This Game doesn’t have a ton of postseason implications, but it’s on CBS in the middle of Saturday so it will get some eyeballs. UCLA’s season has been a mess and that’s why it has a new coach, while USC has dealt with numerous injuries and suspensions and surprisingly has a worse record.
It’s hard to tell which team is in the worst position, but since the Bruins stole a win at Oregon last week, they have the slight upper hand. The Bruins have also looked somewhat better since Steve Alford was fired, though they lost by 13 points in their last road Game at Oregon State. They at least have the Oregon and Notre Dame wins, while the Trojans don’t have anything. Their best win is probably the home Game against Stanford, though the home loss to Vandy and road loss to Santa Clara takes that away.
The funny thing is that both teams still have a decent amount of talent, yet neither has tried to play defense. UCLA ranks slightly better in terms of efficiency, but also has one of the worst defensive turnover rates in the country while turning it over on almost 20 percent of possessions themselves. LUckily for the Bruins, that shouldn’t matter as much in this Game because USC has played worse defense and is allowing better than 42 percent from three in Pac-12 play. At the least for USC, it’s play better defense at home, though some of that could be due to Schedule.
The biggest advantage, outside of home cOurt, may be Moses Brown, who makes an impact simply by being taller than 7-foot. He’s averaging 11.9 points and 9.0 boards per Game and that’ll be a problem for a poor rebounding team. Nick Rakocevic (14.9 ppg, 9.5 rpg) and Bennie Boatwright (17.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg) have good rebounding numbers on the surface, but according to rebounding percentage, that’s not the case as the Trojans are below average in defensive rebounding. That’s an issue because Brown has an offensive rebounding percentage of 18.2, which is second best in the country.
The question is what the UCLA bigs can do against USC’s leading scorers. Brown lacks strength down low, but Chris Smith, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill all present different kinds of options to match up against Boatwright and Rakocevic. While the frontcOurt could be a push, the backcOurt edge may go to UCLA. Kris Wilkes (17.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg) is UCLA’s best scorer and will likely be matched up with Shaqquan Aaron, who is mainly there to defend opposing small forwards. If Aaron can’t stop Wilkes from getting open looks, that’ll be a problem. The Bruins could also have the edge at the two guard spots between Jaylen Hands (11.6 ppg, 6.6 apg) and Prince Ali (10.4 ppg). Jonah Mathews (12.3 ppg) and Derryck Thornton (9.2 ppg, 4.3 apg) are solid, experienced players, but maybe not at the same level as UCLA’s guys, at least talent wise.
It makes sense to back USC because it’s playing at home and UCLA has been a mystery all season on the road, but that’s too simple. The Trojans haven’t beaten anyone relevant this season and already have some bad losses, while the Bruins have at least tried harder under interim coach Murry Bartow. The Bruins are also slightly deeper and that could help in what should be an up-and-down Game.
Our Pick – UCLA +2.5