score was an even bigger blowout. The only strike against Cincinnati is that they may have peaked one game too early. You can see why the “rock-paper-scissors” matchup dynamics of the NCAA tournament could favor the Bearcats Sunday.

 

Computer Rankings

Cincinnati: #19 at Kenpom, #19 at Sagarin

UCLA: #18 at Kenpom, #15 at Sagarin

The computers have been down on UCLA all season relative to the TV pundits and betting markets. Neither Ken Pomeroy of kenpom.com nor Jeff Sagarin of USA Today would have had them as a #3 seed. The math guys say this is a virtual pick-em, with the slightest of neutral court edges for UCLA. How much will playing the game in Sacramento be worth?

 

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency

Cincinnati: 115.2 per 100 possessions (#33 in the nation)

UCLA: 123.2 per 100 possessions (#2 in the nation)

UCLA has a fantastic offense, very similar to what Golden State likes to do in terms of flying up and down the floor and getting good looks on treys. If you’ve watched some Cincinnati games in recent years, you’re probably thinking UGLY BASKETBALL! Normally, this is a bruising team that hurts you with its defense but can’t shoot to save its life. This year’s team can shoot, and ranks in the top 35 nationally on offense when you adjust for pace and caliber of opposition.

 

Adjusted Defensive Efficiency

Cincinnati: 92.3 per 100 possessions (#11 in the nation)

UCLA: 100.3 per 100 possessions (#83 in the nation)

This is why the computers are so down on UCLA. It’s tough to string together wins in games that matter if you don’t play Dance caliber defense. UCLA can “outscore” what its defense allows often enough…but the pressure on their own offense is too great to produce on command every time out. Big edge to Cincinnati here. If UCLA doesn’t get help from the refs in their home state, the Bruins could be in some real trouble.

 

Pace Ranking

Cincinnati: #327

UCLA: #13

Huge extremes…which is why both teams will be focused on imposing their preferred tempo on proceedings. UCLA wants to run…and will use a loud home-state crowd to help magnify that energy. Cincinnati may have no chance if they fall into the trap of running and attacking. UCLA will go on a 12-2 spurt somewhere along the line and that’s the game. If Cincinnati can slow things down, then UCLA will become frustrated and even less likely to survive.

 

Against the Spread

Cincinnati: 17-14-1

UCLA: 16-18

Tough for the Bruins to be a money-maker because the market was pricing them as national championship threats much of the season. Cincinnati was slightly profitable.

Well, OBVIOUSLY, our stat guys will be lobbying for Cincinnati plus the points within NETWORK’S exclusive TEAM HANDICAPPING approach. But, our sources on site may have a different story to tell. And, our friends behind the line in Las Vegas and offshore may see something in smart money betting that ends up being the decider.  We don’t know at press time if this game will be in JIM HURLEY’S mix. You’ll have to sign up Sunday to find out!

You can always purchase game day selections right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-888-777-4155 Sunday morning before the action gets started.

Back with you midweek to run a game preview for the Sweet 16. Keep enjoying March’s BASKETBALL BONANZA with WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!

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