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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 11:25 PM

There’s been a lot of talk this year about the “resurgence” of the Pac 12 conference in college basketball. With disappointments looming in the SEC, the Big 12, and even the ACC in terms of real depth of quality, the TV networks are desperate to find somebody they can hype.

Enter Arizona!

The Wildcats are 16-1 on the season, and are now getting some media run as a possible #1 seed in the Dance. If they win this week at home against the Los Angeles teams, Arizona will likely jump over #5 Louisville who lost again Tuesday Night at Villanova. Given how vulnerable others near the top have looked in recent close wins or losses, it’s certainly possible that Arizona can become a big story down the road.

Are they really a big story now? The problem with that line of thinking…well, let’s allow the computer rating systems we’ve been showcasing this year to tell that story. Here are the current ratings from Jeff Sagarin at USA Today and college hoops guru Ken Pomeroy.

DANCE BOUND

Arizona (#8 in Sagarin, #10 in Pomeroy)

Oregon (#19 in Sagarin, #23 in Pomeroy)

UCLA (#44 in Sagarin, #49 in Pomeroy)

Colorado (#47 in Sagarin, #50 in Pomeroy)

Arizona barely cracks the top eight in one, and the top 10 in the other. Poll voters rank the records, which anybody can do. The computers adjust for quality of competition and margin of victory. The fact that Arizona needed a miracle to steal a win at home from Florida earlier this year, and then another miracle to beat Colorado in the same kind of situation, is not something that impresses objective viewers. Arizona isn’t better than Florida on a neutral court, even if the current polls have them ahead of the Gators.

Heck, Arizona may not end up being better than Oregon! The Wildcats only loss this year was on the road at Oregon. A regular season rematch isn’t scheduled this year because the Arizona schools only play the Oregon schools once in this year’s rotation. One reason Thursday Night’s nationally televised game between UCLA and Arizona (ESPN2) is so important is that it will help analysts and sports betters differentiate amongst the top contenders. Colorado already went down to the wire at Arizona. If UCLA does the same thing, then it’s hard to take Arizona seriously as a #1 seed in the Big Dance. They may not have any true clearance within the top four in the Pac 12.

Note that UCLA enters the game unranked. They’d be #28 in the AP poll if it went down further based on the voting. Obviously a huge road upset here would move them into the top 25. But, a bad loss would drop them further out of the mix for the forseeable future. Voters only remember what they see on TV! And, even then, they misinterpret what they see.

We’d also suggest that UCLA’s form Thursday Night will tell us a lot about the true depth of the Pac 12. Are announcers just hyping air because they’re desperate to hype something? Colorado hasn’t been setting the world on fire lately. If UCLA fizzles here…then the Pac 12 starts to look like a “big two” rather than a deep conference ready to make a March statement.

Let’s check the rest of the league while we’re on the topic…

FLIRTING WITH THE BUBBLE

Stanford (#58 in Sagarin, #58 in Pomeroy)

Washington (#66 in Sagarin, #84 in Pomeroy)

Arizona State (#68 in Sagarin, #91 in Pomeroy)

California (#72 in Sagarin, #77 in Pomeroy)

Remember that you typically have to be in the top 50 if you want to earn an at-large bid to the Big Dance because so many lesser lights earn automatic bids. If the tournament were held today, it’s probable that only four Pac 12 teams would earn bids based on true quality. These next four are hoping to make runs from this point forward that will improve their chances. Arizona State gets UCLA this weekend. Stanford visits Colorado, which gives them a chance to flip-flop the #4 and #5 spots in the league. It also gives the “top four” a chance to separate themselves more from this next group. Note that Stanford/Colorado will be on ESPNU for those of you wishing to scout that game from a handicapping perspective.

OFF THE RADAR

Washington State (#105 in Sagarin, #98 in Pomeroy)

USC (#112 in Sagarin, #95 in Pomeroy)

Utah (#108 in Sagarin, #100 in Pomeroy)

Oregon State (#114 in Sagarin, #123 in Pomeroy)

These teams can only play spoiler from this point forward. None is a disaster by college standards. Frankly, it does speak well to the depth of the Pac 12 that their worst team is still in the top 125. Other leagues have worse doormats! Remember that USC recently fired its head coach, marking them as the straggler with the most potential to move forward. They may also benefit from catching opponents in either letdowns or lookaheads because of their pairing with UCLA in the schedule sequences. For instance, USC catches Arizona this weekend in a potential letdown off tonight’s big TV game.

Seems like a good spot to run this weekend’s full schedule. Note that Washington State visited Oregon, and Washington visited Oregon State late Wednesday night after publication deadlines.

Thursday

California at Utah

UCLA at Arizona (ESPN2)

Stanford at Colorado (ESPNU)

USC at Arizona State

Saturday

UCLA at Arizona State (Fox Sports)

Washington State at Oregon State

Washington at Oregon

USC at Arizona (ESPNU)

Sunday

California at Colorado (Fox Sports)

Stanford at Utah

Remaining matchups featuring the current “big four” against each other:

February 7: Colorado at Oregon

February 14: Arizona at Colorado

March 2: Arizona at UCLA

March 7: Oregon at Colorado

That’s it?! Only four games after tonight in more than five weeks of action. Remember that we have pod scheduling in the Pac 12, which means that it’s not a full round-robin schedule.

*Oregon and Arizona play once (already won by Oregon)

*Oregon and UCLA play once (already won by Oregon on the road)

*UCLA and Colorado play once (already won by UCLA on the road)

The good news is that those teams may be able to pad their records for good Dance seedings because they run into each other so rarely. Handicappers need to be on the lookout for pretenders though because this group won’t really be “battle tested” to the degree we see in other leagues. Now Thursday’s UCLA/Arizona game is even more important than you thought!  Be sure you’re watching closely.

JIM HURLEY may have a big release in UCLA/Arizona tonight for his clients. But, he’s also looking at BYU/Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference, as well as games from the ACC, Big 10, and SEC. Of course, NBA fans know that the Knicks/Celtics game will be one to watch as well. You can purchase NETWORK’S game day winners right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to ask about including the Super Bowl with any hoops program when you call.

Back with your tomorrow with what will probably be an NBA report barring late developments. There are several active storylines pro hoop handicappers need to stay on top of…not the least of which is how the Los Angeles Lakers are handling this year’s disaster! We’re always providing answers before oddsmakers know the questions. That’s why you should link up with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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