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NCAAM Basketball Pick for December 23nd

University of California-Los Angeles Bruins (8-3) at #7 Kentucky Wildcats (9-1)

The betting line information for this article was taken from sportsbetting.ag at 9:00 AM PST on 12-23-17. Some odds may have changed.

The winning streak has hit six straight! Last night I was on the Oklahoma Sooners as they played against Northwestern. The game was a blowout, and Oklahoma easily covered the nine points. The non-conference season has been good to us this year, and we will try and snatch up a couple more wins before the conference schedules hit full swing next week. The game I will be evaluating today is a non-conference matchup between UCLA and Kentucky. The game will be held on a neutral site as part of the CBS Sports Classic in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The UCLA Bruins will travel to the Big Easy to play a top ten ranked Kentucky Wildcats team Saturday night. UCLA has been dealing with all sorts of off the court drama this season, after LiAngelo Ball and two of his teammates were caught shoplifting in China. Ball eventually left the school amid the controversy, and the two other players implicated in the crime have now both been suspended for the rest of the season. There has been a lot of focus on the Bruins this year, but for all the wrong reasons.  Kentucky, on the other hand, sits at 9-1, and they are ranked #7 in the country. The Cats have won seven straight games and look poised for another deep run in March. Kentucky is -7-point favorites on the neutral floor. The game total over-under is set at 156 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 1:00 PM PST from New Orleans Arena.

UCLA expected big things entering play this season. It hasn’t worked out how head coach Steve Alford had planned, however. He has now lost three of what should have been regular rotation players in Ball, Jalen Hill, and Cody Riley after the China scandal and the team will be short-handed all year now. With all the off the court distractions, it’s really amazing the Bruins have managed to win any games at all this year, let alone standing at a decent record of 8-3.

But, when you really start to break down that 8-3 record, you realize that UCLA doesn’t have a single good win yet on the season. The Bruins have played three decent teams this year in Creighton, Michigan, and Cincinnati, and they have lost all three.  The best win of the year so far for UCLA is over a Wisconsin team that finds itself in the cellar of the Big 10. I just don’t think this team, through all the drama and the hype is really any good. I see them struggling in a PAC 12 conference that is down a bit this year and missing the NCAA tournament. A sad finish to what was once a very promising season.

We don’t know yet if the Kentucky Wildcats are good this season. They have a good record at 9-1, and the only loss was a very forgivable loss to Kansas in a tight affair, but the Wildcats don’t have any marquee wins yet this season. The win against Virginia Tech in their last game was a solid one that could end up looking better later in the season than it does now, but besides that, Kentucky has mostly played competitive games against inferior competition.

The SEC is a much better league this year than it has been in recent years and if Kentucky wants to win the title again, they are going to have to beat some really good teams.  The SEC boasts seven teams currently ranked in the top forty nationally and at least one or two more that should end up towards the top of the rankings before everything is said and done this year. I can see the SEC getting 7-8 teams into the big dance this year.

There are lots of questions about both of these teams right now. Does UCLA have the depth to compete against a legit top ten foe without three of its key players? Will Kentucky quit playing down to bad competition? Will UCLA miss the tournament after coming into the season with so much hype? Will Kentucky win the SEC? But in the end, we are focusing just on this one game, and I think this is a mismatch.

The NCAA loves to have these neutral site games that aren’t so neutral. One team, UCLA, had to travel clear across the country and will certainly be playing in front of a very hostile crowd, the other, Kentucky, took a short trip and will be playing in front of a very biased home court type of crowd. If this game were in Rupp Arena, I would expect the Wildcats to be at least 10-12-point home favorites. Instead, they shit the game a couple hours away and call it neutral, and the line drops to -7.

I don’t think UCLA will even be competitive in this game. They are a decent team and do have some talent, but they are not nearly on the same level as Kentucky this year. Maybe if they had the team they entered the season with they would be able to hang with Kentucky, maybe, but without them? No chance. The Wildcats do play down to bad competition at times, so I doubt this will be a complete blowout, but I expect Kentucky to control the game from the tip and see no reason to think that they won’t easily cover the number. Give me the Kentucky Wildcats -7 points tonight from New Orleans.

The Bet: Kentucky Wildcats -7 points

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