NCAA Basketball Pick: UCLA Bruins -5 over Utah Utes

LT Profits Sports Group

Thursday, January 10, 2013 5:00 AM GMT

Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013 5:00 AM GMT

UCLA appeared to be in trouble when two players left the team in less than a week forcing the Bruins to play smaller than they would like, but they have since won seven straight.
The hot road team is trying its best to re-enter the rankings as those UCLA Bruins (12-3, 0-0 away) are shooting for their eighth straight win when they pay a visit to the Utah Utes (8-6, 6-2 home) on Thursday night at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, UT at 9:30 ET in a game available on the Pac-12 Network.

The point spread at Bookmaker Sportsbook has UCLA as a road favorite for this contest with the current line at -5 with odds of -110.

UCLA was ranked in the top 10 in the infant stages of the season thanks to one of the best recruiting classes in the country, but then the Bruins lost two players within the span of a few days. First, Tyler Lamb left the team, and that night the Bruins suffered an embarrassing 70 68 home loss to Cal Poly. More importantly, big man Josh Smith then left the team a few days later, and less than a week after that UCLA lost 78-69 to San Diego State in Anaheim.

Those departures left the Bruins lacking in size and forced Coach Ben Howland to use a four-guard alignment most of the time and play a ton of zone. And do you know what? UCLA has not lost since, rattling off seven straight wins since the loss to the Aztecs!

The freshman class of Shabazz Muhammad,     Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson has stepped up nicely while junior Travis Wear has done his part while being the only big body on the court a lot of the time, and the end result of the unexpected lineup is that the Bruins now rank 15th in the country in offensive efficiency, and they have done a remarkable job of protecting the ball for such a young team, ranking a amazing sixth in offensive turnover percentage.

The highlight of the year was a 97-94 overtime win over Missouri in the final non-conference game, the game that signified that this young team had arrived. They have carried that momentum into Pac-12 play, beginning the conference season 2-0 with home wins over California and Stanford.

Now, some may point to the fact that this is the first true road game all year for a freshman-laden team as a huge red flag, but while that is technically true, UCLA actually had very close to a road game already vs. Texas at Reliant Stadium in Houston, and it won that game 65-63. Besides, it is not as if the Bruins are visiting a powerhouse team here in the Utes.

Granted Utah is improved over the 6-25 team in its first season in the Pac-12 a year ago, when the Utes went 3-15 in conference play. In fact, they already have more wins than that this season and own a winning record at 8-6. Then again, they faced only one team ranked in the Pomeroy Top 100 during non-conference play and still lost to the likes of Sacramento State and CS Northridge here at home, as well as to 190th ranked SMU on the road.

Utah is ranked 113th overall on the Pomeroy Ratings compared to a 32nd ranking for UCLA, and the Utes rank just 133rd in offensive efficiency and 116th in defensive efficiency. Playing in Salt Lake City will not help the Utes much if they cannot slow down the young and active UCLA offense, as Utah lacks the offensive firepower to keep pace.

So while we concede that playing road favorites in conference play can be dicey, UCLA looks like the right side here on Thursday.

[gameodds]14/211728/93-238-19-92-1096/us[/gameodds]

NCAA Basketball Pick: UCLA -5 (-110)
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