The Pac 12 looks to be a two-horse race for who will be crowned as the regular season champ with UCLA and Arizona both looking to finish out strong. UCLA has a one game lead in the standings, controlling their own destiny from this point forward. Utah on the other hand is looking toward March, securing a seed in the big dance. A win at home over UCLA would do wonders for their resume. Can Utah shock the nation with a win against the Bruins on their home court?
UCLA Vs. Utah Prediction & Pick
The Pick: UCLA Moneyline parlay piece
With that being said, I will shift my focus back towards the Bruins as they fit perfectly into a two-team parlay. They were the more consistent factor towards my initial total bet, now eliminating that variance by dumping Utah out of my handicap. Utah’s recent offensive woes can’t be overstated as they have now dipped to 100th in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency per Kenpom, potentially not having enough firepower to keep up with UCLA’s scoring pace.
Without perimeter production, Utah has had to rely on a more old school style approach by constantly feeding big man Branden Carlson down low. This bodes well for their pace of play as Utah currently ranks 240th in Tempo, running at a snail’s pace and letting plays develop in halfcourt sets. Carlson has also been a productive scoring force in his own right, averaging 16.4 points per game on 52.2% shooting from the floor. He can also provide some form of stretch play, shooting 35.3% from three.
This poses as somewhat of a concern for UCLA as they lack a true big man, but they more than make up for it with a havoc minded defense. UCLA is currently one of the best defenses in the country, ranking second in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. Cronin has this unit firing on all cylinders, flying towards the ball and always having a defender in someone’s face to limit their quality look at the rim.
That also includes defending the interior, an area they thrive in even without a true big man. UCLA has mastered clamping down on cuts to the rim, forcing opposing playmakers into havoc situations. These disruptions lead to turnovers, giving UCLA fast break chances for high quality scoring opportunities. When Carlson gets the ball down low, expect the Bruins to clamp down and force him to kick it back out or punish him when he puts the ball on the deck.
UCLA Vs. Utah Odds
Oddsmakers have this tighter than you would imagine, opening the Utes as a +7 underdog on their home court. Bettors are tempering their expectations of an upset, backing the Bruins up to -7.5 as of writing. Utah is unfortunately dealing with injuries at the guard position, drastically dipping in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency with a lack of shooting in their recent outings due to spacing issues. That won’t fly against the Bruins who specialize in terrorizing the interior when on defense.
As for the total, points are expected to be scored at a moderate pace as oddsmakers opened the number at 130.5. Bettors initially leaned towards the over by taking it up to 131.5, but that number has since dipped back down to the opening total as we near closer to tip off. I initially had a piece on the over but cashed out once the number came crashing back down. This gave me pause as I was already skeptical of my ticket due to the Utes recent performances on offense.
UCLA Vs. Utah Key Matchups
Can UCLA find a way to consistently score against the Utes defense?
UCLA mid-range shooting vs Utah coverage
While not nearly at the same efficient rate as UCLA, Utah has slowly transformed into an impressive defensive unit themselves throughout the course of this season. They currently rank 34th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, specializing in coverage in multiple areas of the court.
They limit the quality of looks in multiple facets, ranking well above average in Defensive eFG% in both two pointers and three pointers as well.
UCLA should be able to bypass this as their strengths reside in forcing defenses to reel back towards the rim, pulling up for a high quality jumpshot in the mid range. This negates the lack of gap Utah thrives off of, allowing the Bruins to routinely run their methodical offense.
With my position on the total cashed out, I will instead put the Bruins in a two-team moneyline parlay by coupling them with Illinois.