NCAA Thursday Night Basketball: UCLA/Arizona State Preview

by Big Al Staff

The college basketball doubleheader on ESPN concludes at 10:30 PM ET in a battle of Pac-12 teams with NCAA Tournament aspirations.

UCLA has won two in a row and seven of their last eight games after their 65-62 win at home against Colorado on Saturday. That win for the Bruins in a pick ‘em matchup represents their highest-profile victory of the season. The triumph raised their record to a 7-2 mark.

It was not all good news of Saturday for head coach Mick Cronin as he was alerted before the game that his 6’9 senior forward Chris Smith would miss the rest of the season with the torn ACL he suffered in the previous game against Utah. Smith was scoring 12.6 points-per-game while adding 6.4 rebounds-per-game this season.

Cronin still has plenty of talent available to him on his roster. The Bruins returned all five starters plus most of his bench players from the team that won eleven of their last fourteen games last season. The team also added Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang who missed the first four games of the season with an injury but has averaged 11.0 points-per-game since returning to action. Jaime Jacquez leads the team by scoring 13.3 points-per-game while adding 5.8 rebounds-per-game.

UCLA has a balanced offensive attack with four players that average double-digits even after the loss of Smith. The Bruins rank 11th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency according to the metrics at kenpom. This group established a defensive identity in their good second-half run last season that was akin to Cronin's teams in his tenure at Cincinnati. This team has taken a step back defensively as they rank just 67th in adjusted efficiency by kenpom. They are effectively defending the perimeter, with opponents making only 29.7% of their 3-pointers. Yet opponents are finding success inside the arc as they are nailing 52.2% of their 2-point shots, 239th in the nation.

Arizona State plays for the first team since December 16th when they were upset at home by a 76-63 score as a 13-point favorite against UTEP. COVID has since canceled their two scheduled games with the Washington schools in conference play. They bring a 4-3 record into this game.

Head coach Bobby Hurley returned three starters from the team that was 20-11 last year. He added two impact freshmen in five-star recruit Josh Christopher and four-star Marcus Bagley to give the Sun Devils one of the most talented starting five units in the nation.

Senior guards Remy Martin and Alonzo Verge, Jr. bypassed the NBA in the spring to return this season. Martin is scoring 16.9 points-per-game while adding 3.6 assists-per-game with Verge, Jr. contributing 15.4 PPG along with 3.0 APG.

Arizona State ranks 49th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 76th in adjusted defensive efficiency using kenpom numbers. Bagley has missed three games with a calf injury, and Verge, Jr. missed two games in December due to contract tracing for COVID.

The Sun Devils’ best victory was against Rhode Island. Their three losses were against UTEP, Villanova, and San Diego State by an 80-68 score on their home court. UCLA also lost on the road to the Aztecs, 73-58, in their first game this season. The Bruins’ second loss was to Ohio State, while their most impressive wins are against Marquette and Utah.

BookMaker lists UCLA as a 1-point road favorite with the total set at 147.5.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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