To the Pac-12 we go for today’s spotlight game between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Arizona State Sun Devils. It is a busy college basketball board on Thursday with a lot of low and mid-major conferences in action, but there are a few high-quality games speckled throughout the evening.
This is certainly one of them, as Colorado hits the college basketball highway for the Arizona double as a one-possession favorite in Tempe. This line has bounced around a little bit already, as the market is sitting anywhere from -1.5 to -2.5 at time of writing. The total has also been bet up from 139 to as high as 141 in the market based on overnight action.
Everybody in the Pac-12 is chasing Stanford in the standings, which is quite a departure from usual. Colorado is among four one-loss teams. Arizona State already has two losses in conference and six overall, so we’re getting to the point where the Sun Devils won’t have much margin for error if they want to be in the NCAA Tournament discussion.
In fairness to Arizona State, the Sun Devils have some really bad losses from a final score standpoint, but their six losses are Colorado (more on that in a bit), Virginia, Saint Mary’s, Creighton, Arizona, and Oregon. All six of those teams are not only tournament-caliber, but are easily top-50 teams in college hoops. The margin of defeat stands out in a negative way, but losing to those teams is not a big deal. On the other hand, Arizona is desperate for a signature win, having gone 0-6 in those chances. Right now, the Sun Devils’ best win is Oregon State on the road on January 9.
Colorado lost to Oregon State on January 5 for one of their three losses. The others are to Kansas on the road and Northern Iowa at home. The Northern Iowa loss wasn’t a great look, but the Panthers hit 14 three-pointers. Colorado has not allowed more than eight made threes in any other game this season. The Buffs do have a signature win in Chicago over Dayton and also knocked off Oregon at home.
Arizona State’s strength of schedule ranks 26th according to Ken Pomeroy and 22nd according to Bart Torvik. Colorado’s, meanwhile, ranks 83rd per Ken Pom and 33rd per Torvik, so we have a major discrepancy there between the two sites to say the least. A big reason for that is because Dayton and Northern Iowa are both ranked higher by Torvik than KP and so is Oregon State.
Arizona State needs to be better offensively. The defense has played well enough to win on most nights, but the Sun Devils rank 176th in adjusted offensive efficiency per Torvik and 147th per Pomeroy. Torvik has the Sun Devils 226th in the nation in eFG% at 48.1%. The Sun Devils are only hitting 30.4% of their triple tries and rank outside the top 150 in two-point percentage. The Sun Devils have had some really terrible offensive performances that skew the numbers a little bit, but most of their bad efforts with the basketball have been against the better teams that they have played.
Colorado is one of them. The Sun Devils managed just .853 points per possession in the first meeting between these two teams. That opener for both squads back on November 8 was a neutral-site tilt and not a conference game. Colorado won 81-71, scoring .973 PPP with a big edge on the offensive glass.
Colorado’s offense has been firing well of late. Early in the season, Tad Boyle’s team had some challenges putting the ball in the basket consistently. Over their last six games, they have scored at least 1.021 PPP in every game and just had their best offensive showcase of the season with 1.429 PPP in the win over Utah. The defense is almost always there, so an upgraded offense is going to go a long way for the Buffs.
Heading into this game, Colorado ranks 11th in adjusted defensive efficiency per Torvik and 17th per Pomeroy. Opponents are only shooting 44% on two-point shots and Colorado is one of the top defensive rebounding teams in the country. Arizona State doesn’t get a lot of offensive rebounds to begin with, but it sure looks like second-chance points will be virtually impossible to come by in tonight’s game.
I hate to keep going to the well with favorites in these game previews, but Colorado is the pick tonight. This might be the best team Boyle has had in Boulder. Colorado will dominate the glass here and is also a pretty good free throw shooting team. Arizona State has been the benefactor of some bad free throw shooting from opponents at 64.1% this season. As that regresses, so will some of their defensive numbers.
Pick: Colorado -2.5