UCLA guard Johnny Juzang (3) makes a pass during an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
- #20 Ohio State is a 1.5-point favorite versus UCLA on Saturday, December 19th, (4:15 pm EST)
- The Bruins enter play winners of five straight
- See below for analysis, odds and a betting prediction
#20 Ohio State was supposed to face #22 North Carolina on Saturday (Dec. 19th, 4:15 pm EST), but due to COVID-19 protocols among the programs, they’ll now take on UCLA instead.
You could argue that the unranked Bruins are actually a tougher matchup, since they enter play red-hot, while the Tar Heels don’t have a signature win on their resume.
UCLA vs #20 Ohio State Odds
|UCLA Bruins||+1.5 (-118)||-102||Over 135.5 (-110)|
|Ohio State Buckeyes||-1.5 (-104)||-116||Under 135.5 (-110)|
Odds taken Dec. 18th from FanDuel.
Regardless of the quality of opponent, the Buckeyes still opened up as a 1.5-point favorite. This game is part of the CBS Sports Classic in Cleveland, and will follow the UNC vs Kentucky game which tips at 2 pm EST.
2021 NCAA Men’s Tournament Championship Odds Tracker
Buckeyes Likely Down a Key Piece
The big news leading up this game will be the availability of Ohio State’s leading scorer E.J. Liddell. The 6-foot-6 Sophomore has missed the last two games due to COVID, and appears doubtful to suit up for this one. In his absence, the Buckeyes have struggled, squeaking past Cleveland State and suffering their first loss of the season to Purdue.
Purdue outmuscles #20 Ohio State (E.J. Liddell DNP), wins 67-60. Whether it’s with fans or without, the Boilermakers are tough to beat at Mackey Arena.
Trevion Williams: 16 PTS, 9 REB, 8 AST
— CollegeBB News (@CollegeBBNCAA) December 17, 2020
They scored a season-low 60 points versus the Boilermakers, and were abysmal from the floor. They shot 38% from the field, 25% from 3, and were outrebounded by 6. Replacing Liddell’s 15.5 points and 7.5 boards per contest is no easy feat, and it’s no surprise that their two lowest outputs of the season have come in his absence.
#Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann on E.J. Liddell status: “I do think he’s making improvements in how he’s feeling and his fatigue. I do think there’s some improvement there for sure. The final word will be if he’s able to practice at all.”
— Adam Jardy (@AdamJardy) December 18, 2020
Aside from Liddell, this roster doesn’t really do anything at an elite level. They rank 113th in points for, 83rd in points against, and 156th in total rebounding. Three other players (Duane Washington, Justice Sueing and CJ Walker) average in double-figures, but no bench player contributes more than 6.5 points per game.
The lack of depth is especially evident without Liddell, and will be awfully tough to overcome against a very strong Bruins program.
UCLA on a Roll
After a disappointing loss to San Diego State to start the season, UCLA has been on a tear reeling off five straight victories. They’ve covered in each of those wins, claiming victory by at least 9 points in each outing. Last time out, they beat a very good Marquette team, closing on a 13-4 run to seal the deal.
FINAL: UCLA 69, Marquette 60#GoBruins pic.twitter.com/KCP8fHz3pG
— UCLA Men’s Basketball (@UCLAMBB) December 12, 2020
They’re extremely balanced on offense, with seven players averaging at least 9 points per game, led by Sophomore Jamie Jaquez. The 6-foot-6 guard is pouring in 14.8 points and grabbing 6 boards per contest, and tied a career-high with 18 points versus the Golden Eagles.
They shoot the ball well, knocking down 47.3% of their looks, including 35.5% from 3, and they get solid contributions from everyone in their 9-man rotation. With five upperclassmen and just one freshman in the mix, they feature plenty of experience, and a win over the Buckeyes will likely see them back in the AP Top-25.
Roll With the Bruins
If Liddell misses again, the Bruins are a very strong play at this number. Even if he plays however, I’d still roll with UCLA. KenPom has these two teams just two spots apart, despite Ohio State being inside the Top-25 and the Bruins on the outside looking in.
Back to work.
📍 Cleveland, Ohio #GoBruins pic.twitter.com/l0f6waslP0
— UCLA Men’s Basketball (@UCLAMBB) December 18, 2020
UCLA owns a 6-2 lifetime record versus the Buckeyes, and will enter play well rested, having last played eight days ago.
Pick: UCLA Bruins +1.5 (-110)
Chris began his career at Hockey Night in Canada over 15 years ago. He has since worked at TSN for over 12 years as a writer, line-up producer, field producer, newsroom supervisor for Sportscentre, and presently as a promotions producer.