By: Quin Pezoldt
10:30 PM EST, Desert Financial Arena, Tempe, AZ – ESPN
Spread: UCLA -2.5
UCLA Bruins (7-2, 3-0)
Mick Cronin’s UCLA squad aren’t passing the same “eye-test” that they were in preseason projections because they’ve been eclipsed by other teams. Cronin can rely on sophomore point guard, Tyger Campbell, to get 7 assists per game and impact each offensive shot for the Bruins’ offense but he can’t get his 3-ball to fall (26% 3pt% this season). Junior 3-man, Jules Bernard has hit his stride for this team making 50% of his shots on the season and has been their stand-out player in 3 of their last 4 games. In those four games, he’s averaged almost 13 points, 2 assists, and 7 boards while only committing 1 foul in 116 minutes of play.
Five days ago the Bruins lost their most experienced player, senior swinger, Chris Smith, responsible for 12.6 points, 6.4 boards, and 1.6 assists. Smith tore his ACL the other day and is confirmed out for the season which is a huge hit to UCLA’s experience and efficiency as well as Smith’s professional career. The poor guy pulled out of the draft late and was returning to try to win the conference. Now Cronin needs the rest of his length to protect the paint in his absence. Cody Riley and Jalen Hill will be getting a greater percentage of the possessions down low currently combining for 17.3 PPG 11.6 RPG 2.6 APG. So you’ll most likely see those numbers tick up because the shooting from the Bruins’ front court isn’t as efficient as they’d like to be and Cronin likes to control games with defense. UCLA was able to beat Colorado without Smith at the last second showing that they don’t necessarily need him to win a game against a quality opponent because they have enough talent in their small/big-ball rotations.
Arizona State (4-3, 1-0)
The Sun Devils are coming off almost a month-long break due to COVID protocol and they’ve only practiced a couple of times leading up to this game. The last game they played was a horrible loss to UTEP after being favored by double-digits. Hurley has some good scoring talent in Remy Martin (16.9 PPG 3 RPG 3.6 APG), Josh Christopher (16.9 PPG 4.6 RPG 1.1 APG), and Alonzo Verge Jr (15.4 PPG 4.2 RPG 3 APG). is great but the team needs to wrap its game around shot selection and cleaning the board. The Devils have been struggling getting second chances only getting 18.8% of the boards on the offensive end which is 325th in the country. So if they don’t convert on the first try which is only 44% of the time (300th in the country) they will most likely have to get on defense. They score by creating a lot of “fast points” off of breakaways/non-steal turnovers and protecting the ball well when in possession (turning the ball over only 6% of total possessions).
Marcus Bagley, freshman forward, and Jalen Graham, sophomore center, are going to need to be the difference here against UCLA. Bagley is back in the lineup for ASU after a calf strain. In his last game, he was a cold 22% from the field for 5 points and 7 rebounds. In 3 of his last 4 games he’s shot 28% or less from the field so he will need to come off of this break refreshed because they will be down Taeshon Cherry and Kimani Lawrence around that 4-position. Jalen Graham gets an efficient 53% of his shots to fall so if he and Bagley are able to pull down rebounds and box out on the offensive end, their guards should be able to out score the Bruins. Bobby Hurley hasn’t nailed down a starting lineup but Arizona St has enough scoring talent to keep them in this game.
Analysis & Best Bet
This game started out as a pick ‘em then this game saw some early money on Arizona State moving the line as far as ASU -1.5. Once the public and a few sharps saw that they were getting 1.5 points taking UCLA, they jumped on it moving the line back past even to UCLA -2 and even -2.5 at some books. The O/U has also had a lot of movement, crashing down from the opener of 150.5 points down six to a consensus 144 now. I think this is going to be a close game and I have the lines at a pick ‘em so I’m going to take Arizona State +2.5. The Sun Devils have too much talent to be 4-3 without major injuries and they are playing at home with a lot of time to have learned from the UTEP loss. This is half a value play getting the points as a home dog and half playing the averages. Meaning that ASU players are due for a good game after having poor performances in their last few outings because expecting good players like these to consistently put up low percentages like 27% is a stretch. I think they play to the total around 145 with the winner decided by a possession in the last 60 seconds.
*Added bonus: Bill Walton on the call.