Vegas has No. 6 SMU favored over No.11 UCLA by 3. What do the stats and match-ups say?
Let's start with the opponent we had in common: Gonzaga (UCLA box score, SMU box score). UCLA lost to Gonzaga at home in December, 87-74. Gonzaga beat SMU in Spokane in November, 72-56. In the UCLA game, Kyle Wiltjer kicked Kevon Looney's butt and scored 24 -- Byron Wesley scored 20. SMU was able to control Wiltjer in their game, limiting him to 10 points, but the big off the bench, Domantis Sabonis added 13. Kevin Pangos did the most damage in that game scoring 17. Gonzaga was able to defend the three, and held SMU to 31% FG%, but a respectable 37% 3FG%. SMU star, Marcus Kennedy was ruled ineligible for that game, and no one else stood out scoring-wise. Nic Moore, 5'9" point guard, SMU's other star, only had 10 points.
So those games unfolded very differently. Gonzaga dominated UCLA's bigs, but drew even with SMU's: total rebounds were 37-36 Gonzaga, but offensive rebounds were 16-12 SMU.
The eye test says that SMU tried to slow the pace, and was able to stay in the game for a half. They had 66 possessions versus 70 in the UCLA game at a time when the Bruins still thought they were a running team. Despite the success on the offensive boards, SMU actually sends an extra player back to defend the transition. Usually, that means they lose something on the glass, but SMU has several players, Kennedy, Yanick Moreira and Ben Moore, who are good on the offensive boards.
The takeaway: the Bruins have to hold their own on the boards, Isaac Hamilton has to control speedy guard Moore on defense, and the guard trio, especially Norman Powell, has to dominate on offense. The guards decide this one, and fortunately, their guards turn it over a lot, and they are only average three point shooters (there three points specialist, Kevin Frazier, was dismissed from the team - geez that school still has issues).
I don't believe the neutral court (being away from home) is an overwhelming issue any longer. Tony Parker and Looney are affected most by the road, but overall, the team has settled down.
Larry Brown uses 8 players, and Nic Moore has been playing almost all game lately.
As is often the case, UCLA is the more talented team. The two best players on the court will be Norman Powell and Kevon Looney. Is that enough? What do the comparative stats say?
On offense, SMU has a higher eFG% due to their higher FG% -- UCLA has a higher 3FG%. They go to the line more, and they grab more offensive rebounds. However, they turn the ball over more.
On defense (although they've played zone, Brown is from Dean Smith's coaching tree where zone is forbidden), they foul less, create more turnovers, allow a lower FG% and 3FG%, but they give up more offensive rebounds. That last one suggests that Looney can excel if he's fully engaged.
The stats, on balance, are in SMU's favor (including my best predictor, FLR%), but as Matt G suggests, their competition hasn't been as good (UCLA SOS #31 vs. SMU #50).
This one may look like a mini-version of the Arizona game: slow paces, tough defense, hang in with them as long as possible on the boards, stay out of foul trouble, knock down open jumpers and ride NP4's back to a win this time. But there is the Larry Brown factor. Do you want to be in a close game with Larry Brown on the other sideline? No, and SMU looks better on paper, but I think UCLA gets one win in this Tournament.