This article is part of our College Basketball Picks series.
Thursday's college hoops slate has a familiar West Coast flavor, in addition to the Big Ten and other teams around the country also in action. Steve Peralta previews a trio of Pac-12 matchups and shares his best bets for the evening.
Arizona State at UCLA
Arizona State pulled off an extremely improbable comeback in its recent game at Tucson, stunning the Wildcats on a three-point buzzer-beater. The victory looks impressive on paper, although Arizona State was projected to lose for almost the entire game, with KenPom giving Arizona a 97 percent win probability with under seven minutes remaining. A win is a win, some may say, but this is still the same Sun Devil squad that was in a clear downward trend for most of January. Not too long ago, the Sun Devils lost six of nine games, with the only wins in that span coming against the worst teams in the Pac-12 -- Oregon State, Stanford, and California. Arizona State's defense is solid, ranking No. 33 in KenPom's defensive efficiency rankings, although the offense is an entirely different story. The Sun Devils rank No. 116 in offensive efficiency, and, during conference play, they're making under 30 percent of shots from behind the arc, the lowest percentage in the Pac-12. They also rank last in the conference in free-throw attempt rate, so the Sun Devils basically thrive on close-range, uncontested shots. Safe to say UCLA isn't going to offer too many of those in Thursday's clash.
UCLA's defense has improved throughout the season, nearly ascending to the top of KenPom's defensive efficiency standings, coming into Thursday in second place. And as one might expect, the defense is even more suffocating at home, holding conference opponents to 55 points per game in Pauley Pavilion. And when UCLA combines its championship-caliber defense with its preferred slow pace of play, we consistently get incredibly low-scoring games. When playing at home against the Pac-12, UCLA's games are averaging 124 combined points per game.
UCLA defeated Arizona State by a final score of 74-62 in the first meeting between these two teams back on January 19, although it's worth noting that Arizona State shot abnormally well from behind the arc, knocking down 9-of-22 (.409) from three-point range, way above their season average. Now that the rematch is in Pauley Pavilion, it stands to reason that it will be more difficult to hit so many long-range shots. Considering the defensive numbers of each team involved, and Arizona State's offensive issues, this matchup has all the makings of a low-scoring game. I'm taking the under.
College Basketball Best Bet: Under 134
Stanford at Oregon State
Stanford began the conference season in rough shape, losing its first seven games, and now it's ending it on a similar note, losing five of its last seven. Stanford managed to take down Arizona in Maples Pavilion back on February 11, but its season has mostly consisted of low moments otherwise. The Cardinal have performed particularly worse on the road, losing seven of eight conference games away from Stanford, while also getting outscored by an average margin of 10 points per game. Stanford has the second-worst defensive efficiency rating among all Pac-12 teams, and this is also amplified when traveling, as the Cardinal are allowing conference foes to score 78 points per game in Stanford's road games. And since the conference season started, Stanford has the worst effective field goal percentage allowed in the Pac-12, in addition to the worst three-point field goal percentage allowed. A leaky defense any way you look at it.
Oregon State's season hasn't gone the way it would've liked, to say the least, but the Beavers are still putting up a fight when playing the role of host. Oregon State won or came within five points in five of eight home conference games, including quality wins over Colorado and USC. The only three teams that beat Oregon State by more than five points at home were Arizona, Utah, and UCLA, all three of which were significantly better than Stanford over the course of the season. Additionally, the Beavers' shooting numbers have also improved since the conference season started, making 34 percent of shots from behind the arc, the sixth-highest percentage in the Pac-12. This will likely come into play in Thursday's game, as Stanford has had the worst perimeter defense in the conference.
It's not always easy backing a team like Oregon State, but home cooking usually helps quite a bit. Stanford has also floundered for most of the season, particularly on the road, so covering a five-point spread will be a tall task for the Cardinal. All things considered, I'm taking the points with the home team in this one.
College Basketball Best Bet: Oregon State +5
Arizona at USC
Everyone knows all about Arizona and its masterful offensive attack, but one thing that tends to get overlooked is its inconsistent defense. The Wildcats can simply outscore opponents most of the time, but the defensive liability cost them in their two most recent losses, allowing 88 points to Stanford before allowing 89 points to Arizona State this past Saturday. To be fair, Arizona does play at the eighth-fastest tempo among all D1 teams, per KenPom, so the extra possessions certainly generate additional points along the way, but the Wildcats' 58th-place ranking on KenPom's defensive efficiency chart makes it clear which side of the court is a weakness. This problem has been worse on the road, where Arizona has allowed conference opponents to score 73 points per game.
USC, meanwhile, has been a scoring machine when playing at home. The Trojans have scored at least 80 points in their last four home games, and back on January 26, they dropped 77 points on UCLA, by far the most points the Bruins have allowed to any conference opponent. USC's scoring prowess isn't just limited to the confines of the Galen Center, however, as the Trojans have recorded the second-highest offensive efficiency rating among all Pac-12 teams during conference play. USC also ranks first in the conference in offensive turnover percentage and free-throw percentage in the same time span, giving us a well-rounded scoring attack.
Overall, both of these teams prefer playing a fast tempo while also boasting the top-two offenses in the Pac-12, per KenPom's efficiency numbers. USC only mustered 66 points when visiting Tucson back in January, but that number should be much higher in the rematch in Los Angeles. There's always a chance a random scoring drought might sabotage the over, but ultimately I'm betting this matchup will evolve into a high-speed shootout. I'm on the over.
College Basketball Best Bet: Over 154.5
Thursday College Basketball Best Bets:
Here's a recap of my best college basketball bets for Thursday:
- Arizona St at UCLA - Under 134
- Oregon State +5
- Arizona at USC - Over 154.5
For up-to-date information on the latest college basketball odds and props from multiple sportsbooks, check out the College Basketball odds page on RotoWire.
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