Posted on March 18, 2023
And then there was one.
UCLA is the only Pac-12 team to advance out of the First Round after Arizona, Arizona State, and USC all went down.
With a tarnished reputation, the league’s hopes rest with the Bruins.
Facing a favorable matchup against Northwestern, Mick Cronin’s team has a strong chance of making three-straight Sweet 16s.
I preview the game here and my pick, along with that of Stephen Vilardo’s, appears at the bottom.
7-seed Northwestern vs. 2-seed UCLA
Saturday, March 18
5:40 pm PT, TNT
The Bruins face future conference foe Northwestern with a birth in the Sweet 16 on the line.
The Wildcats from Chicago have lost four of their last six games and are one of the worst shooting teams in the nation.
Entering the matchup No. 329 in field goal percentage, Northwestern runs one of the slowest offenses in all of College Basketball.
Slotting in 309th in KenPom’s tempo metric, the Big Ten team’s system plays right into the hands of UCLA.
The Bruins struggle against fast-paced and high-efficiency offenses that the likes of Gonzaga and Arizona run.
But matched up against a slow-down, ugly style of play from a team that doesn’t shoot well, Mick Cronin’s defense should thrive.
For what it’s worth, the efficiency of Northwestern’s system is somewhat respectable at 98th in KenPom’s offensive metric.
Still, out of the teams left in the Tournament, the Wildcats have the third-worst offense per KenPom.
That’s frankly not going to get it done against the No. 1 defense in the country.
Northwestern is led by two primary scorers, too, making the defensive game plan that much easier. Guard Boo Buie averages 17.3 points per game while guard Chase Audige puts up 14.0 per night.
All four of the Wildcats’ leading scorers are listed as guards, falling further into the hands of Cronin’s personnel. The Bruins have struggled when matched up against dominant bigs, but Northwestern doesn’t have any.
It’s a personnel and schematic nightmare matchup for the Big Ten team. A guard-based offense figures to struggle against Cronin’s defense and the Wildcats could legitimately fail to reach 50 points.
At the risk of beating a dead horse, Northwestern is not a strong three-point shooting team, shares the ball worse than average, and is only just above par in rebounds per game.
The Wildcats do, however, take care of the ball very well. The team enters the Second Round 9th in the nation in turnovers per game, giving up even fewer per night than UCLA.
The lack of turnovers is the lone saving grace of an otherwise uninspiring offense.
Northwestern’s strength, though, is its defense. At No. 18 in KenPom’s metric, the Wildcats might be able to keep the game close in the first half.
Still, Cronin has versatile weapons in Amari Bailey, Tyger Campbell, and Jaime Jaquez Jr. Each should have relatively efficient games and help UCLA pull away.
And if David Singleton is hitting his threes, the Bruins should win by double digits.
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—More from Dane Miller—
2023-03-18 22:00:55 ,
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