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USC deserves some attention from bettors despite being in UCLA’s shadow

USC's Onyeka Okongwu acknowledges the Galen Center crowd after the Trojans' 57-48 win over the Arizona Wildcats on Feb. 27.
USC’s Onyeka Okongwu acknowledges the Galen Center crowd after the Trojans’ 57-48 win over the Arizona Wildcats on Feb. 27.
(Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images)

USC must be tired of hearing about UCLA’s hot basketball run. Sure, the Bruins’ turnaround is almost unprecedented. But that’s because UCLA started the season so poorly.

—USC has the superior won-lost record entering Saturday’s finale against UCLA (12:15 p.m., CBS). The Trojans are 21-9 and the Bruins are 19-11.

USC won the first meeting 74-63 as a short underdog on the road. Doesn’t that mean anything anymore?

—USC has been seen as the bigger surprise in market terms, with a 19-11 record against the spread (ATS) compared to 16-13-1 for UCLA.

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Bruins rank 18th nationally for month in one metric that is important to gamblers. Team hoping NCAA Tournament selectors are paying attention.

—USC’s stellar recent form has been slightly more profitable for backers, and it started further back on the calendar. The Trojans are 12-3 ATS in their last 15 games. UCLA is 9-3 ATS in its last 12 but failed to cover its previous three.

—USC has been viewed as an NCAA Tournament-caliber team for much longer, even if UCLA is slightly more likely to make the tournament.

There’s a lot to love about both programs right now. So, why the difference in buzz and perception? USC lost close games to Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado, covering the spread in each rather than scoring outright upsets that would have launched the Trojans to the top of the Pac-12 standings.

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It’s obvious to sports bettors who will have the bigger chip on its shoulder Saturday. USC is nearly in a must-win situation for bubble consideration. UCLA has been accepting plaudits all week after grand marshal Bill Walton threw the Bruins a victory parade in the closing seconds of Saturday night’s rally past Arizona.

USC and UCLA play Arizona and Arizona State this week on the eve of the Pac-12 tournament. All have performed well against the spread lately.

Will the Bruins get caught flat after earning a bye in the Pac-12 tournament March 11-14 in Las Vegas? Be sure you monitor game-day pricing to get a read on how oddsmakers and professional bettors view these teams head to head. Don’t be shocked if the money is on the less-hyped host at the Galen Center.

For those following futures prices, UCLA is down to 80-1 to win the NCAA Tournament after sitting 250-1 entering last week’s home games against the Arizona schools. USC is 130-1, an improvement from last week’s 200-1.

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Elsewhere

— The Clippers and the Lakers will be featured in big games the next few days that will drive heavy betting action in legal jurisdictions.

On Thursday, the Clippers visit Houston (5 p.m., TNT), facing a small-ball unit that’s been making headlines in recent weeks. Before getting shocked Tuesday night at New York, the Rockets had won 10 of 12, including beating the Lakers, Mavericks and Celtics (twice).

On Friday, LeBron James and the Lakers host Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks (7:30 p.m., ESPN) in a battle of the league’s top MVP candidates. The Bucks own a comfortable lead over the Lakers in the race for the best record in the NBA — and both have performed much better than market expectations.

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Lakers star LeBron James pulled up 36 feet and made a shot against the 76ers on Tuesday. How does he know when to shoot those: “It’s just a feeling.”

On Sunday, the Clippers and Lakers play each other at Staples Center (12:30 p.m., ABC) in a potential preview of the Western Conference finals.

Entering those challenges, the Clippers are 33-28 ATS thanks to a 4-1 ATS charge that includes blowout wins over Western Conference playoff entries Denver and Oklahoma City. The Lakers are 33-26-1 ATS, including 7-2 ATS in their last nine games.

—In the NHL, professional bettors in Las Vegas are pondering the possibility that the beleaguered Kings have become a value bet. They saw that the Kings could sustain 60 quality minutes in Sunday’s 4-1 shocker over the Golden Knights as huge +275 road underdogs.

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That was the fifth outright upset for the Kings since Feb. 12, when they beat Calgary 5-3 getting +120. In between, the Kings won at Colorado 3-1 getting +225, beat Florida 5-4 getting +125 and beat Pittsburgh 2-1 getting +175.

Overall, the Kings are 6-3 in their last nine games after dropping 10 of their previous 11. They host Toronto on Thursday and Minnesota on Saturday. The Ducks will host those same teams Friday and Sunday.

—In the XFL, the Wildcats will likely close near pick-’em at home Sunday against the improving Tampa Bay Vipers (6 p.m., ESPN). Both teams are 1-3, which means the loser will have a tough road back to contention.

Last week the Wildcats (-7) lost at New York 17-14 despite winning the yardage battle handily 350-250 on 6.3 to 4.2 yards per play. Tampa Bay (+4.5) dominated DC 25-0 with an incredible yardage victory of 477-107 on 6.0 to 2.7 per play. Those stats suggest Sunday’s game should be more entertaining than a game of 1-3 teams would suggest.

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Jeff Fogle writes for VSiN.com, the sports betting network.


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