It's the Sweet 16 in the East Region as Alabama takes on UCLA in a 2 vs. 11 matchup. The Bruins have won three games in this NCAA Tournament, dispatching Michigan State, BYU and Abilene Christian with the last two victories coming by double digits. UCLA is trying to match the First Four-to-Final Four run by the VCU Rams back in 2011. In the Round of 32, the Bruins held Texas-slayer Abilene Christian to 29.8 percent shooting (17-for-57) in a 67-47 win.
Meanwhile, Alabama has wins over Iona and Maryland in which the Crimson Tide flexed their defensive muscles first and then put up 96 points in a convincing victory over the Terrapins. Since the NCAA Tournament field expanded to 64 teams, the Tide have reached more Sweet 16s than the likes of Tennessee, Illinois, Virginia, and Baylor. Alabama head coach Nate Oats has done tremendous things with this program since taking over.
These two teams last met back in 2014 when Alabama won 56-50 at home. Ricky Tarrant led the victors with 24 points while the Bruins got 16 from Bryce Alford. The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Crimson Tide to UCLA.
East Region: No. 11 UCLA (20-9) vs. No. 2 Alabama (26-6)
Time: Sunday, March 28 at 7:15 p.m. ET
Where: Hinkle Fieldhouse (Indianapolis)
Spread: Alabama -6.5
Keys for UCLA
This is your classic pace mismatch with UCLA being one of the slowest teams in the country while Alabama wants to run all game long. The Bruins have played just four games of 70-plus possessions that didn't end up in overtime so if they can make this a halfcourt affair they'll have a better shot. Opponents are taking 18.1 seconds per possession, which is 321st in the country.
The Bruins are strong from 3-point range, sitting 28th in the country at 37.4 percent. Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez have both been really strong during this run as well as Cody Riley, when he has been able to stay out of foul trouble. With the injuries to Jalen Hill and Chris Smith from earlier in the season, Riley represents the only size (6-9) in this lineup.
Keys for Alabama
To counter what I typed above about UCLA wanting to dictate a slower tempo, the Crimson Tide have actually played five sub-70 possession games in their last seven and have won them all. Alabama is third in the nation with an average possession length of 14.2 seconds so ideally, Nate Oats' team doesn't want to take too long to find open shots. Also one has to wonder if the Bruins' legs could go in the second half should the pace get a little too frantic. This will be their fourth game in 10 days.
Alabama is ranked eighth in 3-point defense so clamping down on UCLA's shooters will be huge. One of the common threads in this team's six losses this season is that the Crimson Tide's offense failed to get on track. Their only loss when they scored 70 or more points came in a 73-71 loss against Western Kentucky way back in December.
Most projected this matchup to be between Texas and Alabama, but UCLA crashed the party. On the one hand, the Bruins are in a good rhythm and have the pieces to make things interesting here. On the other, the Crimson Tide can beat you with either a really stifling defense or an offense capable of putting up nearly 100 points on any night. I'll go with the versatility of the SEC champs, but I think UCLA keeps it close for at least a half.
Prediction: Alabama 74, UCLA 65
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.