#3 UCLA Bruins vs #14 Kent State
Player to Watch: Lonzo Ball (14.6 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 7.7 APG)
UCLA has had a bit of a revival this season, and freshman point guard Lonzo Ball has led the charge. A widely expected top 5 NBA Draft pick, Ball effects the game in so many ways. His combination of scoring, rebounding and passing is something we haven’t seen for a long time, and it will be interesting to see how he shines under the lights of the NCAA Tournament.
X Factor: Bryce Alford’s shooting
Being the coach’s son always comes with a bit of an asterisk, but Alford has proven his worth over time. An excellent three-point shooter, he is hitting a career high 43.5% from range on a career high 7.5 attempts a game. However, he has been a bit streaky over the course of his career and can become a bit of a black hole at times. If he is hitting his open looks and not forcing, look for Alford to be a big piece of this potent Bruin offense.
Kent St. Golden Flashes
Player to Watch: Jimmy Hall (18.9 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 2.6 APG)
Averaging a double-double in college basketball is never easy, Jimmy Hall managed to accomplish just that this year in the MAC. Although the team struggled at times throughout the regular season, Hall led them through the MAC Tournament to an NCAA Tournament bid. Hall is easily the Golden Flashes’ best player, and it should be fun to see him on a national stage.
X Factor: Kent State’s second chance points
We may not see Kent State often, but they are an excellent offensive rebounding team. They rank 5th in offensive rebounding percentage, which can lead to many second chance points. On the other side of the equation, UCLA is an average defensive rebounding team. If Kent State can manage to pound the glass against the Bruins, it could present some issues.
Match-Up to Watch: Jaylin Walker vs Lonzo Ball
Point guard Jaylin Walker earns the daunting task of guarding Lonzo Ball in a point guard matchup. Jaylin Walker is a scoring first point guard, so if he can possibly get a good scoring game against Ball then maybe the matchup could be considered a wash. I look for Ball to be too much, though, and I expect he will have a big game.
Key Stat: UCLA 3-point percentage
It can be tough for teams to overcome good three-point shooting in the Big Dance, especially as an underdog. UCLA averages over 40% from 3-point-land, good for 6th in the country. If they can get going from deep, it could spell a blowout for Kent State. The Golden Flashes need to be sure to have their rotations down from the get go.
Prediction: UCLA 95, Kent State 72
Kent State has had a good season, but a high-powered UCLA offense will prove to be too much. I expect a Lonzo Ball show in Sacramento.