USC Trojans vs (12) Utah Utes (-6, 147 o/u)
The USC Trojans (21-11, 9-9 Pac-12) are probably March Madness bound thanks to a decent regular season in the tough Pac-12, but a win tonight against the no. 12 Utah Utes (24-7, 13-5 Pac-12) would help third-year head coach Andy Enfield feel more at ease come Selection Sunday. The Trojans and Utes will meet at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas (9:00 PM Eastern) in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament.
Big things were expected of Enfield when he came to USC. In 2013, he led upstart Florida Gulf Coast to the Sweet Sixteen and was rewarded with a huge payday from the Trojans. But the turnaround has been gradual. Enfield went 23-41 in his first two seasons, missing the NCAA tournament both years.
A few weeks ago, Enfield seemed to have USC locked into a tourney berth. But the team dropped four of its last five regular season games, starting with a decisive 80-69 home loss to the Utes. Future NBA lottery pick Jakob Poeltl dominated the Trojan frontcourt, scoring 29 points on 11 of 13 shooting from the field while adding 13 rebounds as the Utes covered as 1.5-point dogs. That was Utah’s sixth consecutive ATS win over the Trojans.
USC did manage to get back in the win column in their first Pac-12 tournament game, dominating UCLA, 95-71. Six different Trojans scored in double figures, led by freshman forward Bennie Boatwright with 19. The balanced attack was par for the course for this USC team, which saw six different players average between ten and 13 PPG this year. Though they lack a true go-to scorer, the Trojans can keep pace with the best in the nation, averaging a shade over 81 PPG (19th in the country).
Utah is already assured an at-large bid in March Madness thanks to a 13-5 record in Pac-12 play. They were just 6-5 at one point, but closed the year with seven straight conference wins. It wasn’t enough to catch Oregon, though, and the Utes had to settle for the runner-up spot and no. 2 seed in the Pac-12 tournament.
While Poeltl (17.5 PPG) keeps the Utah offense respectable (78.1 PPG), Utah’s postseason hopes will live and die with its top-notch defense (68.2 PPG).
The Utes went 14-14-1 ATS on the season. The Trojans were 18-14 against the number. But Utah is 7-3 ATS in its last ten as a favorite, and 7-2 ATS in their last nine neutral site games as a favorite. The Trojans, meanwhile, are 1-4 ATS in their last five games as an underdog.
Poeltl and company will be more rested and come in hotter. They’ll also have confidence from their recent double-digit win in So-Cal. Six points doesn’t look like too many to lay.
Pick: Utah (-6).
(Photo credit: Basketball TV (YouTube).)
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