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UCLA and USC continue to be underrated in betting markets

UCLA Colorado Basketball
UCLA guards Jaime Jaquez Jr., front, and Chris Smith celebrate at the end of the Bruins’ 70-63 win over Colorado Feb. 22 in Boulder.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Four of the top six teams in the Pac-12 college basketball standings meet this weekend when UCLA and USC host Arizona and Arizona State.

UCLA and USC 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.

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) and USC (10-3 ATS in its last 13). Arizona State is 10-4 ATS, 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 professional bettors will be paying close attention to this weekend’s games. The Pac-12 tournament will be at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas 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.

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USC has lost five of its last seven games, leaving the Trojans on the bubble for the NCAA tournament. Two of their starters are also dealing with illness.

Market watchers should also monitor how 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.

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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. ASU was seen as virtually even with the Trojans and three 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 against the market in the battle for betting dollars.

UCLA will set a record this season for the lowest average attendance at Pauley Pavilion. But the Bruins could be playing in front of sellout crowds this week.

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 NCAA 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’ NCAA hopes than does Lunardi.)

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Elsewhere

— In the NBA, the Lakers have a quick rematch Sunday with revenge-minded New Orleans (5 p.m., ESPN). LeBron James and company beat Zion Williamson and the Pelicans 118-109 on Tuesday night as 7.5-point favorites.

LeBron James had 40 points and eight rebounds in his first career meeting with Zion Williamson while leading the Lakers to their sixth straight victory, 118-109 over the New Orleans Pelicans.

The busy Lakers must visit Golden State on Thursday and Memphis on Saturday before that return engagement. After covering against 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 have six of their next seven games nationally televised. The fun starts Friday against Denver (7:30 p.m., ESPN) and continues Sunday against Philadelphia (12:30 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.

In the NHL, the Kings and Ducks continue to flounder along with the San Jose Sharks at the bottom of the Western Conference.

Blake Bolden was hired recently by the Kings as a scout. She is believed to be the the first black female professional scout in the NHL.
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The Kings haven’t won more than two games in a row since mid-November, though a few recent upsets helped stem a slide that had 13 losses in 15 games.

The Ducks’ upset of Edmonton on Tuesday night ended a four-game losing streak. They’re down about 10 betting units against moneyline prices, which is still slightly better than the Kings.

— In the XFL, the Wildcats hope to build on Sunday’s 38-point cover against the DC Defenders with an early Saturday victory in New York against the Guardians (11 a.m., ABC). The Wildcats’ impressive blowout made believers of oddsmakers. The Wildcats opened as seven-point road favorites after being eight-point home underdogs to DC and six-point home underdogs to Dallas their previous two games.


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