With the Pac-12 as we know it in its penultimate season, the basketball standings look the same as they often do. Arizona and UCLA are battling up top for the regular season title while a handful of always lesser programs battle for spots in the back end of the tournament.
The Arizona Wildcats have gotten off to an excellent 13-4 start, including a 58-52 win over UCLA in Tucson on January 21st. Unfortunately for the Cats all four of their losses are in-conference and their 13-4 record in the Conference of Champions trails the Bruins’ 14-2 mark. They do however get at least one more shot at UCLA in the regular season finale in Westwood.
Arizona is pretty locked in as a very high seed for March Madness as Joe Lunardi has them as a #2 in his latest Bracketology. The Cats rank 9th on KenPom and 11th in the NCAA NET Rankings. They are an impressive 7-2 in Quad 1 games, defined as home games versus top 30 NET, neutral games versus top 50 NET, and road games versus top 75 NET. They scheduled a brutal non-conference slate and beat everyone, including wins over Creighton, San Diego State, and Indiana on neutral courts and Tennessee in Tucson. They all rank in the top 20 in both NET and KenPom.
The Wildcats have five players averaging double figures in scoring, led by junior forward Azuolas Tubelis from Lithuania. He’s averaging a team-high 19.6 Points per game, to go with 9.1 Rebounds per game. He has a shot at first team All America and is tied for the fourth shortest odds at BetMGM for the John R Wooden Award for Player of the Year, albeit unlikely in the Year of Zach Edey.
- Edey -1400
- Jalen Wilson +1000
- Trayce Jackson-Davis +1800
- Tubelis +2500
- Oscar Tshiebwe +2500
- Marcus Sasser +2500
Arizona is also tied for fourth in lowest national title odds
- Houston +600
- Alabama +800
- Purdue +800
- Arizona +1200
- Kansas +1200
- UCLA +1300
- Baylor +1400
- Tennessee +1400
Arizona State at Arizona, February 25
Rivalry Game! Plus it is the home finale for the Wildcats. In football, the two schools have played for the Territorial Cup since 1899, in basketball, it has kind of a Big Brother vs Little Brother dynamic as Arizona is almost always a power while ASU is frequently good but hardly ever terrific.
This season fits the mold. While Arizona will get a #3 seed or better in the tournament, Arizona State at 19-9 currently sits below the bubble. They rank 70th in NET and 67th on KenPom with a 3-3 record vs Quad 1 and just 5-5 vs Quad 2. Arizona won their first meeting 69-60 in Tempe on New Year’s Eve.
The big difference is on offense as Arizona ranks 7th in the 362-team college basketball nation in Kenpom’s Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (AdjOE) with 119.4 points per 100 possessions, while the Sun Devils are 125th at 107.5. Their defensive efficiencies are pretty similar with Arizona State actually modestly better with a 95.7 AdjDE vs 97.1 for Arizona.
Arizona is among the best shooting teams in the nation with the fifth-ranked effective field goal percentage of 56.1%. They shoot a 37th-best in the nation at 37.2% from three, led by Texas transfer Courtney Ramney at 41.5%, Cedric Henderson at 40.3%, and Kerr Kriisa at 37.6%.
Arizona State ranks just 297th in EFG% at 47.9% and is an even worse 313th from behind the arc at 31.3%. In all fairness, they shoot poorly from everywhere as they rank 251st in two-point percentage and 248th in free throw percentage.
Though Arizona State needs to vault 8-10 teams or so to get into March Madness, they have a shot if they can win their last three regular season games. Both teams finish the season at UCLA and USC, so for the Sun Devils, that is three Quad 1 games. Win them all and get at least one win in the Pac-12 tournament and they have an outside shot. Unfortunately that all looks very unlikely. KenPom has the Cats winning 82-71.
Arizona at USC, March 2
It marks another game where the Cats try to damage the hopes of a Conference of Champions rival on the March Madness bubble. USC really lives around the cutline as they sit in the First Four Out on the last Lunardi Bracket. They are 56th in NET and 48th in KenPom, just 3-5 in Quad 1 but a good 5-1 in Quad 2. They have a signature win over UCLA but lost their first meeting with Arizona 81-66 in Tucson.
The Trojans rank 53rd in AdjOE at 112.4 despite not doing anything exceptionally well on offense. Their best stat is their free throw percentage where they place 69th at 74.3%, a point of emphasis from Coach Andy Enfield who once held the all-time NCAA FT% record of 92.5% when he played at Johns Hopkins.
On the other side of the ball, USC has a 98.3 AdjDE, 58th best nationally, thanks mostly to holding opponents to a 45.4% EFG%. That poses an interesting matchup with the Wildcats’ excellent shooting. Arizona won that battle easily in the first meeting as they went for a 58.6% EFG%.
KenPom rates this game very close as it has Arizona winning 81-78. USC has two other Quad 1 shots as they visit Colorado and Utah, plus a home game vs Arizona State. They can probably afford to lose to Arizona and still work their way in, but a win here would probably get them in almost on its own.
Arizona at UCLA, March 4
This game ends the regular season and means both everything and virtually nothing at once. These two teams have dominated Pac-12 basketball for the better part of four decades. In UCLA’s case, it goes back to the mid-’60s before Arizona even joined the Conference of Champions. Both teams sit as number 2 seeds in the NCAA bracket preview, and a win or loss here likely would not change that for either. The game may not even determine the regular season and top seed in the conference tournament title as UCLA leads by two in the loss column and can clinch without a win.
It also means everything as this is UCLA’s penultimate season in the Pac–12. The two powers will presumably meet twice again next season and pending possible matchups in the conference tournament either way, that is the end of a great rivalry.
Mack Cronin has turned the Bruins back into a national power and defensive terror as they rank second in the nation in AdjDE at 88.0, to go with the 25th-ranked AdjOE of 115. The Bruins do everything well on both sides of the ball with the one odd exception of not getting to the free-throw line much.
Arizona took the first meeting 58-52 in Tucson, but KenPom has UCLA triumphing in the rematch 78-71. There are 17 Arizona Betting Sites to choose from now, only three games left in the regular season, but all look super interesting.