College Basketball State of the Pac-12 Betting Report: Checking in on UCLA, Oregon & Others
Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images. Pictured: Mick Cronin (UCLA)
Not much has changed since the first State of the Pac-12 Conference article. COVID-19 has run rampant throughout college basketball, with many programs going on multi-week pauses.
The big three of Arizona, USC and UCLA continue to be big favorites for the conference title, while the rest of the conference lingers behind.
Despite that, some of these middle-of-the-pack teams are at times feisty and can threaten the trio — given the right circumstances.
Here are the recent storylines around the Pac-12 over the last couple of weeks.
It’s been nearly a month since UCLA has played a college basketball game. After taking down Marquette on Dec. 11 by double digits, the Bruins’ program was swiftly shut down due to COVID-19.
Scheduling has been a nightmare for Mick Cronin & Co., as they had to cancel yet another Pac-12 matchup against Arizona State on Jan. 5. Problems within the conference are so bad that UCLA went to the Big West and scheduled a game with Long Beach State — just to secure a return to action.
The one positive among all the cancellations is the return of Cody Riley. The senior played four minutes in the Bruins’ season opener against Cal State Bakersfield before suffering a knee injury. He has been out since, though Cronin recently confirmed his 6-foot-9 big is now fully healthy.
UCLA has been practicing the last week and it remains to be seen whether or not rust will be a factor when Pac-12 play returns. The Bruins’ first real test comes Saturday on the road against a red-hot California team.
To put it simply, Oregon has been the biggest enigma of the Pac-12. This is a team that Dana Altman dipped his hands into the transfer portal for, and brought over an incredibly talented cast of Jacob Young (Rutgers), Quincy Guerrier (Syracuse) and De’Vion Harmon (Oklahoma).
The results, however, have not been up to the Ducks’ normal standards. Oregon is 8-6, with just one conference win in three games. The Ducks have been blown out SMU and Utah, but fell in overtime to Arizona State and were manhandled by BYU.
One positive amid the rollercoaster non-conference slate is N’Faly Dante’s return to full health. After suffering a torn ACL last season, the 6-foot-11 center has been slowly eased back into the rotation. He provides a critical body on the inside and provides a huge boost on the glass.
Oregon has the potential to give any Pac-12 foe a run for their money. The Ducks are talented, long and are inside the top 100 in eFG%, shooting the 3 and 2-point offense.
If it weren’t for a complete breakdown for 2.5 minutes midway through the second half against Baylor, the Ducks would’ve had a real shot at pulling off the home upset.
Personally, I think the Ducks have become an underrated team of sorts. Expectations were high early on and with three new starters and an injured Dante working back in, growing pains were inevitable. But now, they’re often seen as an average-to-below average Pac-12 team. They’re better than that.
Oregon is currently experiencing COVID-19 issues, leaving the upcoming schedule in doubt. But if things are figured out in the next week, the Ducks have two real tests in road games against UCLA and USC.
That will be the ultimate test to see if the Ducks have begun to right the ship, or if their postseason aspirations are all but zero.
Cal was a complete disaster to start the season. A season-opening loss to UC San Diego was followed by another against UNLV four days later. The Golden Bears were even taken to double overtime by Southern Utah before narrowly escaping.
Amid a season that appeared destined for an even worse finish than their 9-20 record (3-17 in Pac-12 play) last season, head coach Mark Fox has turned this team around.
Already at nine wins this year, the red-hot Golden Bears are on a five-game win streak. They’ve taken down a pair of KenPom top-100 opponents in Fresno State and Santa Clara along the way, too.
What has spurred this hot streak, and is it sustainable?
For starters, defense is the difference maker for Cal. The Golden Bears rank 28th in eFG%, are rarely giving up second-chance opportunities and are the 18th-tallest team in the country. That length has led to success defending both the perimeter and the paint.
While you won’t turn the ball often against this Golden Bears team, easy points are rarely given. During their five-game win streak, no team has scored more than 60 points.
Success on the offensive end often comes from the duo of Grant Anticevich and Andre Kelly. The two 6-foot-9 forwards play off of one another really well and rebound at an incredibly high rate — they both rank inside the top 100 in defensive rebounding rate.
Anticevich spreads the floor and adds another deep threat on the perimeter (39% from 3) while Kelly dominates in the paint (61.5% from 2).
Charlotte transfer Jordan Shepherd has also come on strong as of late and has scored in double figures in eight games in a row.
Conference play will explain a lot about this Golden Bears team that has only trended upward after a brutal start to the season. They’re red hot and should be able to hang with the majority of the Pac-12.
If there is one team to buy as Pac-12 play gets underway, it’s Washington State.
I know, it’s been a gross last month for the Cougars, as they have losses to South Dakota State, New Mexico State and Boise State. But Kyle Smith is a good coach and the Cougars have a talented team.
Take the USC game for instance. Wazzu nearly upset the Trojans in a matchup that came down to the final possession.
The defense has carried the Cougars to their 8-5 record, but the offense ultimately spells doom. The Cougars have a tendency — especially in second halves — to disappear from games on the offensive end.
This should slowly regress in a positive direction, though. Noah Williams has struggled tremendously this season — shooting 25% from 3 — compared to a 37.9% rate a season ago.
It’s important to remember this is still a relatively young team, so a bumpy ride is expected. Everyone is down on Wazzu, but I think the Cougars are underrated and will have some value as they return to action.
On the other hand, I think you should look to fade Stanford with Pac-12 play underway.
Point guard Michael O’Connell will falter against more physical guards, and this is a Cardinal team without many ball handlers — rather, they’re filled with lanky forwards.
That’s why Stanford turns the ball over at a 22.4% rate, 321st in the country. Yes, the Cardinal rebound well because of their height — they’re the fourth-tallest team in the country — but they also surprisingly do not defend well.
The Cardinal rank 257th in eFG% and are often beaten up inside (opponents shoot 52.8% from 2). This works against mid-major foes like Liberty and Wyoming, but it won’t work against most of the Pac-12.
Winners in four of its last five, I am looking to fade Stanford as much as possible until it crawls back down to mediocrity — its true self.