Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, March 15, 2013 at 2:01 PM
One of the big mysteries in college basketball this year involves how good…or how overrated the Pac 12 conference is as a group heading into the Big Dance. It’s been a competitive year in that conference featuring a lot of evenly matched teams. Are we talking about a bunch of teams who should be seeded in the #4 to #8 range in the NCAA Tournament next week? Or, is this instead an overrated group of mostly bubble caliber teams who have falsely padded their resume’s with wins against each other?
We’ll get a great chance to evaluate that in tonight’s semi-final game between Arizona and UCLA. Joe Lunardi of ESPN has lifted Arizona up into a Sweet 16 caliber seed at last report…with UCLA not very far behind. Let’s run that marquee matchup through our gauntlet if indicator stats. It’s the league’s #1 seed (UCLA) facing the team the market considers the best in the conference (Arizona, laying four points tonight in Las Vegas to the #1 seed!)
Arizona: 25-6 (12-6 in the Pac 12)
UCLA: 24-8 (13-5 in the Pac 12)
UCLA swept the season series, which allowed them to win the conference title. Odd that Arizona is still seen almost unanimously as the better team given that. But, every game counts when evaluating a team, not just the ones you play against each other. Worth remembering that Arizona would be a gaudy 27-4 this year if they had swept the Bruins, while UCLA would have sunk to a pedestrian (by Dance standards) 22-10.
Arizona: #20 with Sagarin, #18 with Pomeroy
UCLA: #39 with Sagarin, #43 with Pomeroy
Both Jeff Sagarin of USA Today and college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy have Arizona as a top 20 team even with the losses to UCLA and the #4 seed in the Pac 12 tournament. The Bruins are slotted down around a #10 to #11 seed in the NCAA’s. That’s Dance caliber…but not necessarily a Dance threat.
COMPUTER STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE RANKINGS
Arizona: #39 with Sagarin, #38 with Pomeroy
UCLA: #40 with Sagarin, #36 with Pomeroy
These teams played extremely even schedules. Virtually identical. In fact, given the margin for error with so many teams…you can absolutely call this a dead heat. Both teams scheduled reasonably tough outside the league…then played in a very competitive league.
WON-LOST RECORDS VS. SAGARIN’S TOP 50
Once again, UCLA’s sweep of Arizona looms large here. Arizona was 6-1 vs. top teams when not playing UCLA. Still, you’d think the Bruins would get more credit for this in the computers…particularly since they won the conference! UCLA certainly showed their big game toughness with the late rally in Thursday’s quarterfinals against Arizona State.
JOE LUNARDI’S BRACKETOLOGY
Arizona: projected #4 seed
UCLA: projected #6 seed
We alluded to this earlier. At its best, Arizona does look like a #4 seed. Handicappers know that Arizona has been extremely overrated in the line through league play though…and doesn’t consistently reach that high level of achievement. Some would say Lunardi has both of these teams at least four spots too high. The computers would say that at least about the Bruins.
POMEROY’S ADJUSTED OFFENSE RANKINGS
Moving to the chess match, Arizona grades out better offensively in Pomeroy’s measure that adjusts for pace and strength of schedule.
POMEROY’S ADJUSTED DEFENSE RANKINGS
This is where UCLA really falls apart…particularly in terms of trying to win this conference tournament. Their defense just isn’t very good. You can’t grade out well in a computer when a computer is making common-sense adjustments to your scoreboard results. We have noted that soft defenses often get worse the deeper they get into a tournament because of fatigue too. Arizona wins both sides of the ball. But, we can’t endorse a team with the #35 defense nationally as a Sweet 16 seed. They will get bullied by physical teams from the Big 10 or Big East.
POMEROY’S ADJUSTED TEMPO RANKINGS
That suggests a very entertaining game for fans attending in person at the MGM Grand or those of you watching on TV. UCLA is going to push pace. Arizona will be in the interesting position of being the slower of the two teams. UCLA’s defense falls into a danger spot if their own pace wears their defenders out. Something to think about as you make your final decisions.
If these teams play tonight the same way they did yesterday…then Arizona is going to justify market confidence. They looked sharp against Colorado, and will be bringing rivalry double revenge to the court against a soft defense that barely survived Arizona State. But…Arizona has had trouble with consistency this year…and has had BIG trouble matching up with UCLA in particular. JIM HURLEY has been working closely with his Vegas sources to get a read on Arizona’s mindset heading into this rematch. If Arizona made the final cut, it’s because of the revenge factor. If UCLA made the final cut, it’s because of what computer simulations have been showing about their matchup advantages.
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Back with you overnight and early Saturday with more NOTEBOOK previews. Several tournaments will be crown champions in a matter of hours. When championships are on the line, you need World Champion Handicapper JIM HURLEY!