Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, February 20, 2015 at 5:00 PM
The Arizona Wildcats have to be wondering what they have to do to start getting serious media attention in the National Championship race. Kentucky is being presented as a juggernaut that nobody can touch. Duke is on TV every other night, with announcers raving about how much they’re doing “with only eight scholarship players.” After the East Coast media goes to bed…Arizona obliterates another Pac 12 foe.
Arizona just beat USC 87-57
Arizona just beat Washington State 86-59
Arizona just beat Washington 86-62
Victory margins of 30, 27, and 24. Those were on the heels of an upset loss against archrival Arizona State. The Wildcats definitely stubbed their toe that day. But, THAT was after five straight covers that included a blowout of highly regarded Utah! There’s a short list of teams who can legitimately scare Kentucky in March. Arizona is on that list.
The Wildcats are one of the most expensively priced teams on the Las Vegas board right now…yet the team is still 8-1 against the spread in its last nine games. They finally get a prime time TV showcase Saturday night late in ESPN’s “Rivalry Week” at home against UCLA. This is a rare chance to remind everyone that there are important teams besides Kentucky and Duke. Of course, if they’re winning a blowout, the East Coast media will just go to bed at halftime!
Will this be another statement blowout for the Cats? Or, can UCLA make things interesting as a feisty road underdog? Let’s run the numbers from JIM HURLEY’S key indicator stats.
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency
UCLA: 109.9 per 100 possessions (#44 in the nation)
Arizona: 116.1 per 100 possessions (#12 in the nation)
You just saw that Arizona isn’t having trouble reaching 80 points on a regular basis. Obviously you have to have a strong offense for that. A lot of weapons on this team…and an intelligent schematic that helps them abuse bad defenses. UCLA is top 50 on offense…but not very good by “Dance” standards on this side of the floor. You saw how much they struggled vs. Kentucky’s defense earlier this season. Edge to Arizona.
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency
UCLA: 97.4 per 100 possessions (#83 in the nation)
Arizona: 88.2 per 100 possessions (#6 in the nation)
Huge advantage here. Now, it’s possible that Arizona is being overrated because they play in such a sluggish conference. Ken Pomeroy’s methodology adjusts for pace and schedule strength, but sometimes underappreciates the impact of schedule on performance. Handicappers don’t see that until pretenders are exposed on neutral courts in the Dance! That said, it’s almost never true that “mediocre” KenPom defenses suddenly look great when stepping up in class. UCLA is very soft on this side of the ball by major conference and Dance standards. Arizona has a legitimate chance to fly past 80 and into the 90’s based on the numbers we’ve seen so far. Handicappers should not be considering UCLA as much of a March sleeper until they see improvement on this side of the floor.
Two up-tempo teams, though neither is lightning fast. We should expect an entertaining pace. But, UCLA could be in real trouble trying to stop a great offense with their mediocre defense in an up-tempo game! Points will be “cheaper” here than in a much slower showdown…which means it’s easier to justify laying a number with a motivated home favorite. To the degree there’s good news for the Bruins, the game will be played in their comfort zone. They’ll have some opportunities in transition that weren’t available against slower teams like Kentucky.
Against the Spread
If Arizona is 8-1 ATS their last nine games, they were obviously 8-9 ATS before that. So, they’ve really clicked in recent weeks after treading water against expectations before that. It’s rare for a consistent big favorite to be a “value” team. If you win every game by more than 20 points…that becomes reality.
UCLA/Arizona may or may not be part of the final slate that goes up for NETWORK customers. Saturday schedules are HUGE. We’re also looking at marquee matchups like Minnesota/Wisconsin, Pittsburgh/Syracuse, Iowa State/Texas (previewed yesterday in the NOTEBOOK), and mid-major clashes all over the card like Gonzaga/St. Mary’s. You can purchase our official BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-888-777-4155 Saturday morning before the early games tip off.
We’ll catch up with an important mid-major Sunday when we check in on Wichita State. Our projected seven-day travelogue brings us back to the Arizona Wildcats next week for the unofficial “game of the year” in the Pac 12 when they visit Utah for a much anticipated superpower rematch. Here’s the tentative NOTEBOOK schedule.
Sunday: College Basketball…Evansville at Wichita State in the Missouri Valley
Monday: College Basketball…Louisville at Georgia Tech in the ACC
Tuesday: College Basketball…Wisconsin at Maryland in the Big 10
Wednesday: College Basketball…Baylor at Iowa State in the Big 12
Thursday: NBA Special…Golden State at Cleveland on TNT
Friday: Early Look…Syracuse at Duke or Texas at Kansas
Saturday: College Basketball…Arizona at Utah in the Pac 12
Late February and early March always feature great “game of the year” nominees in terms of conference interest and NETWORK releases. Be sure you’re with us every day for complete details here at the website. You’ll always GET THE MONEY with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!
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