Sweet 16: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers vs. UCLA Bruins Preview and Pick

Sweet 16: (12) Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (29-6), +12, o/u 133 vs. (1) UCLA Bruins, -12, o/u 133, U.S. Airways Center, Phoenix, Arizona, 9:40 p.m. Eastern, Thursday
by Oracle of Predictem.com

Why is everyone so surprised to see a 12-seed become a Cinderella story during the NCAA Tournament?

Practically nobody expected No. 12 Western Kentucky to get to the Sweet 16, let alone beat No. 5 Drake in the opening round of the tournament in a battle between two mid-major teams. That game was highlighted by a Ty Rogers’ shot for the ages, hitting a 25-foot three-pointer at the buzzer to give his team the overtime win, 101-99.

The Hilltoppers didn’t stop their, as they find themselves in the final 16 teams after beating No. 13 San Diego, who upset UConn, 72-63, in the second round.

It will be the first of two 12 vs. 1 match ups in the Sweet 16, as UCLA comes into Thursday’s contest in Phoenix a 12-point favorite with an over/under of 133, according to bookmakers around the net.

UCLA seemed to be one of the favorites to win the whole thing before the tournament began. But their recent play has a lot of people wondering if they can encapsulate that vote of confidence and put it into their play on the hardwood.

UCLA looked very beatable during their second round game against Texas A&M, winning just 51-49 in surmounting a second half comeback. Although the Bruins won the Pac-10 Tournament two weeks back, they haven’t been dominating their opponents, winning by a margin of no more than three points in four of their previous six games.

The name of the game, though, is to survive and advance, which is what UCLA is doing.

Freshman phenom Kevin Love has done his part, averaging 19.5 points and 10 boards in their first two tourney games. The Bruins bench scored just four points in the narrow escape against the Aggies, and junior guard Russell Westbrook has scored just 14 total points in the tournament, well below his 12.3 points per game.

The good news for UCLA is that Western Kentucky has given up 81 points per game in the first two rounds. As much as Courtney Lee (20.4 points) and Tyrone Brazelton (13.9 points) can score on the offensive end, the Hilltoppers will have trouble, like many teams, containing Love down low.

As their tallest player who gets the most minutes, Jeremy Evans (6-feet 9-inches) will have the abhorred role of defending Love. Look for UCLA to exploit this match up.

The Bruins will depend on their defense to win this game, as they give up just 58 points per game on the year 5th in the nation. Lee and Brazelton are the only two scorers in double figures for WKU, and their top four scorers are guards. If the Bruins are able to shut down either Lee or Brazelton, the Hilltoppers will be in trouble.

Another aspect of this game to look at is Luc Richard Mbah a Moute’s health. Moute sprained his ankle in the Pac-10 Tournament and hasn’t looked the same, scoring just two points in 32 minutes against the Aggies. Moute’s athleticism and length give many teams fits.

The Bruins have come in under the point totals of 125 and 125.5 for the first two rounds and covered against Mississippi Valley State, but failed to cover against A&M.

Western Kentucky doesn’t mind playing on neutral courts, going a perfect 8-0 ATS in their last eight contests on even ground. They’re also 7-0 ATS in their last seven games after winning their previous contest straight up.

The under has come in for UCLA in their last 5 tournament games as favorites of 7 to 12.5 points.

It’s easy to say that a 1 seed should dominate a 12 seed. But as we all know, it’s unpredictable what can happen during “March Madness”

Oracle’s Pick: Western Kentucky will ride the wave of momentum, as the public is actually taking WKU plus the points. However, the ride will fade out, as they’ll have no answer for Love down low. Look for UCLA to wear down the Hilltoppers and cover. Take the Bruins minus the points!