College Basketball State of the Pac-12 Betting Report: Previewing Conference’s Game of the Year & More
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Mick Cronin (UCLA)
The Pac-12 is slowly developing into a two-team race for the regular season crown.
Arizona is the current favorite (+105), but UCLA is not too far behind at (+160). USC, which once looked like a possible competitor, has begun its descent back to mediocrity. Meanwhile, there’s a new Pac-12 team quickly rising the ranks after a slow start to the year.
Here are three storylines around the conference over the last couple of weeks, including a deep dive into what is lining up to be the game of the year in the conference.
In the last State of the Pac-12 article, I wrote about how Dana Altman seemed to have righted the ship in Eugene, and the Ducks’ real test would come during their LA road trip against UCLA and USC.
The end result? Two gigantic resume-boosting wins.
This mixed bag of Power 5 misfits have finally begun to gel, and fans are starting to see the ceiling of this Oregon team. We saw 28 points from Jacob Young in the overtime win against UCLA and 16 from De’Vion Harmon a couple days later against USC.
Also, N’Faly Dante has returned to full health, and the offense is slowly becoming less of a one-man band and a more well-rounded team of scorers.
It is also important to note that in games where Will Richardson has at least 16 points, the Ducks are 9-1. That lone loss was a second-half collapse against Baylor, a game that could’ve easily swung in Oregon’s favor.
There’s still a long way to go with this Ducks team. They struggle defending the interior — 281st in 2-point defense — and allow too many second-chance opportunities. But they’ve taken a huge step in the right direction, and their schedule only lightens up from here.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Oregon rip off a double-digit win streak and continue its recent success. No more fading the Ducks, who are a completely different team since they started out 0-2 in Pac-12 play.
After a 13-0 start to the season, USC has lost two of its last three. The Trojans were completely outplayed from start to finish by Oregon on their home floor, but that Stanford loss was a breakdown.
The glaring weakness for this Trojans team is free-throw shooting. They are the sixth-worst team in the entire country at the charity stripe, shooting 61.3%. In that loss to the Cardinal, the Trojans missed 11 free throws in an eventual six-point defeat.
This is still one of the four best teams in the Pac-12, but it is beginning to fall back down to earth. Length will continue to be a driving factor toward the Trojans’ success, as they still rank seventh in eFG% and fifth in 2-point defense.
It will be interesting to see if USC is able to hold close leads down the stretch.
The Trojans’ next biggest test is Thursday when they travel to Boulder to take on Colorado. The Buffaloes have lost just one game on their home floor and hold a sparkling 9-1 record inside the CU Events Center.
Arizona vs. UCLA
Pac-12 game of the year? It appears so.
With USC’s recent losses to Stanford and Oregon, it’s become all but a two-team race for the Pac-12 crown. And on January 25th, the current favorite, Arizona, travels to Pauley Pavilion to take on UCLA.
Since the Wildcats’ loss to Tennessee, they’ve responded with three straight blowout wins. And that lone loss came when two of Arizona’s three leading scorers — Christian Koloko and Azuolas Tubelis — battled foul trouble. Neither eclipsed the 20-minute mark.
That just proves how talented this Arizona team is. Tommy Lloyd has all the pieces for a National Championship contender. There’s not one area where the Wildcats lack.
They have the most assists per field goals made in all of college basketball. They’re the second-tallest team in the country. And they boast a top-15 offense and defense!
The Bruins on the other hand returned to action after a near-month break, and have gone 3-1 since, with their lone loss coming to Oregon in overtime.
While Johnny Juzang has continued to fill his role as the star of the offense, one player that has been a pleasant surprise is Tyger Campbell. The playmaker of the offense, Campbell has taken a huge step in year three.
I know it’s still early, but he’s become an incredibly efficient scorer to combine with Juzang, Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Jules Bernard. All four players average 12.6 points per game or more, with none shooting better from the perimeter than Campbell (47.3%).
Looking at this from a matchup perspective, if any team has a shot at taking down Goliath, the Bruins are best built for it.
All eyes will be on Juzang and Bennedict Mathurin, who will surely go head-to-head offensively. We saw how Juzang completely took over in March, and we have seen Mathurin’s potential against top-tier opponents like Illinois and Tennessee.
For me, I’ll be keeping an eye on how UCLA combats Arizona’s size on the interior.
Myles Johnson and Cody Riley should be able to help slow down Koloko and Tubelis, but Mick Cronin will have a huge decision to make on whether he’ll play both bigs together, or trust 6-foot-7 Jaquez Jr. against one of the Wildcats’ interior players.
KenPom currently projects this game in favor of UCLA by one. I give the slight edge to Arizona here, but anything can happen at Pauley Pavilion.
I’ll be looking to get in this game live after seeing how both teams game plan for this top-25 matchup.