Pac-12 Odds, State of Conference Betting Report: Does Longshot Utah Have Value?
Chris Gardner/Getty Images. Pictured: Craig Smith (Utah)
The Pac-12 began the year with two familiar faces atop the preseason rankings and betting odds. UCLA was the media’s choice to win the regular season conference title, earning 26 of 33 first-place votes. Arizona came in second and earned three first-place votes.
However, FanDuel had UCLA and Arizona both at +185 win the regular season. Has one of them separated themselves already?
The Pac-12 is also returning 13 of its 15 All-Conference performers from last season, the most since the conference expanded to 12 in 2011. With so much talent returning to the conference, that should lead to many great Pac-12 matchups this season.
Read on for the teams and games to watch in the first edition of my State of the Pac-12 report for this season.
The Clear Favorites
Arizona went 33-4 last season, winning both the Pac-12 regular season and conference title. Bennedict Mathurin, Azuolas Tubelis and Christian Koloko formed one of top trios in the country. Mathurin looks well on his way to NBA stardom, while Koloko and Dalen Terry also departed for the NBA.
Regardless, the Wildcats have not missed a beat.
Tubelis is averaging 20.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Center Oumar Ballo, Koloko’s backup last season, has been an upgrade offensively. He’s averaging 18.1 points and 9.3 rebounds a night.
Tubelis and Ballo are both among the betting favorites for the Wooden Award. They also lead five double-digit scorers on the Wildcats.
Arizona has the most efficient offense in the country and ranks third in scoring at 90.5 per game.
Arizona will need to tighten up defensively, as it ranks just 67th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. It has the next three months to improve on that end.
However, that has not stopped it from racking up four wins over AP Top 25 teams already, including 75-67 on Saturday over Tennessee. Additionally, just one of those wins came on Arizona’s home floor.
Upsets will happen (Arizona lost at Utah already), but KenPom projects Arizona as a favorite in every Pac-12 game besides the season finale at UCLA.
UCLA had quite the week as it trounced Maryland 87-60 on Wednesday. It also pulled off a win over an SEC power on Saturday, knocking off Kentucky, 63-53.
While Arizona had to break in some new starters, UCLA returned four contributors (Tyger Campbell, Jaime Jaquez Jr., Jaylen Clark and David Singleton) from a team that made the Sweet 16. They’re all averaging double digits, with Jaquez Jr. (17.3 PPG) and Clark (15.5) leading the way.
UCLA’s offense is not far behind Arizona’s, ranking third in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. However, the Bruins are more methodical. The Bruins are also 12th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency.
So … UCLA or Arizona?
KenPom projects Arizona and UCLA to be favored in every Pac-12 game, except on each other’s home floor. Arizona is at UCLA to close the regular season. That game may decide the regular season championship.
While the metrics and the standings favor UCLA at the moment, I have Arizona slightly ahead for now.
UCLA has wins over Maryland and Kentucky, but lost to Illinois and Baylor. Arizona has victories over San Diego State, Creighton, Indiana and Tennessee. Its offense gives it another gear that UCLA may not be able to reach, particularly in Tucson.
Arizona won two of the three meetings last season in this series. It has a slightly more favorable price in the market. UCLA is +125 to win the regular season on FanDuel and +140 on DraftKings. Arizona is +150 on FanDuel and +160 on DraftKings.
Pick: Arizona to win Pac-12 Regular Season Championship +160 (DraftKings)
Do the Utah Utes Have Value?
Utah has already shown it can beat the best of the best in the conference when it took down Arizona 81-66 on December 1. The Utes can be a tough matchup because they have a lot of length, but also shoot the 3 ball very well.
Center Branden Carlson embodies that.
Carlson is a 7-footer who is shooting 43.6% from beyond the arc to go along with 15.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Guards Gabe Madsen and Lazar Stefanovic are both above 40% from 3, as well. The Utes are shooting 37.4% from 3 as a team.
However, Utah’s defense is holding opponents to 25.7% from beyond the arc, ranking sixth nationally. It’s also fourth in 2-point field goal percentage defense and third in effective field goal percentage. The Utes are 29th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency.
The Utes are already 2-0 in conference and have a favorable upcoming schedule. Utah’s next two conference games are at Cal and Stanford before it hosts Oregon State and Oregon. Then, it travels to Los Angeles to battle UCLA and USC.
If the Utes can get a split in L.A., a 6-1 conference start is not impossible. At +2400 on FanDuel, the Utes are worth a dabble at those odds. You’re also getting them at a valued price as DraftKings has them at +2000 as of this writing.
Pick: Utah to Win Pac-12 Regular Season Title +2400 FanDuel
Pac-12 Games to Watch
Conference play resumes in earnest next week.
However, on Thursday Washington hosts Auburn and Utah hosts TCU. KenPom projects Washington as a four-point underdog and Utah as a one-point favorite, though each will have the opportunity to pick up one more resume-building win before conference play.
Washington will host USC next Friday while UCLA will be in Pullman to battle Washington. A couple of heated rivalries headline the New Year’s Eve schedule, as Arizona will take on Arizona State in a national broadcast on FOX while Oregon State will be at Oregon to cap the night.