Gonzaga vs. UCLA Prediction: Who Wins Early Showdown Between Nation's Top 2 Teams?
Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. UCLA Bruins
Spread: Gonzaga -5.5
Game time: Tuesday, 10 p.m. ET
Where to Watch: ESPN
Gonzaga vs. UCLA Prediction
Tonight's matchup between the Gonzaga Bulldogs and UCLA Bruins is the most anticipated regular season matchup of the entire college basketball season. Last year's overtime instant classic in the Final Four was one of the best games of all time, and we are lucky enough to be treated to a rematch with both teams returning many key pieces from last year's squads. So who has the upper hand in the 43rd regular season matchup of the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams in the AP Top 25?
UCLA had a tune-up for this mammoth game yesterday, beating winless Bellarmine 75-62. Pay no attention to the final score, as the Bruins' attention was rightfully on tonight's showdown all game. The Bruins already own a win over a top-five team, coming back from a double-digit deficit to defeat Villanova at home. Outside of that game, the Bruins have cruised to three other easy victories by an average of 31 PPG. UCLA enters this game with the seventh-ranked adjusted offensive efficiency (per KenPom) and takes excellent care of the basketball, turning the ball over on just 14.0% of their possessions (ranks seventh in the country).
Gonzaga's schedule has been similar to UCLA's in the early going, as they also had a "tune-up" game last night and also owns a home win over a top-five team. The difference has been that Gonzaga has not yet had a close call of any sorts, with their smallest margin of victory being 12 points over Texas (had a 22-point lead in that game and never trailed), and their other four wins coming by an average of 39.0 PPG. In addition, Gonzaga has the country's No. 1 ranked adjusted offensive efficiency, and their defense is not far behind, rated 14th in the same metric.
In last year's Final Four thriller, each team played at an extremely high level. UCLA shot 57.6% from the field, while Gonzaga hit 58.7% of their shots. The amazing part is that one could not say the defenses played poorly, as the offenses just came up clutch.
In that game, UCLA's Johnny Juzang, Jaime Jaquez, and Tyger Campbell combined for 65 of the team's 90 points. The trio is largely responsible for the Bruins' success early this season, combining for 46.2 points per game.
UCLA had no answer for Gonzaga's Drew Timme last year, as Timme was 11-for-15 from the field for 25 points. However, Bruins head coach Mick Cronin had to be pleased with their defense on Andrew Nembhard, limiting him to 4-for-9 shooting and 11 points, the lowest of any of the Bulldogs starters.
While Gonzaga is equally as talented as last year's historic team, they have many more new faces on their roster than UCLA. Three starters (Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi, Jalen Suggs) are gone from last year's squad, and new players like top-recruit Chet Holmgren have yet to impact the Bulldogs' biggest games. Mick Cronin had a lot of success exploiting one-on-one matchups in last year's contest, and UCLA shot a blistering 70% from mid-range. While there is likely to be a regression from that metric, the Bruins are better built to make the adjustments from last year's game than are the Bruins.
For starters, Rutgers transfer Myles Johnson is a load inside and defensively will be trusted to contain Timme one-on-one. That is an underrated key to this game, as most teams need to double Timme, which frees up Gonzaga's 3-point shooters.
Since UCLA's Cody Riley remains out with a knee injury, the Bruins have gone small, which is an issue for Gonzaga defensively. Does Chet Holgrem see a lot of minutes tonight? And if he does, who does he guard?
Of the 24 regular-season meetings between the AP Poll's No. 1 and No. 2 teams, No. 2 is 13-11 SU. Gonzaga is 2-10 all-time vs. a top-two team, and Mark Few's record in nine of those games is 2-7.
UCLA is the more cohesive and connected group and is better positioned to use its personnel to exploit Gonzaga's weaknesses. The Bruins have covered the spread as underdogs in their last six games and are 6-1 ATS in their last seven neutral site games. Not only will UCLA cover tonight, but they have a great chance to win outright.
Gonzaga vs. UCLA Pick
- PICK: UCLA +5.5 (-110)