State of the Pac-12 College Basketball Betting Report: 3 Teams That Can Topple Arizona in Vegas
Photo by Rebecca Noble/Getty Images. Pictured: Tommy Lloyd (Arizona)
The Pac-12 is all but wrapped up, and it would take an utter implosion from Arizona to not be crowned regular season champions.
In the last State of the Pac-12 article, Arizona held a short lead on UCLA for the top spot in the standings with a date for revenge against the Bruins on Feb. 3.
Tommy Lloyd’s squad took down UCLA and has never looked back since, now sitting at 24-2 with a sparkling undefeated record at the McKale Center.
The rest of the conference has eaten itself alive. Outside of Arizona (14-1), no team has less than four losses in Pac-12 play.
With just a couple of weeks remaining on the schedule, let’s take a look at three things to keep an eye on as March Madness nears.
The Second Tier of the Pac-12
After the excellence that is Arizona, there’s three teams that are fighting for second place in the Pac-12. The obvious choice would be UCLA, which is the lone conference team to take down the Wildcats.
But USC and Oregon are not too far behind as a potential conference-tournament threat. Both can make noise in any given situation and have NCAA Tournament aspirations and potential.
What will likely decide which team grabs the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament is the season finale between USC and UCLA at Pauley Pavilion.
USC thrives on its length — its the fourth-tallest team in the country — and physicality on the defensive end of the floor. The Trojans rank second in 2-point defense in the nation, seventh in eFG% and rarely send opponents to the free-throw line.
UCLA has battled plenty of injuries — Tyger Campbell, Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez Jr. have all missed time — but has continued its success from last season into 2022. The Bruins don’t turn the ball over, and rank inside the top 20 in both adjusted offense and defense.
The third and final of this tier is Oregon. The rollercoaster season for the Ducks has been highlighted by wins over UCLA and USC, but they also have two losses to Arizona State and California.
Dana Altman’s transfer-heavy squad took time to adjust, but has meshed as a near-tournament team. The Ducks don’t thrive in any particular area, but are above-average in just about every category outside of free-throw shooting.
Rutgers transfer Jacob Young has become a staple of the Ducks’ offense.
More importantly, the Ducks have an incredibly tough schedule from here on out, including three straight games against Arizona, UCLA and USC.
The next few weeks will tell us a lot about these three teams. However, all should find their way into the NCAA Tournament.
I would be cautious in backing all three teams, though. All are prone to being upset and really haven’t been a well-rounded consistent team like Arizona has been all season long.
One of the biggest surprises from the last couple of weeks has to be Arizona State’s 180. The Sun Devils stumbled in non-conference play and lost five of six in January.
But with its postseason hopes dead, Bobby Hurley’s squad has surprised some of the Pac-12’s best. The Sun Devils took down UCLA in triple overtime, went down to the wire with USC, and most recently, blew out Oregon by 24 on Thursday.
The big reason for the turnaround has been Jalen Graham’s emergence in the paint. The 6-foot-9 junior has finally given Arizona State an interior threat, scoring in double figures in five of six February games.
Graham has become one of the most used players in the Pac-12, taking 28.4% of shots when on the floor. His recent success has also opened up room for ASU’s shooters. He currently ranks sixth in assist rate in conference play.
The Sun Devils are by no means a great team. Their offense still sits at 330th in eFG%, they struggle to create second-chance opportunities and they rarely get to the free-throw line — and when they do, they shoot just 66%.
But their defense has kept them within striking distance. They rank 27th in 2-point defense in the nation, and force opponents to beat them from 3.
With Graham’s development and graduate transfer Marreon Jackson finding some shooting success after a down year, Arizona State should be live dogs for the rest of the season.
Conference Player of the Year Debate
In a conference dominated by Arizona, it makes sense there are a few Wildcats that will contend for the Pac-12 Player of the Year honors.
Per KenPom, the No. 1 player in the conference has been Azuolas Tubelis. The 6-foot-11 sophomore is the second-most used player in Pac-12 play, and averages 15.2 points per game on 55% shooting.
He is as well-rounded as it gets, grabbing 6.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. Tubelis is efficient in limited time and is often the difference maker in close games — think the back-to-back wins against UCLA and USC.
Alongside Tubelis is leading scorer Bennedict Mathurin. At 17.2 points per game, Mathurin is the most improved player in the conference, and it’s not close. He’s a solid defender, efficient all over the floor and is one of the least turnover-prone players in Pac-12 play.
Mathurin is the engine to this Arizona offense. When it stalls, he’s the go-to player. He has scored 20-plus in three straight games entering Saturday’s night cap against Oregon.
The No. 2 player, per KenPom, and the lone non-Wildcat in the top four is Juzang. Everyone knows him for being the breakout star in the NCAA Tournament last year, leading UCLA from the First Four to Final Four Cinderella sweetheart.
He’s shooting over 41% from 3 in conference play and has scored in double digits in 10 straight. As the Bruins go, so does Juzang. He’ll be the key to another deep tournament run.
Two other names to keep an eye on: Christian Koloko (Arizona) and Terrell Brown Jr. (Washington).
The former is No. 1 in eFG% and block rate in conference play. He’s the star defensive center manning the paint for the Wildcats.
Brown, on the other hand, is the leading scorer in the Pac-12 and sixth in the entire NCAA. He’s the most-used player in conference games, and sits at first in steal rate and fouls drawn per 40 minutes.
Amid a down year for Mike Hopkins’ Huskies, it’s Brown that’s a bright spot. He’s dominated and is the sole reason behind Washington becoming a middle-of-the-pack team in the Pac-12.
Personally, I think Mathurin deserves it based solely on the year-to-year improvement and becoming the No. 1 scorer on the best team in the Pac-12.
No one has taken a bigger sophomore year leap than Mathurin.