The Cal Bears are not going to win the Pac-12 this season, but they still stand a good chance of making the NCAA tournament again. Cal will try to avoid what would be a blotch on its tournament resume when it hosts the USC Trojans Sunday night at Haas Pavilion (8 pm ET).
Most shops we checked opened this game with Cal favored by 13.5 points, the total proffered at 143.5; both those numbers held steady in the early betting.
Cal returned four starters this season from a team that made it to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament last year. The Bears then started this season by going 9-4 through their non-conference slate, beating no-one of any real note.
Cal then won its first five Pac-12 games, but lost at USC 77-69, the start of a three-game losing streak. The Bears then upset then-undefeated Arizona 60-58, lost at Stanford, then won at Washington State and at Washington.
But last time out Cal got dumped at home by UCLA Wednesday night 86-66, allowing the Bruins to shoot a scorching 57 percent from the field.
Big picture, at 17-9 the Bears are in good position for a return to the Big Dance. But they can't afford to get sloppy down the stretch.
For its first season under new head coach Andy Enfield – he of Florida Gulf Coast fame - USC returned three starters from a team that went 14-18 last year. The Trojans knew they'd go through a transition process, but they were probably hoping it wouldn't be as difficult as it's been so far.
USC started 9-4 this year, but then lost its first five Pac-12 games by an average of more than 20 points per. The Trojans then picked up their first and only conference victory so far; a month ago against Cal 77-69. USC shot 52 percent from the floor that night, held the Bears to 39 percent shooting and won the battle in the paint 44-26, taking that game outright as eight-point underdogs.
That contest also just sneaked OVER its total of 145.
Since then the Trojans have lost seven games in a row, most recently falling at Stanford Thursday night 80-59. USC shot just 40 percent from the field and committed 18 turnovers, failing to cover as 15-point dogs.
Trojans-Bears By the Numbers
Coach Enfield is an expert on shooting, but his expertise hasn't rubbed off on his team yet. The Trojans are shooting 44 percent from the field this season, just 29 percent from 3-point range and 66 percent from the free-throw line.
Defensively USC is holding opponents to 43 percent shooting, and out-rebounding foes by about one board per game.
Cal is shooting 46 percent from the floor this season, 35 percent from long range but only 68 percent from the line. And when you're trying to cover 13.5 points free-throws can come in handy.
The Bears are also limiting foes to 41 percent shooting, and out-boarding them by about three per game.
Trojans-Bears Betting Trends
USC, playing an up-tempo style under Coach Enfield, is 14-8 on the OVER/UNDERS this season, as Trojans games have averaged 147 points.
Cal is 12-13 on the totals, even though Bears games have averaged 145 points.
USC is 9-14 ATS this season, 4-5 ATS on the road, 3-10 ATS in conference games and 3-6 ATS as double-digit dogs.
Cal is 12-13 ATS, 7-6 ATS at home, 7-6 ATS in conference games and 3-3 ATS as double-digit chalk.
As if the Trojans didn't have enough to deal with, they'll play Sunday without G Byron Wesley, as he sits out the second game of a two-game suspension. Wesley leads the team in both scoring (17 ppg) and rebounding (7 per game), and put up 14/7 in the win over Cal last month.
Free NCAAB Pick
The Bears are coming off a lousy outing Wednesday night, but they're better than that. And it's doubtful they'll allow USC without Wesley to shoot 57 percent, like UCLA did the other night. So while two touchdowns might seem like a lot, we'll go with Cal, at the -13 points offered at 5Dimes, for our free NCAAB pick for Sunday.