After three months of disappointing results, UCLA’s basketball team earned an astonishing national ranking of No. 18 in February for adjusted net efficiency, according to Jordan Sperber of Hoop Vision.
It came after ranking only No. 97 in November, No. 145 in December and No. 120 in January. In a finger snap, the Bruins jumped from a team that didn’t deserve postseason consideration to one consistently playing at the level of a fifth seed in the NCAA tournament.
Net efficiency is an analytic used by statheads and informed bettors to evaluate team performance. Efficiency is scoring adjusted for pace, to avoid illusions created by extreme styles. The calculation is then adjusted for caliber of opponents.
Counting only February, UCLA outperformed many high-profile contenders such as Duke, Kentucky, Louisville, Seton Hall and Villanova. No other Pac-12 program was listed in Sperber’s February top 25.
Bettors aren’t surprised at all. UCLA went 6-2-1 against the spread (ATS) for the month, including two outright upsets of Arizona and one each against Colorado and Utah. It’s part of a 9-3-1 ATS tear that dates to Jan. 19.
UCLA (-3) pushed in a 75-72 victory over Arizona State on Thursday before rallying as a two-point underdog to beat Arizona 69-64 on Saturday night. Those straight-up victories moved the Bruins to the top of the Pac-12 standings with a 12-5 record.
UCLA closes the regular season Saturday at USC. The Trojans also remained hot against market expectations with a pair of win/covers against the Arizona schools. USC (+4.5) beat Arizona 57-48 on Thursday. Two days later, the Trojans (-3) beat ASU 71-61. That’s a combined 20.5-point cover for a team now 12-3 ATS in its last 15 games.
Oddsmakers and professional bettors continue to be very slow reacting to the quality form UCLA and USC have shown in recent weeks. Both programs hope the NCAA tournament selection committee is paying attention.
— In the NBA, the Lakers finished a sweep of a home-and-home challenge against the up-and-coming New Orleans Pelicans. After winning 118-109 as 7.5 point favorites Tuesday at Staples Center, they won 122-114 as two-point underdogs Sunday on the road.
It lifted the Lakers to 46-13 straight up and 32-26-1 ATS. LeBron James and company are 6-2 ATS in their last eight.
The erratic Clippers had a strong week. They were 4-0 straight up, 3-1 against the spread. Covers against Memphis (16 points) and Denver (22 points) were absolute laughers. The only non-cover was Sunday’s 136-130 win over Philadelphia as pricey 14-point favorites. It left the Clippers 41-19 straight up and 32-28 ATS (plus 1.2 betting units when you account for the 10% vigorish on losses).
A challenging stretch awaits. On Tuesday the Clippers visit Oklahoma City, the best point-spread team in the NBA at 38-22 ATS. Two nights later they visit hard-charging Houston, 10-2 straight up in its last 12 games, before meeting the Lakers on Sunday at Staples.
— In the XFL, the Wildcats proved unprepared for Saturday’s bad-body-clock start in New York’s cold temperatures and swirling winds against the Guardians. They lost 17-14 as seven-point favorites, rushing for only 40 yards and converting just two-of-12 third downs.
Quarterback Josh Johnson gained passing yardage sporadically in the middle of the field. But two stalled drives ended in failed field-goal attempts. The Wildcats had the game’s only turnover on a Johnson interception. The result dropped them to 1-3 straight up and ATS.
The Wildcats play Sunday against Tampa Bay (6 p.m., ESPN). The Vipers earned their first win with a 25-0 shutout of the DC Defenders on Sunday night.
Jeff Fogle works for VSiN.com, the sports betting network.