As UCLA great Bill Walton loves to reiterate time and again, the Pac-12 is the conference of champions. Two such Pac-12 national champs are the Arizona Wildcats and UCLA Bruins and they go toe-to-toe Saturday night. UCLA was predicted by preseason polls to be the second best team to come out of the pacific. Arizona, meanwhile, after a season to remember last year with #1 overall NBA draft pick Deandre Ayton, wasn’t tabbed to do great things this year. But the polls and poles have shifted with respect to each team. Let’s see how they fare going into this match up.
Why has Arizona exceeded Oregon and UCLA (two teams who were #1 and #2 in Pac-12 preseason rankings), and expectations? Well for one–health. Unlike UCLA, who had three key players go down just before the season started, Arizona’s been injury-free. The Wildcats are the only team in their conference to not lose a single player to rotation. Secondly, playing at full health has allowed for their young core to progress and play to their potential. The two Brandon’s in Brandon Randolph (15.20 PPG, 3.70 RPG) and Brandon Williams (11.70 PPG, 3.65 APG) lead the bunch. A few more surprises from these Wildcats include their play in respect to their schedule. For example, they’re average offensively compared to other teams in the nation across key statistics like 3-point percentage (#191), FGM/game (#156), and assists/game (#219). Now consider that kenpom.com calculates their schedule as the 53rd strongest nationally. Throw in losses to Gonzaga, Auburn, Alabama and Baylor, and a win against Iowa State, it’s even tougher. The defense has helped out, and kept them afloat during non-conference occupation. Holding their opponents 6.3 3PM/game is good for 45th in the nation. But it’s the conference results that have helped steer these ‘Cats in the right direction. They’re 5-2 there and have won 7 out of their last 9 overall.
One word, streaky, surmises the Bruins’ season. The season has went like this: 4 straight wins started the season, followed by 2 consecutive losses, countered with 3 wins, then 4 losses, then 3 wins, and now to the current streak of 3 losses. As mentioned before, UCLA was bound to do tremendous things this season, but lightning struck three times as three athletes went down to injury. Next came the firing of coach Steve Alford right as division play was to kick off. The plus side of it all is that they were able to keep their prominent athletes from going down. Before they got hurt, Tyger Campbell, Shareef O’Neal, and Alex Olesinksi were thought to be three major components but the former two are freshmen, while Olesinksi had a rotation question since Moses Brown was projected to start. But Brown (11.05 PPG, 8.63 RPG, 2.21 BPG) is here and so are sophomores Jaylen Hands (12.00 PPG, 6.26 APG, 1.32 SPG) and Kris Wilkes (16.95 PPG, 4.89 RPG). Brown is a major reason UCLA’s 4th in the nation in rebounds. UCLA’s had a rough schedule as well and could account for some of the team’s trouble. Kenpom has them ranked 45th nationally in terms of strength of schedule.
Arizona is 1-4 against the spread as an underdog
1-3 ATS when playing with one or less days rest
5-1 straight up after failing to cover 2 of their last 3 ATS
4-0 SU after scoring 25 points or less in the first half last game
The OVER is 2-5 versus good offensive teams (scoring 77+ points/game)
UCLA is 1-5 ATS on Saturday games
4-9 ATS when playing against a team with a winning record
8-3 SU after playing a game as a favorite and home favorite
2-6 after one or more consecutive losses
The OVER is 0-5 after allowing 75 points or more 2 straight games
Worthy of highlight from the trends above is UCLA’s over/under record (0-5) after allowing 75 points or more in 2 straight games. Based on that and if you’re here for the o/u prediction, this game goes under. The spread tells a different story. I have Arizona here.
Pick: Arizona +2, UNDER 150