Pac-12 Showdown: Arizona at USC

Pac-12 Showdown: Arizona at USC

USC Trojans vs. Arizona Wildcats

Line: Arizona -2.5

Total: 155

Where: Galen Center, Los Angeles, California

When: Thursday, 3/2 at 11:00 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

No. 8 Arizona will battle with USC for second place in the Pac-12 standings when the teams meet on Thursday night.

The Wildcats cruised to an 81-66 win over USC as 8-point home favorites in mid-January, but they are coming off a stunning loss to Arizona State as 12.5-point favorites. USC has been able to keep itself in the mix for second place by rattling off four straight wins, including Saturday’s 62-49 win over Utah as a 2.5-point ‘chalk.’

Offshore sportsbook BetOnline had Arizona priced as a 2.5-point road favorite as of Wednesday afternoon, while the total was sitting at 156. By early this morning, the Wildcats remained -2.5 and the total was adjusted to 155 points.

The total went ‘under’ 152 points in the first meeting between these teams, but Arizona has gone ‘over’ in four of its last five games and USC has cashed the ‘over’ in seven of its last 10 games, including five straight at home.

The Wildcats have never lost consecutive games in two seasons under head coach Tommy Lloyd, which is a streak that will be tested again on Thursday. Their defense allowed Arizona State to hang around on Saturday, ultimately costing them when the Sun Devils drilled a half-court buzzer-beater to win the game.

“It’s tough to lose the last game at home,” Lloyd said. “But it ain’t the end of the season. We’ve got two more games to play against two good teams, and we have the Pac-12 tournament. We’re going to get ready for March, and I think we’re going to be a whole new team now.”

Lloyd also publicly called out star forward Azuolas Tubelis, who had 17 points and nine rebounds on Saturday.

“I don’t care about overall stats,” Lloyd said. “I’m going to be honest, I never even looked at the overall stats. I couldn’t tell you what his shooting percentage is, how many points he’s scoring. But I know effort on defense, and he’s got to play better.”

Tubelis is the conference’s leading scorer (19.6) and rebounder (9.1), pacing an offense that ranks sixth in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency ratings. They have the fourth-best effective field goal percentage (56.4) of 363 Division I teams, but they have been somewhat handcuffed by a turnover rate that is No. 196.

USC has certainly tested opposing offenses throughout the season, ranked ninth in defensive field goal percentage (38.9) and first in the conference. The Trojans are the fourth-tallest team in the country, so they are one of the few teams in the Pac-12 that can match up with Arizona inside.

They also have momentum coming into this game after sweeping Colorado and Utah last week. USC ranks outside the top 100 in effective field goal percentage, turnover rate and offensive rebounding rate, though. Veterans Boogie Ellis (17.2) and Drew Peterson (14.6) lead the way, while sophomore Kobe Johnson has reached double figures in five of his last seven games.

“A lot of our players have matured and grown,” USC head coach Andy Enfield said. “We’re a much better team than we were in November and early December.”

The Trojans have covered the spread in all four games during their current winning streak, and they are 6-3 ATS in their last nine games against the Wildcats. However, Arizona has won four of the last five meetings outright.

DraftKings has Arizona listed at 16-1 to win the NCAA Tournament, while USC is a 100-1 longshot.

The pick: Arizona -2.5

I have voiced my opinion on Arizona in previous articles, as I think the Wildcats offer the most value of any team in the 15-1 to 30-1 range in the futures market. They are coming off a brutal loss to an Arizona State team that they should have handled, but I expect them to refocus heading into this matchup. USC has made some noise in the Pac-12 over the past few weeks, creating hype surrounding this game and its seeding implications. I expect that to work against the Trojans on Thursday night though, as some of Arizona’s best performances have come against the top teams on its schedule. The Wildcats and Trojans have similar rosters from a size perspective, but Arizona is better at most positions. Those advantages were evident in the 81-66 final when these teams met in January, and they will show up again on Thursday night.

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