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No. 11 UCLA vs. No. 2 Alabama preview, picks for Sweet 16 round of 2021 NCAA Tournament

The UCLA Bruins and Alabama Crimson Tide are set to meet at Hinkle Fieldhouse for the Sweet 16 round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. We’ve got everything you need on both teams ahead of the game here.

Alabama Crimson Tide guard Jaden Shackelford and guard Joshua Primo react after a play against the Maryland Terrapins in the second half in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Update: Saturday, March 28 12 p.m. Here are the updated bet splits from DraftKings Sportsbook for UCLA vs. Alabama:

UCLA: +6.5 (32% of handle, 37% of bets)
Alabama: -6.5 (68% of handle, 63% of bets)

No. 11 UCLA is still chugging after its latest win over No. 14 Abilene Christian and is headed to the Sweek 16. No. 2 Alabama will be the Bruins’ opponent, and the Crimson Tide have hit their stride in March Madness with double-digit wins over No. 15 Iona and No. 10 Maryland. The higher seed is favored to come out on top in this matchup, but we’ve seen our fair share of upsets in this year’s tournament. Here’s everything you need to know about these two teams ahead of the weekend.

Sunday’s will tip-off at 7:15 p.m. in Hinkle Fieldhouse, and will be broadcast on TBS.

No. 11 UCLA: 20-9 (13-6 Pac-12)

First Round: Defeated No. 6 BYU 73-62
Second Round: Defeated No. 14 Abilene Christian 67-47
KenPom rating: 33rd Overall, 12th Offense, 82nd Defense
Leading scorer: Johnny Juzang (15 ppg)
Key stat: Five UCLA players are averaging double-digits in points per game.

Johnny Juzang led the Bruins’ versatile offense with 17 points against ACU, and UCLA has a host of other guards who can fill it up. Having tons of options is a good thing come tournament time, as key players fall short in the spotlight often. Few programs have a better guard rotation than UCLA.

The Bruins play a ton of backcourt players but have been able to remain competitive on the boards. Their 42 rebounds against Abilene Christian were well above their season average. Crashing the glass against one of the best rebounding teams in the country will be important for UCLA.

Jaime Vasquez Jr. and Cody Riley’s physicality against Alabama’s front court will be worth monitoring in this matchup.

No. 2 Alabama 26-6 (16-2 SEC)

First Round: Defeated No. 15 Iona 66-55
Second Round: Defeated No. 10 Maryland 96-77
KenPom rating: 8th Overall, 37th Offense, 2nd Defense
Leading scorer: Jaden Shackelford (14.1 ppg)
Key stat: Alabama averages 40.5 rebounds per game.

Jaden Shackleford and John Petty Jr. didn’t play their best games in the opening round game against Iona, but had statement games against Maryland by combining for 41 points on 15-of-26 shooting against Maryland. If all the Crimson Tide’s players show up this weekend, they’ll be hard to keep up with.

Alabama’s elite defense wasn’t at 100% on Monday but has been on full display for most of the year and can take opposing teams out of games. Its KenPom defensive rating showcases its ability to limit quality looks. Setting a tone early on Sunday against another talented offensive team will improve its chances of advancing.

Petty and Herb Jones have the power to take control of this game on the block. Their aggression in the low post as scorers and rebounders is the Crimson Tides’ biggest edge.

March Madness Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook

Spread: Alabama -5
Total: 144
Moneyline: Alabama -220, UCLA +180

The Pick

Against The Spread Pick: Alabama -5
Point total pick: Over 144
Pick to Win: Alabama -220

Alabama is slowly but surely putting things together as the tournament progresses. The defense was its strong point in the round of 64, and its offense was firing on all cylinders on Sunday. Teams tend to tighten up shooting the ball in big games, and the Crimson Tide have the NCAA second-ranked defense to fall back on. That’s their ace in the hole and has helped them stay among the cream of the crop this season. Holding UCLA to a significantly lower shooting percentage should help the favorite cover.

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