Duel in the Desert as USC Visits Arizona State in Pac-12 Action

Doug Upstone

Thursday, February 8, 2018 3:21 PM UTC

Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018 3:21 PM UTC

After an unparalleled start to the season, Arizona State has found life in the Pac-12 much harder than in the non-conference part of the year. The Sun Devils could change perspectives starting Thursday vs. USC.

USC Trojans at Arizona State Sun DevilsFree Basketball Pick: ASUBest Line Offered: Heritage

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Arizona State is only 5-6 (2-7-2 ATS) in conference action after a 12-0 non-conference start and Thursday hosts USC, which is trying to hunt down Arizona for first place in the Pac-12, trailing the Cats by one game. The Trojans will get their shot at Wildcats in Tucson on Saturday night, but they first need to take care of business in Tempe, where people are watching basketball again. The college basketball odds have Arizona State as a 3.5-point favorite with a total of 161. Who has the edge?

USC Will Need To Step Up

USC (17-7, 14-9-1 ATS) had its six-game winning streak snapped last time out at UCLA and will try to avoid a second straight defeat and further hurt its NCAA tournament bid. From a pure talent perspective, only Arizona has more pure ability in the Pac-12. However, USC still modestly underachieves because it don't do all the little things well enough in the last five minutes of a game. In the loss to the Bruins, the Trojans were overzealous in defensive close-outs, showed a lack of boxing out for rebounds and had a bit too much of hero shot-taking.

The Trojans could go 2-0 this weekend, but this seems unlikely with a hobbled Bennie Boatwright, who only played nine minutes last week after missing two games. Boatwright is the straw that stirs the drink and is USC's difference-maker.

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Arizona State Has To Jump on Horse and Go

When making our daily college basketball picks, we know that conference play is different than non-conference action, no matter how tough your schedule. Arizona State (17-6, 12-8-3 ATS) is the poster boy this season for that cliché, and it was dead on.

When the Sun Devils were the talk of basketball in December, they were averaging over 90 PPG and were unstoppable. In conference play, ASU has been slowed to 77.7 PPG, which further exposes a defense that allows 77.5 PPG. Here is the deal on the Devils: When ASU reaches the 80-point threshold, it is 14-1 and 10-3-2 ATS. If the Devils are held below 80, they are 3-5 and 2-5-1 ATS.

Who Is Tonight's Pac-12 Winner?

This selection is more complicated because it depends on how much USC will get out of Boatwright. If he would play even 20 effective minutes, taking the Trojans with the points makes sense. If he's playing 10-15 non-effective minutes, this becomes anyone's game. My guess is Boatwright is still not even 70 percent, and I like the fact the Sun Devils are 9-2 ATS in home games after scoring 85 points or more; they win 84-79.

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