Lots of work left for USC, UCLA

Saturday’s much-anticipated college basketball battle between USC and UCLA (9 p.m., ESPN2) will feature teams that need to improve their resumes quickly. 

Neither is currently considered Big Dance-caliber based on respected computer and betting market ratings. If they move backward rather than forward, it’s possible they wouldn’t even play in the NIT. 

Circa Sports in Las Vegas offers separate odds to win the NCAA championship and the NIT. 

— NCAA: USC 300/1, UCLA 1000/1

— NIT: USC 50/1,UCLA 100/1

Unsurprisingly, both are more likely to win the NIT than the NCAA. Part of the trick of betting NIT futures is that you can’t win if the team doesn’t go. If either rises into the Big Dance, any NIT futures bets are losers. It’s worth noting that UCLA opened at 200/1 before dropping quickly. Some bettors believe UCLA’s upset of Washington last week may be hinting at better things to come.  

A good way to visualize tournament possibilities for betting purposes is to look at Ken Pomeroy’s market-respected national rankings (kenpom.com). Typically only the top 50 teams are Dance-caliber because so many automatic bids in the 68-team field go to long shots from smaller conferences. The next 50 or so will at least be considered for spots in the 32-team NIT field. 

Here’s how Pac-12 teams ranked with Pomeroy at midweek: Arizona 12, Oregon 16, Colorado 40, Washington 43, Stanford 50, Oregon State 65, USC 77, Arizona State 95, Utah 99, UCLA 121, Washington State 138, California 193.

USC is firmly in NIT territory. UCLA has a lot of work to do. 

Let’s run national rankings for USC and UCLA in a few stat categories professional bettors use to evaluate skill sets as a handicapping guide for Saturday’s showdown at Pauley Pavilion.

(Note that efficiency on offense or defense refers to points per possession rather than raw scoring, rebound rate refers to percentage of available rebounds grabbed, and turnover rates are measured on a per-play basis. All rankings and stats are from publicly posted data at teamrankings.com.)

— Offensive efficiency: UCLA gets the nod here. The Bruins rank No. 87 of 353 measured teams at teamrankings.com. USC is a disappointing No. 191.  

— Offensive turnovers: Similar story, though both drop relative to the nation. Each needs to do a better job of protecting the ball. UCLA ranks No. 112, USC No. 244. 

— 3-point shooting: A glaring weak spot for both, and arguably the main reason neither will be able to compete consistently with national powers. USC makes only 6.2 treys per game, which ranks No. 260. UCLA is worse at 5.6, which ranks No. 304. While this season’s deeper distance may reduce the impact of 3-point shooting on success, those rankings are still unacceptable. 

— Defensive efficiency: This is what launches USC into NIT territory. The Trojans rank No. 68 and are much better than UCLA at getting stops. The Bruins rank only No. 214 on this end of the floor. 

— Rebound rate: It’s a tribute to the hustle and effort of the Bruins that UCLA ranks No. 10 nationally. And it could be a linchpin stat Saturday if USC’s shooting woes continue. The Trojans rank a satisfactory No. 59.

Be sure to monitor betting markets Saturday to see how oddsmakers and sharps view these teams head to head. 

NFL playoff notes

The San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs are on the heels of the Baltimore Ravens  at the top of futures boards among Super Bowl contenders. 

Here are updated odds to win the Super Bowl from the Westgate in Las Vegas: Ravens 9/5, 49ers 7/2, Chiefs 7/2, Packers 7/1, Seahawks 14/1, Vikings 18/1, Texans 30/1, Titans 30/1.

A quick look at market expectations for this weekend’s divisional round in kickoff order: 

— San Francisco will likely close as a 7-point favorite over Minnesota (4:35 p.m. Saturday, NBC). The public, which historically bets rested home favorites in this round, likes the Niners at -6.5. Sharps would love a defensive dog like the Vikings if the line rose to +7.5. 

— Baltimore will probably be -9.5 or -10 vs. Tennessee (8:15 p.m. Saturday, CBS). Sharp dog lovers will hit the Titans at to %plussign whenever it’s available. 

— Kansas City is in that same price range vs. Houston (3:05 p.m. Sunday, CBS). Recreational bettors want to root for blowouts. This creates value on the dogs for sharps.

— Green Bay will probably close at -4 vs. Seattle in the finale (6:40 p.m. Sunday, FOX). The Packers are the least-respected favorite because they struggled often down the stretch. The point spread might have been below a field goal if the Seahawks weren’t shorthanded from injuries. 

VSiN has put together an estimate of market Power Ratings based on the point spread and futures odds you just read. Jonathan Von Tobel (of “The Edge”) and I assess a point scale this way:

Ravens 89, Chiefs 88, 49ers 86, Packers 83, Vikings 82, Seahawks 82, Titans 82, Texans 81.

We use a standard three points for home-field advantage. Those numbers suggest Baltimore would be about -4 over Kansas City if both win this week, while San Francisco would be about -6 to -7 hosting the NFC finals.

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