NCAA Basketball Picks: Arizona vs. Southern California

Matthew Jordan

Sunday, January 12, 2014 1:12 PM GMT

Sunday's Pac-12 matchup between No. 1 Arizona and struggling Southern Cal in L.A. looks like the prototypical trap game for Coach Sean Miller's Wildcats.

They come off an emotional win at No. 25 UCLA on Thursday. The top ranking in the land looks like it's likely for a sixth straight week for Arizona when the polls come out Monday because USC hasn't looked good thus far in conference play under first-year coach Andy Enfield. However, UA could be spent from the Bruins game and looking past the Trojans to a return home from Los Angeles and a matchup against arch-rival Arizona State on Thursday. Arizona opened as a 12.5-point favorite on NCAA basketball odds.

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Pac-12 Wake-Up Call

Enfield was the coaching star of last season's NCAA Tournament as he led little Florida Gulf Coast University to the Sweet 16 with a fast-break, dunking style that made the Eagles the most exciting team to watch in the Big Dance. Enfield was a hot property and quickly jumped to take the USC job, a definite rebuilding project and always in the shadow of crosstown UCLA.

Enfield said the Trojans (6-6-1 ATS, 7-5 O/U) would also play an exciting, fast brand of basketball, but he simply doesn't have the talent yet to compete with the best teams in the Pac-12. USC finished the non-conference portion of its schedule at 9-4, with best wins over fairly good Xavier an Dayton teams. Otherwise, every good team the Trojans played they lost to: by 13 at Utah State, by 15 in the Bahamas to Villanova, by 14 in the same Bahamas tournament to Wake Forest, and by one at Long Beach State.

That USC had trouble competing against the best of its non-conference schedule should have been a warning sign for Pac-12 play. Southern Cal was destroyed 107-73 at UCLA in its Pac-12 opener last week as 12.5-point underdog on NCAA basketball odds. It tied the most points scored by the Bruins in the series and as the second-largest margin of victory ever. It was the first time USC allowed triple digits in 10 years. The Bruins shot 57.7 percent. It didn't help that USC 7-foot-2 center Omar Oraby was limited to 14 minutes after hurting his ankle.

USC followed that loss by being routed 79-60 at home by Arizona State on Thursday as a 3.5-point dog on NCAA basketball odds. The Trojans were only 3-for-17 from long range and shot 36.1 percent overall. Byron Wesley was the only USC player in double figures with 20 points as a nine-game home winning streak ended. Oraby (8.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg) was able to play but finished with only three points and six rebounds in 22 minutes. He was dominated by Sun Devils 7-footer Jordan Bachynski (20 points, 12 rebounds).

Southern Cal could be looking at minimum a 0-5 conference start as after Sunday's game they will be underdogs at sportsbooks when they visit Utah and No. 15 Colorado.

Top Cats

Few if any teams can match the frontcourt that Arizona has. The big three of freshman Aaron Gordon (12.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg), Brandon Ashley (11.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and Kaleb Tarczewski (10.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg) is a big reason why Arizona ranks 30th nationally in rebounding (yet to be outrebounded in a game), fifth in scoring defense (56.2 ppg) and seventh in defensive field goal percentage at .368.

That said, the Wildcats were pushed on Thursday in ending a three-game skid to UCLA. Arizona (11-4 ATS, 4-10 O/U) blew a 13-point lead as UCLA tied it at 68-68, but good free-throw shooting down the stretch gave UA a 79-75 win despite a season-high 17 turnovers. Leading scorer Nick Johnson topped Arizona with 22 points, while Tarczewski had 16 points and eight rebounds. That UA defense was on display as UCLA, which entered the game shooting a national-best .527 from the field, was held to .400. At 16-0, Arizona has matched the 1931-32 team for the best start in school history.

Last Season

USC and Arizona split the season series last year with each team winning on its home court. Arizona won 74-54 in Tucson in January as a 14-point favorite on college basketball odds. USC won 89-78 at the Galen Center in February as a 7.5-point underdog at sportsbooks.

The Pick

This will be the Trojans' first game of the Enfield era against a ranked team. USC's one win over a Top-25 foe in six games last year was against these Cats. I do think the Trojans will be amped up for this one. Other than perhaps facing UCLA, this is the biggest home game of the season. I expect a spirited effort and a sluggish Arizona team. Take the points and the under for your free college basketball picks.