Four of the top six teams in the Pac-12 college basketball standings square off this weekend when UCLA and USC host Arizona and Arizona State.
Both Los Angeles teams are on the NCAA tournament bubble, according to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi. Arizona is safely in, while Arizona State appears headed for a No. 8 or No. 9 slot but has time to blow its position.
Interestingly, betting markets have been underrating all four teams for weeks. We’ve been following the surge of UCLA (8-3 against the spread in its last 11 games) and USC (10-3 ATS in its last 13). Arizona State is 10-4 ATS in its last 14, while Arizona is 9-5 ATS during that span. These teams have played several games against each other in that sampling. Their sum composite is about 75% ATS vs. “everyone else” in those records.
Las Vegas oddsmakers and sharps (professional bettors) will be paying very close attention to this weekend’s battles. The Pac-12 tournament will be at T-Mobile Arena in Sin City from March 11-14. UCLA, USC, Arizona or ASU could run the table next month from a group of contenders that also includes Colorado and Oregon.
Market watchers should also monitor how market perceptions have changed since these teams played in the desert in early February:
— Arizona was -10 vs. USC, -12.5 vs. UCLA.
— ASU was -3.5 vs. USC, -6 vs. UCLA.
We can deduce from those numbers that Arizona was seen as 6.5 points better than ASU on a neutral court and that USC was seen as 2.5 points better than UCLA. And, knowing that home-court advantage is generally worth three points in the college basketball line, we can guess that Arizona was seen as about seven points better than USC and 9.5 better than UCLA — and that ASU was seen as virtually even with Trojans and a trey better than the Bruins.
Numbers you see on the board this week will tell you how much market perceptions have changed. New bettors underestimate the importance of staying ahead of the market. It’s not enough to know the teams. It’s you vs. the market in the battle for betting dollars.
Updated futures prices of note from Circa Sports in Las Vegas:
— Arizona is 25/1 to win the NCAA tournament.
— USC is 200/1 to win the NCAA, 125/1 to win the NIT (the Trojans would become a better bet to win the NIT if they slide off the Dance bubble).
— UCLA is 250/1 to win the NCAA, 25/1 to win the NIT (if the Bruins stay hot, a bet for them to win the NIT would go up in smoke).
— ASU is 500/1 to win the NCAA, 20/1 to win the NIT (Circa seems more skeptical of the Sun Devils’ Dance hopes than does Lunardi).
— In the NBA, the Lakers have a quick rematch Sunday with revenge-minded New Orleans (8 p.m., ESPN). LeBron James and company beat Zion Williamson and the Pelicans 118-109 on Tuesday night as 7.5-point favorites.
The busy Lakers must visit Golden State on Thursday and Memphis on Saturday before that return engagement. After covering vs. New Orleans, the Lakers were 4-1 ATS in the last five games, 30-25-1 ATS for the season (plus 2.5 units for bettors after factoring in the 10% vigorish on losses).
The Clippers are about to regain the NBA spotlight, with six of their next seven games televised nationally. The fun starts Friday vs. Denver (10:30 p.m., ESPN) and continues Sunday vs. Philadelphia (3:30 p.m., ABC).
High nightly expectations have made the Clippers a shaky bet in recent weeks. They haven’t covered more than two games in a row since mid-December and are now about break-even for bettors for the season despite a long-forgotten hot start.