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Thursday night’s slate isn’t filled with crazy rivalries or Top-25 matchups; however, we have two enthralling Pac-12 games with significant implications in the conference standings. Each of these games becomes increasingly important with every passing day as we near the end of the regular season! Find our best college basketball picks today for the California versus Arizona and Oregon versus USC games below!
Date: Thursday, February 1
Time: 8:30 pm EST
At the beginning of the 2023-24 regular season, it seemed like the now-11th-ranked Arizona Wildcats might run away with the Pac-12 regular season championship. And it seemed just as likely that they would win the Pac-12 conference tournament and make a deep run during March Madness.
While the Wildcats are still a fantastic team, they have slowed down a bit, suffering five total losses, three of which have come in Pac-12 play. That is not the best sign either, as the Pac-12 is way down this season.
Still, Arizona is dangerous due to its high-octane offense and hounding defense; it ranks fourth in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin, boasting the sixth-best offense (adjO) and 11th-best defense (adjD). Beyond just their elite offensive attack, the Wildcats do one thing at the highest level in the nation: rebound.
As a matter of fact, Arizona ranks first in the nation in total rebounding rate, and its rebounding percentage jumps over four percent when it is at the McKale Center. However, that is not too hard of a feat to accomplish when considering the roster that they possess.
Arizona lost Azuolas Tubelis, a 20-10 machine, from last season’s team. The Wildcats also saw Kerr Kriisa, Cedric Henderson Jr., and Courtney Ramey depart from the program, but they were able to bring in a substantial amount of talent to supplement those losses.
Former UNC combo guard Caleb Love, Alabama guard Jaden Bradley, and San Diego State forward Keshad Johnson all transferred to Arizona, while Pelle Larsson, Oumar Ballo, and Kylan Boswell took massive steps forward in their own personal development.
Ballo and Johnson are the two best rebounders for this Wildcats squad, but the rebounding from their guards is also exceptional, with Caleb Love bringing down nearly five boards per game himself.
Meanwhile, Cal has looked much better this season than in the recent past. The Golden Bears had only logged two double-digit win seasons in the past six years, but they are pacing to win more than they have since the 2016-17 campaign.
Cal is led by a talented trio featuring Jalyon Tyson, Fardaws Aimaq, and Jalen Cone. They collectively post more than 50 points per game and have helped the Golden Bears rank 100th in adjusted offensive efficiency. Of course, defense is still a substantial issue for this squad. Can they hold Arizona to a reasonable output this time around, or will they give up 100 points to the second-highest-scoring team in the nation?
We are targeting the Over in this bout. The first time these two teams played, the point total was 181 points, which is substantially more than the line here. Arizona averages 95 points on its home floor behind the seventh-highest unadjusted offensive efficiency.
California ranks 304th in opponent 3P%, while Arizona is 26th in 3P% on its home floor. The Wildcats will put up a boatload of points, and California won’t be shy about getting shots up to try and keep up.
Date: Thursday, February 1
Time: 10:30 pm EST
Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook. Head over to DraftKings Sportsbook to place your bets.
The USC Trojans have had an abysmal 2023-24 season thus far; winning the eventual Pac-12 conference tournament is their only hope of making the 2024 NCAA Tournament.
USC has had its fair share of trials and tribulations thus far, including Bronny James suffering a cardiac arrest last summer, which delayed his collegiate debut by roughly one month. The latest obstacles in the Trojans’ way were a hand injury to their best player and likely 2024 NBA Draft lottery pick, Isaiah Collier, and a hamstring injury to their leading scorer, Boogie Ellis.
Collier, a 6-foot-5 freshman guard, averaged 15.4 points and 4.1 assists per game on nearly 51% shooting from the field before the injury. While he struggled to shoot from behind the arc, Collier had no issues getting to the basket and finishing over and around big opponents. Collier will hopefully return in the next few weeks, but it will likely be too late for the Trojans.
The trio of James, Collier, and Ellis, a super senior guard who was averaging 18.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game on roughly 45% shooting from both the field and the three-point line before the hamstring injury, has sadly not been actualized. At least, it has not been to its full potential.
Between those three players, Kobe Johnson and D.J. Rodman, this team could have been an NCAA Tournament-caliber team. Instead, they are 8-12 overall and dead last in the Pac-12.
Now, they take on an Oregon Ducks team that has been sneaky good this season despite their own mountain of injuries, boasting a 14-6 overall record, including a 6-3 record in Pac-12 play; they are right behind Arizona (which has the tiebreaker) for the top spot in the conference. Oregon needs to snag this seemingly easy road win to keep the pressure on the Wildcats.
Oregon and USC played earlier in the season in Eugene; the Ducks won by eight points behind a 21-point performance from Jackson Shelstad and a 22-point outing from Kwame Evans Jr.
Additionally, this talented Ducks squad held Isaiah Collier and Boogie Ellis to a combined 22 points on 33% (8-for-24) shooting from the field. Joining Evans and Shelstad as key players for Oregon are Jermaine Couisnard, N’Faly Dante, and Nate Bittle.
Bittle and Dante, the Ducks’ “Twin Towers,” just returned to the floor earlier this month after recovering from their respective injuries. While Bittle is still adjusting, Dante is playing exceptionally well, posting just shy of 20 points and seven rebounds in his past three games.
If Oregon can stay healthy with this core of players, it could be a darkhorse NCAA Tournament team, especially with its size; however, it all starts with taking care of business in these winnable road games because March Madness is far from guaranteed for this squad.
For this game, there are a few obvious reasons to back the Ducks. First, this team is feeling the pressure to string together some wins, especially against poor teams like USC, to boost their tournament resume. They also are still in the hunt for a Pac-12 regular season championship, but these are must-win games.
Additionally, the Ducks are an extremely impressive rebounding team when they are actually healthy. For example, they were outrebounded by only one rebound against Arizona in their last game, a team that ranks first in the nation in total rebounding rate. Not having two 7-footers in the starting lineup for a large portion of the season can skew the team’s statistics.
On the other hand, USC is a really poor rebounding team (182nd in total rebounding rate), leaving the door open for Oregon to get second-chance points and limiting them on the other end.
Lastly, the Ducks did a fantastic job defending Boogie Ellis in their previous matchup, and with Collier still sidelined, they will be able to zone in on him even more than they did last time. Ellis has only played one game (UCLA) since early January due to his hamstring injury; he looked rusty in that bout. As a team, the Trojans scored just 50 points on UCLA. Ultimately, we like the Ducks to win in this spot.
Andrew has always been an avid sports fan and followed his hoop dreams all the way to college. He’s well-versed in everything betting with multiple years of experience and is qualitatively and quantitatively knowledgeable in sports statistics and analytics.More info on Andrew Norton
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