It’s Pac 12 after dark and we have a good one on deck as the UCLA Bruins hit the road to battle it out against the Arizona State Sun Devils. ASU has been in the midst of a revitalization, sitting at 15-3 and in sleeper Pac 12 championship status. UCLA on the other hand is back in full championship level form with an all-around elite balanced identity. This serves as a potential huge resume boost for the Sun Devils should they get the win. The question is, can they pull it off?
UCLA Vs. Arizona State Odds
Oddsmakers think they have a puncher’s chance by opening them as a +5 underdog. Bettors believe elsewise, backing UCLA up to -5.5 as of writing. After a slight hiccup earlier this season that saw UCLA dip in production and battle it out in tight contests, they have subsided those inefficiencies and have railed off an impressive win streak. Relying on a smoother operating offense may see some trouble this time around as the Sun Devils have been a formidable defense at this point of the season.
Speaking of defense, oddsmakers believe points will be scored at a moderate pace as they opened the total at 134.5. This number has seen some odd movement, dipping down to 133.5 before bouncing right back up to its opening number. As previously mentioned, Arizona State has relied a brunt of their success on their defensive ability while UCLA defends the rim at an elite rate. Even when lacking size, the Bruins specialize in causing Havoc in the middle and smother the perimeter for low quality looks.
UCLA Vs. Arizona State Prediction & Pick
The Pick: Under 134.5
With that said, I will back the under at the opening number as we may be in for a defensive slugfest between two impressive units. Especially when you look deeper into their defensive numbers, realizing that both of their specialties are equipped to negate each other’s offensive style of play. Should the pace and style of play not get out of hand, then the game script calls for plenty of empty possessions.
Starting with Arizona State, they have built their early season success on the backs of their defensive style of play. They currently rank 51st in the nation Adjusted Efficiency Margin per Kenpom, good for fourth place in the conference. Making up a majority of their above average ranking is their defensive efficiency, a metric that ranks 31st in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency per Kenpom.
They specialize in smothering opposing looks at the rim, defending the paint at an elite rate. They are fourth in the nation in two point field goal percentage allowed, 11th in Effective Field Goal Percentage allowed. This is exactly the type of offense UCLA wants to establish as their production relies on attacking the middle for pull up jump shots. Should ASU negate the middle, this slows down UCLA’s offense to the point where they force bad looks from the perimeter as defenses don’t have to collapse.
As for UCLA’s defensive identity, it’s business as usual as they cover the perimeter at an elite rate while also wreaking Havoc in the middle. Their ability to force opposing offenses to cough up the ball helps equalize their size mismatch. When they are unable to cause Havoc, they are capable of getting burned in the paint which plays into the Sun Devils hands as they will want to abuse the mid-range.
UCLA Vs. Arizona State Key Matchups
Even with a size mismatch, can UCLA limit the paint production?
ASU middle production vs UCLA interior defense
Like UCLA, a brunt of the ASU scoring production comes from their guard play as four of the five players who average double figures come from the back court. They specialize in cuts to the basket and making plays from the mid range.
What plays to our under tickets hands is that they do not operate at an efficient level in comparison to UCLA’s near identity as the Sun Devils rank 86th in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency per Kenpom.
UCLA’s ability to limit the mid-range will be the key metric to watch as they can smother their looks to force ASU into stalled out possessions. Neither have a massive rebounding advantage, negating second chance opportunities.
With both defenses being able to limit each other’s offensive production, I will take the under at 134.5 in what will be a defensive slugfest.