NCAA Basketball Pick: Tournament Play of the Day Thursday

LT Profits Sports Group

Thursday, March 27, 2014 4:00 AM GMT

Thursday, Mar. 27, 2014 4:00 AM GMT

Every day this NCAA post-season, LT Profits Sports seeks one single tournament play that has the best chance of cashing. Here is their Tournament Play of the Day Thursday.

The number one team in the country and also the nation’s hottest team could have its hands full in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament when the UCLA Bruins (28-8, 12-6 away/neutral) take on those Florida Gators (34-2, 16-2 away/neutral) in the South Region from FedExForum in Memphis, TN at 9:45 ET in a game televised nationally on CBS.

The point spread at Bet365 has UCLA as a moderate underdog for this contest with the current line at +4½ with odds of -110.

There can certainly be nothing bad said about the form of top-ranked Florida as this is a team that has not lost since December 2nd when the Gators fell by just one point at Connecticut. Florida is currently on a 28-game winning streak overall after going 18-0 in the SEC regular season, tacking on three more wins in that conference’s tournament and winning the first two games of this NCAA Tournament both by double-digits over Albany and Pittsburgh.

However, the Gators are facing a UCLA team here that is peaking at the perfect time. The Bruins have won seven of their last eight games overall with the only loss coming in a meaningless regular season finale at Washington State as UCLA had already been locked into second place in the Pac-12. Then, most impressively of all, the Bruins upset Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game and have continued that momentum through two 17-point wins in this tournament!

So can UCLA stun the world here by knocking off the top-ranked team in the land? Well it seems certainly possible, but we much prefer taking the points as we feel there is a very high probability that this game will go down to the last few possessions. After all, the UCLA defense has resembled, well, Florida, in the NCAA Tournament so far while blowing out Tulsa 76-59 and Stephen F. Austin 77-60.

The irony there is that defense was not the strong suit of the Bruins during the season, as they rode an offense that currently ranks 12th in the country in offensive efficiency and 16th in effective field goal percentage, thanks to ranking 31st in three-point shooting at 38.6 percent and 20th in two-point shooting at 53.0 percent. Furthermore UCLA is 11th in offensive turnover percentage.

That last statistic could be the most important one of all because if the Bruins want to stay close and pull the upset, they cannot be rattled by Florida’s pressure defense. It probably helps that UCLA has faced Arizona three times this year as the Wildcats are one of the few teams in the country that can match Florida defensively, and the Bruins only committed a reasonable eight turnovers vs. Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship while putting up 75 points in the 75-71 upset.

Now the ULCA defense was not terrible during the year as it does rank 44th in efficiency, but the Bruins are only 167th in effective field goal percentage allowed, so it remains to be seen if that defensive unit continues to play as well as it has in the first two games of the tournament.

The good news for UCLA is that if Florida does have a flaw, it is that it is sometimes prone to long scoring droughts, as unlike the great Florida teams of the past that excelled at three-point shooting, these Gators are surprisingly only 87th in the nation from beyond the arc.

Of course it has not mattered as the Gators have won in other ways during the 28-game streak, especially with suffocating defense. Florida is second in the country in defensive efficiency (behind Arizona), thanks to ranking 21st in effective field goal percentage allowed at just 44.9 percent and 17th in defensive turnover percentage at 21.8 percent, smashing the national average of 18.3 percent.

Another area where Florida has improved over past seasons is in the rebounding department, as the Gators are 40th in the land in offensive rebounding percentage and 66th in defensive rebounding percentage. The latter could be most critical here as the Gators do not figure to allow many second chances to a UCLA team ranked a dismal 223rd in offensive rebounding percentage.

That means that UCLA will have to continue to hit a high percentage of its initial shots to build up its score here, and given that the Bruins have the ability to shoot over the stiff Florida defense, look for them to make enough of those shots to cover as underdogs in the South Region Thursday.

[gameodds]14/262644/?r-1=43-238-92-349-192/us[/gameodds]

NCAA Basketball Pick: UCLA +4½ (-110)

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