A potential blowout is possible in late-night Thursday action with No. 9 UCLA traveling to Salt Lake City to do battle with last-place Utah. The point spread doesn’t suggest a runaway but there are reasons for that.
It’s been a disjointed campaign for UCLA, who has only played 13 games and was off 24 days between taking the court for real action because of the virus. The Bruins are 11-2, and they couldn’t hold a halftime lead over Oregon last Thursday, falling in overtime against what was a scuffling Ducks flock.
Craig Smith took over as the Utah head for Larry Krystkowiak, coming south from Utah State. Smith inherited a roster with few returning players and lacking a great deal of talent and they are 1-7 SU and ATS in Pac-12 play and buried in the basement.
UCLA Bruins vs. Utah Utes
Thursday, January 20, 2022 – 11:00 PM EST at Jon M. Huntsman Center
The opening line at most sportsbooks like BetMGM for this Pac-12 skirmish has UCLA as a 9.5-point road favorite over Utah. The betting odds could further change if Jaime Jaquez Jr. and David Singleton are declared ready to play for UCLA. This is a possibility according to Bruins coach Mick Cronin, who said as much at his Tuesday video conference.
UCLA Trying to Work Through Reboot in Conference Play
As we know, the virus has played havoc with almost every element of life. For UCLA (5-7-1 ATS), the starting and stopping shutdown the growth pattern Cronin thought his team was on. Though almost every college basketball team has gone through some stoppage, the Bruins’ time off was longer than most and that took away final preparation for conference action.
Not having Jaquez Jr. and Singleton makes UCLA a less potent offense and forces others to have to step up. That is likely less of an issue against a team like Utah this season, nonetheless, this is their first Pac-12 road trip, which comes with uncertainty.
With Jaquez Jr., Johnny Juzang, Jules Bernard and Tyger Campbell, this club is well stocked in the backcourt. As we have seen this year and in last year’s tournament, when these players are engaged and working together, UCLA is truly one of the best teams in the sport.
Utah Trying to Figure What Will Work
At the end of Krystkowiak’s time as coach, the recruiting had slipped and the energy around the program was like a balloon with a slow leak, it was going flat. Coach Smith walked into a larger mess than he might have expected.
Smith did what he always does and placed his attention to defense with this fairly motley crew. Given the thinness of talent and lack of quickness, holding opposing clubs to 69.2 points a game at a shooting percentage of 42.9 percent is not that bad.
It is imperative the Utes stop their opponents from scoring as much as possible because the offense, it’s not a horror show, but it’s far from a thing of beauty.
It’s a rarity in the college game that a center is a team’s leading scorer, but that’s the case for Utah. Seven-foot junior Brenden Carlson averages 13.5 PPG and grabs 6.4 rebounds a game. Despite his stature, Carlson is rail-thin at 216 pounds and has no weight to throw around.
The backcourt is serviceable with Both Gach, David Jenkins Jr., Marco Anthony and Rollie Worster, but with them collectively shooting around the team average of 42.1%, it’s hardly like they are unguardable.
What is the Best Side to Be On?
This really does seem like UCLA should bowl over Utah for college basketball picks, yet, we have just enough doubt. The Bruins complete health does seem a little up in the air. And let’s face it, when the team from L.A., with its rich tradition in basketball, takes to the road, by and large they will get everyone’s best shot.
Besides, UCLA might not take Utah all that seriously and the Utes are 18-5 ATS having lost eight or more of their last 10 games and 13-4 ATS after five or more consecutive losses.
NCAA Basketball Pick: Utah +9.5 (-110) at BetMGM