UNC Asheville Hopes to Pull Off the Upset
Two teams will be looking to continue their strong recent runs with a win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament when the UCLA Bruins meet the UNC Asheville Bulldogs on Thursday.
The Bruins are returning to the tournament for their third straight year after a strong season that saw them win the Pac-12 regular-season title and finish as runner-up in the Pac-12 conference tournament. UCLA went to the Sweet 16 last year after making it to the Final Four as an 11-seed the year prior.
After reaching the national semifinals as a play-in team in 2021, the Bruins know the danger of underestimating a higher seed and won’t overlook a Bulldogs team entering the tournament with momentum.
UNC Asheville won both the Big South regular-season title and Big South conference tournament and will be looking to make some noise in the dance with a rare 15-over-2-seed upset. 17½
According to college basketball lines, UCLA is a 17½-point favorite in the matchup.
UCLA Defense Leads Way
The offense is strong, but their defense has been a constant for the UCLA Bruins all season.
UCLA’s defense is seventh in the nation in points allowed while it is first in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rating. The opponents average 60.3 points on 40.6% shooting against the Bruins.
The Bruins’ defense remained strong throughout the Pac-12 Tournament and was one of the reasons they reached the championship game. Through three games, teams averaged 62 points on 40.3% shooting against UCLA.
UCLA is also one of the best pressure teams, leading the Pac-12 with 15.9 forced turnovers. The Bruins will be without Jaylen Clark, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year who suffered a torn Achilles in UCLA’s regular-season finale.
The Bruins were able to step up in Clark’s absence in the Pac-12 Tournament, forcing 12 turnovers a game, and they’ll have to keep that defensive pressure up throughout the course of the tournament.
According to NCAA basketball odds, UCLA has +1200 odds to win March Madness.
The UNC Asheville Bulldogs have one of the best offenses in the Big South.
The Bulldogs are first in the Big South in scoring and field goal percentage, averaging 75 points on 47.7% shooting. The Bulldogs are also one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the nation, ranking seventh in the country at 39%.
The Bulldogs’ offensive numbers haven’t strayed too far outside of their averages, averaging 74.8 points on 47.4% shooting in their last five games.
UNC Asheville is led by big man and Big South Player of the Year Drew Pember, who averages 21.2 points. Tajion Jones also averages double figures, scoring 15 points a game. Two of the Bulldogs’ top three scorers can all also shoot the three, averaging over 40% from beyond the arc, while Pember shoots 37.3% from three.
Our guy Drew Pember (@drewpember) has had one of the best of seasons ever by a @BigSouthSports player
🏆 Preseason Player of the Year
🏆 Player of the Year
🏆 Tournament MVP
He is just the second player in league history to win all three in the same season! #ALLinAVL #IWWD pic.twitter.com/Pfu08mF0OZ
— Asheville Basketball (@UNCAvlMBB) March 7, 2023
The Bulldogs’ strong and consistent scoring will be key as they try to upset UCLA in the first round.
UCLA vs UNC Asheville Game Injuries
UCLA vs UNC Asheville Head-to-Head
Thursday’s matchup will be the first between UCLA and UNC Asheville.
According to college basketball odds, UCLA has +350 odds to make it to the Final Four while the sportsbook gives UNC Asheville +10000 odds to do so.
UCLA vs UNC Asheville Game Information
- Game: UCLA (29-5, 18-2 Pac-12) vs UNC Asheville (27-7, 16-2 Big South)
- Location: Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, CA
- Day/Time: Thursday, March 16, 10:05 p.m. ET
- UCLA vs UNC Asheville Live stream: TBS.com
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UCLA vs UNC Asheville Betting Lines
UCLA vs UNC Asheville Picks & Prediction
Both teams have momentum on their side from strong conference seasons and will hope to use that to their advantage.
Although UCLA is dealing with injury issues with Clark out as well as Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Adem Bona questionable, the Bruins’ veteran presence should help make up for it. Pember and the Bulldogs’ hot shooting should help keep them steady with a Bruins team that may be more vulnerable defensively, but UCLA can still get it done on offense, which should give it the win. However, UNC Asheville should keep it closer than the line predicts.
The UCLA Bruins are listed at -2215 in our Vegas lines. This means that if you wager $100 on the Bruins, you have a chance to win $15. The UNC Asheville Bulldogs are +1115, offering a chance to win $1115 on a $100 wager.
The implied probability attached to the betting lines gives the UCLA Bruins a 95.68% chance to win, with the UNC Asheville Bulldogs at 8.23%.