NCAA Basketball Betting Preview: (11) UCLA Bruins vs. Georgia Bulldogs(11) UCLA vs Georgia
TV: ESPN U, 7:30 PM EST
Spread: UCLA -12.5
M/L: UCLA -825, GA +625
The UCLA Bruins went 19-14 last year with an 11-7 record in the Pac-12 and there’s a lot of reasons to expect this year will be a lot better. They just ended their third straight season with the frustration of not reaching a postseason tournament, which was horrible after coming off of three straight final four appearances.
Bring in an excellent recruiting class and things are all roses and daisies again. Coach Ben Howland managed to snag two of the top five recruits in the country, but the real kicker is that Shabazz Muhammad, the top one, was ruled ineligible for the season. It’s not a death blow to the Bruins, but it’s damn close.
They’ll try to salvage the season on the shoulders of the 6’10″ 305 pound Joshua Smith. Smith finished last year with 10.9 points per game in just 22 minutes of play per night. He needs to lose weight, but if he does, he’ll be even scarier for Pac-12 opponents. His weight is pretty much the key to UCLA’s success this year, to be flat and simple.
If he’s still way overweight, though, UCLA will rely on five-star recruit Anthony Stover to pick up the slack. David and Travis Ware, the twins, will also see some minutes at the 5-spot, and the duo averaged 21.7 points per game combined last year, and also 12.2 rebounds per game between them.
The real story though, remains the loss of Muhammad, who likely won’t be around for next year anyway, as a projected top pick in the NBA draft. Larry Drew will try to pick up the slack in the backcourt, after coming from UNC, but he’s a one season rental. A 6’2″ senior, Drew has the talent to carry the Bruins and run the squad, but we’ll see the ultimate potential of this team, which was projected to be much better before the loss of their premier player.
Last season, following the departure of Trey Thompkins, the Georgia Bulldogs finished 15-17 with a 5-11 record in the SEC. They failed to qualify for postseason play, but they have established their program under head coach Mark Fox, who is entering his fourth season as the Bulldogs coach.
Their goal remains to become a consistent NCAA tournament team, but Athlon Magazine predicts that the Bulldogs end up in the NIT this year.
“I like this group, it’s the first team I’ve had that I’ve recruited every guy,” Fox said. “I think we’ll have long, rangy perimeter players…some depth and some experience…We’ve established some depth (and) have a group that is going to be together. I think we’ll be much improved.”
They should be improved, but will it be enough to beat a nationally ranked team like UCLA, who college basketball oddsmakers favor by 12.5 points?
If they can, it will be due to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who averaged 13.2 points per game last year as a freshman and did just about everything for the Bulldogs last year. “We probably asked him to do too much,” Fox said.
If Caldwell-Pope can continue to take strides, this Georgia team could return to the NCAA tournament, but no other player averaged even 8 points per game last year, so that’s far from a certainty.