(1) UCLA Bruins (31-3), -6, o/u 130 vs. (3) Xavier Musketeers (27-6), +6, o/u 130, U.S. Airways Center Phoenix, Arizona, 6:40 p.m. Eastern, Saturday
by Oracle of Predictem.com
After the brackets came out, a lot of talk was going around how Xavier got an accommodating deal with a No. 3 seed, and may not have deserved it.
That talk has now been squashed to oblivion.
With an Elite 8 run that has included three quality wins over three teams from quality conferences, the Musketeers have not only proven that the A-10 really is for real, but that their team is for real too.
The Musketeers will keep chugging along on Saturday in Phoenix when they face No. 1 seed UCLA, who, along with the Tar Heels, seem to be the favorite to win it all.
Don’t tell that to Xavier, though.
Sure, according to online bookies the Bruins come into the contest favorites of -6 with an over/under of 130 points. Yeah, UCLA has one of the best freshmen in the country along with a superior backcourt. And yes, they’ve been to the Final Four two years in a row.
But Xavier didn’t have it easy this year, as the A-10 has proven its worth. Add in a tough non-conference schedule and a senior-laden group who has tournament experience, they may have a recipe for an upset.
The Bruins have been living dangerously as of late.
They barely beat Texas A&M, 51-49 in the second round, and blew a 21-point lead to Western Kentucky in the second half before finally putting them away, 88-78. They also had several controversial calls go their way late in the season against Stanford and California that ended up being wins.
The good news is that UCLA scored their second highest point total of the year against Western Kentucky and Kevin Love was as dominating as ever (29 points, 14 rebounds, 4 blocks). The bad news was they gave up their second highest total (78) of the year to the Hilltoppers, a team that they clearly dominated in the 1st half and seemed to get a bit too “laxed” in the 2nd..
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute still doesn’t look 100% with an ankle sprain that hampered him in the Pac-10 Tournament. Moute didn’t play in the first round of the tourney and has scored just 9 points in their last two games. His size and athleticism is something many teams can’t match up against, but his injury cancels out any mismatch problems Xavier might have.
Both teams rely on their defense to help their offense. The Bruins give up just 58.5 points per game, 8th in the nation. Xavier has the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year in Stanley Burrell and gives up just 63 points per game themselves.
Without a doubt, the key match up will be between Love and Xavier’s Josh Duncan in and out of, for that matter the paint.
Duncan has had foul trouble all tournament long, as he’s already gone up against the likes of Joe Alexander of West Virginia. He also got into foul trouble against Purdue in the second round.
Duncan scored a career high 26 points against WVU on Thursday, and his team will need that same output against Love and UCLA if Xavier wants a chance.
Xavier has had some offensive explosions recently in the tournament. In fact, the over is 10-1 in their last 11 tourney games. The fact that the Bruins gave up 78 points to Western Kentucky makes the 130 over/under total a juicy bet for bettors.
Xavier, with their recent success, is also 4-0 ATS in their last four tournament games and 12-2 ATS as an underdog on even ground.
UCLA, having had a hiccup late in the year, is just 1-4 against the spread in their last five overall games.
This game should be a blue-collared affair. Neither team makes many mistakes, so more than likely the team who ends up making one less big mistake than the other team will win.
Oracle’s Pick: Xavier has gotten no respect, still. UCLA hasn’t looked dominate. Take the Musketeers plus the points!