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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, February 24, 2017 at 7:00 AM

This could be one of the most fascinating showdowns in the final days of the 2016-17 college basketball regular season. Yes, everyone’s waiting for Duke/North Carolina next week (a game we’ll preview for you right here a week from right now!). But, UCLA/Arizona has something that matchup won’t have...

HUGE arguments about how good these teams really are…or AREN’T!

Here’s what we mean (note that all computer data in this preview is updated through Wednesday night’s games)…

 

Current Rankings

#5 UCLA is #18 at Kenpom, #14 at Sagarin, projected for a #4 seed

#4 Arizona is #21 at Kenpom, #20 at Sagarin, projected for a #2 seed

The pollsters think Arizona is one of the best four teams in the country…and Joe Lunardi of ESPN’s Bracketology is pretty close to that with a projected #2 seed in the Big Dance for the Wildcats. They might be one team away from getting a #1 seed. Yet, the most respected computers in analytics have Arizona around #20! That’s not a #1 seed…or a #2 seed…that’s a #5 seed or a #6 seed! It’s exceedingly rare to have THIS big a difference in perception involving a major conference team between the polls and the computers so late in the season.

And, we have something similar in the polls at least for UCLA. The Bruins are #5 nationally with voters…yet basically only Sweet 16 caliber in the computers and with Lunardi.

So, we have a TV blockbuster that may actually be a sheep in wolf’s clothing. A bunch of hype for a game that may involve not one but two national pretenders.

This was destined to be must-see TV anyway because of the stakes, the rivalry, and the revenge spot for the Bruins. Serious handicappers must now pay particular attention to trying to divine whether either…or both teams are naked emperors.

 

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency

UCLA: 125.7 per 100 possessions (#1 in the nation)

Arizona: 116.8 per 100 possessions (#26 in the nation)

UCLA has the best offense in the nation when you adjust for pace and schedule according to Ken Pomeroy’s landmark computer site. They are certainly not a pretender on this side of the floor. Though, history has shown that offense can be fickle in the Big Dance. It’s tougher to put up big numbers game after game on neutral courts under postseason pressure vs. top defenses. And, that doesn’t even account for the occasional quirky shooting backdrop in domes. Arizona grades out well here nationally (more than 300 teams are measured), but takes the worst of it in this head-to-head matchup.

 

Adjusted Defensive Efficiency

UCLA: 102.2 per 100 possessions (#117 in the nation)

Arizona: 95.0 per 100 possessions (#27 in the nation)

This is where UCLA is very likely to be a pretender. And, it’s why they lost Round One of this meeting back in Pauley Pavilion. You can’t win playoff style basketball with such a poor defense! You longtime readers know that defense wins championship in this sport. UCLA will have to shoot lights out six times in a row if they want to win the Big Dance. Very tough task to pull off. The numbers suggest this is one of the softest “contending” defenses in recent history. Arizona is about the same on defense as they are on offense. That’s why the computers have them down around #20 nationally. They’re solid…but not GREAT at anything by Dance standards. When they ran into a red-hot Oregon buzzsaw in Eugene recently, there was nothing Arizona could do to avoid a rout.

 

Pace Ranking

UCLA: #13

Arizona: #300

You may not be aware that Arizona is one of the slowest teams in a major conference. This is going to be a very interesting clash of styles. If Arizona can keep this one slow…they might be able to embarrass the Bruins again. UCLA’s horrible defense is REALLY prone to lapses against patient, smart opponents. But…if the fired-up Bruins can force a faster pace…then Arizona’s going to lose its composure like it did in Oregon. Historically, home teams tend to impose their will in big conference games…and slower teams tend to impose their will in playoff style basketball. Will that be enough for Arizona to trump UCLA’s revenge motive?

 

Against the Spread

UCLA: 14-13

Arizona: 13-13-2

The market’s been fairly in synch with both teams in the big picture. Note that both have strong betting constituencies in Nevada…which makes it even tougher for the programs to cover pointspreads. Locals have to pay a premium to back their teams.

Who should YOU back Saturday night? JIM HURLEY is the man with the answers! Build your bankrolls between now and then with some BIG, JUICY WINNERS…then check on game day to see if UCLA/Arizona made the cut for serious play. You can always purchase BEST BETS right here at the website. If you have any questions about this weekend or extended service, call us in the office at 1-888-777-4155 Friday during normal business hours or Saturday before the action gets started.

Back with you next time to talk about Big Monday. Both North Carolina/Virginia and West Virginia/Baylor will be grabbing headlines that night. February is about to run out of days…which means MARCH MADNESS is just around the corner. Ride down THE ROAD TO RICHES and THE ROAD TO THE FINAL FOUR with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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