College basketball fans get a Thanksgiving Week feast on Tuesday night when, for just the 43rd time in the history of the sport, the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation square off against one another.
Top-ranked Gonzaga and No. 2 UCLA will play in the Empire Classic in Las Vegas in a rematch of last season’s overtime Final Four thriller. Let’s dive into the NCAAB odds for this one.
Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. UCLA Bruins
Tuesday, November 23, 2021 – 10:00 PM EST at T-Mobile Arena
Reloading After Near Miss
Jalen Suggs’ 37-foot buzzer-beater in the Final Four was the difference between UCLA and Gonzaga earlier this year. Suggs is gone, along with another All-American and a third starter from last season’s juggernaut that went undefeated to the National Championship game before losing to Baylor.
Gonzaga has reloaded to finish the job and may just be deeper and more talented than last season’s team. In addition to Suggs, the Zags have to replace Corey Kispert and Joel Ayayi. But coach Mark Few added three five-star freshmen and a grad transfer to fill the void.
Gonzaga now boasts the top freshman in the nation in seven-footer Chet Holmgren, who has been described as a “unicorn” by NBA scouts due to his ability to handle the ball like a wing player. He’s averaging 11.3 ppg with 7.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 3.5 blocked shots this year.
Freshman Nolan Hickman (7.8 ppg) and Hunter Sallis (6.8 ppg) are also in the Zags rotation, and all three freshmen are hitting 55 percent or better from the field as Gonzaga leads the nation in shooting.
The Zags also added Iowa State transfer Rasir Bolton. The veteran point guard is averaging 10.3 ppg and leads the team with 9-of-16 shooting from three, including a half-court buzzer-beater in a win over Texas earlier this season.
The newcomers are added to an experienced core including player of the year candidate Drew Timme and point guard Andrew Nembhard. Gonzaga is not shying away from a challenging schedule. They’ve already beaten Texas by double digits and will have a game against No. 5 Duke later this week.
Looking to Finish the Job
UCLA brings nearly everyone back from last year’s team, whose Cinderella run was stopped by Gonzaga’s miracle shot. The Bruins will be looking to send a message in this year’s rematch. Johnny Juzang leads the UCLA scoring attack, along with fellow wing Jaime Jaquez. Both players had their coming-out parties in last season’s NCAA run.
Jules Bernard has developed into a third scoring option, hitting 44 percent of his three-pointers and scoring 15 ppg. Guard Tyger Campbell was also a deep threat, hitting more than half of his threes before going 0-for-6 in UCLA’s last game.
Rutgers transfer Myles Johnson provides a rim protector in the paint that the team lacked last season. UCLA will likely still be without Cody Riley, who injured his knee in the opener and hasn’t played since. The 6-foot-9 forward started 31 of 32 games last season, averaging 10 ppg and 5.4 rebounds.
The Bruins have also played a challenging schedule this season, beating Villanova in overtime in its first game without Riley.
Gonzaga will try to push the tempo in the game. The Zags play at the No. 15 fastest pace in the nation, while UCLA is at No. 95. Gonzaga’s guards can get up and down the floor and score in transition, and the Zags’ perimeter defense is capable of forcing steals to fuel the break.
If the game slows down, Gonzaga also seems to have an advantage in the post. UCLA had success driving wing players at Timme last year, but Holmgren’s shot-blocking presence inside could make that strategy backfire. The Zags appear to be too deep and balanced for UCLA to solve so back them for your NCAAB pick tonight.
*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.