Michigan (-6.5) vs. UCLA
No. 1 Michigan and No. 11 UCLA meet for a chance at the Final Four. The Bruins are on a miraculous run that has featured four NCAA Tournament wins, beating Michigan State, BYU, Abilene Christian, then Alabama. Michigan's path to the Elite 8 ran through Texas Southern, LSU and Florida State to get here.
Over the last three games, Michigan is shooting much better than UCLA in all areas of the game. UCLA has been bailed out mostly from poor free-throw shooting and three-point shooting.
Alabama went 11-of-25 (44%) from the free-throw line and 7-of-28 (25%) from three versus UCLA. BYU went 9-of-16 (56.2%) from the charity stripe and 3-of-17 (16.2%) from deep. UCLA also held Michigan State to 6-of-18 (33.3%) from three So, is it UCLA's defense or its opponents' offenses?
Well, for the season, the Bruins ranked 169th, with opponents making 33.8% of their threes. In conference play, that number got worse, dropping to 37.6%. UCLA allowed 34.9% of its opponents' points to come from three in Pac-12 play, the conference's second-worst mark.
I think Michigan will expose that today. Florida State shut Michigan down from three, allowing 3-of-11 (27.3%) but 23 free-throw attempts. If Michigan is not making threes, they are getting to the line.
The Wolverines made 77.4% of their free-throws this season, ranking 25th. Michigan made 56-of-74 (75.6%) in the tournament and 41-of-51 (80.3%) in the first two rounds. Michigan also shot 19-of-51 (37.2%) from three in the first two rounds - an even 51-51 split on triples and free-throw attempts prior to Florida State.
You can see here, over the last three games Michigan has been playing better overall ball.
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NBC Sports Edge's Top Trends like both teams but favors Michigan. The Wolverines are 27-12 ATS (69.2%) in its last 39 games. UCLA is 20-6 ATS (76.9%) in its previous 26 games against teams with a winning ATS record.
Michigan has covered in two straight games, while UCLA has in four consecutive. Using NBC Sports Trends Edge Finder, I dug up some trendy stats for the spread.
When the spreads set between -6 and -8, Michigan is 3-1 ATS (75%) the last four games, losing the previous outing to Michigan State ending the regular season. When UCLA is an underdog of +4 to +10 this season, they are 1-3 ATS (25%), only cashing versus Alabama (+7).
Michigan has six players averaging double-figures the last three games, getting scoring in bunches. For UCLA, they have three players doing that, with three more averaging at least eight points per game.
I believe UCLA's time has run out. Herb Jones being in foul trouble, yet again, impacted UCLA's win over Alabama offensively and defensively for the Crimson Tide. Michigan has both Hunter Dickinson and Franz Wagner, who will be problems for UCLA. Both teams are playing tight-knit six or seven-man rotations this deep into the tournament and I favor Michigan's top six.
Michigan's well-balanced scoring (potential from three), elite defense and free-throws should be the difference in this game. I will back Juwan Howard and the Wolverines to advance to the Final Four and cover the -6.5.
Game Pick: Michigan -6.5 (1u)