Arizona is 19-6 overall and 9-3 in the Pac-12. USC is 17-8 and 8-4, respectively. Both teams are atop the conference standings, but both have also lost two straight games, looking to avoid a third Saturday.
KenPom gives Arizona a 69 percent chance of winning, with a projected score of 82-76, and ESPN lists the Wildcats as 5.5-point favorites.
Here are our predictions for Saturday’s game; be sure to leave yours in the comment section below.
Ryan Kelapire — Arizona wins 84-80
The team that drops this game will be reeling.
UCLA proved that Arizona is even vulnerable at home this year, so USC certainly has a chance of taking down the Wildcats too.
The Trojans rank similarly to both Arizona and UCLA — an offense in the top 25 and a defense near the 100s — so Saturday’s game will either come down to which team makes more shots, or which team can actually string together some defensive stops.
The scary part about USC if you’re Arizona is the Trojans have a clear edge at point guard with Jordan McLaughlin, they are a good 3-point shooting team (38.2%) and they can match Arizona’s size with Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu.
So this game should be a toss-up, but I think Arizona will snap its two-game skid. It’ll probably come down to the wire, though. I mean why would this team make you think anything otherwise?
Christopher Boan — Arizona wins 80-79
Holy cow, I’ve never seen a more defeated, sorrowful excuse for a coach than whatever iteration of Sean Miller showed up postgame on Thursday.
It’s clear that Miller’s out of excuses, or reasons for his team’s sorrowful defense, but let’s face it, no one’s in worse shape (save Washington State or Cal) in the conference than the Trojans, who just got their hearts ripped out not once, but twice—against the same UCLA squad, followed by last night’s inexplicable stumble in Tempe.
I have no real expectations of grandeur from the Wildcats come tomorrow night, but they’ll find a way to escape with a win against a Trojans team that can’t get out of its own way right now.
Matt Sheeley — Arizona wins 79-75
On the strict reasoning that the Wildcats haven’t lost back-to-back home games in eight years, I’ll pick Arizona.
But the longer the season goes, the more you notice that the Wildcats have won on their talent and their talent alone. Not because of schemes or pace or teamwork or anything of the sort.
USC comes the closest, talent-wise, to the Wildcats of all the Pac-12 teams and they’re just as desperate for a win as they have now dropped two straight as well. If the same Arizona team that lost to UCLA shows up on Saturday night, my score prediction could be very, very wrong.
Steve Apter — Arizona wins 87-81
Jordan McLaughlin will lead the way for the Trojans in what will be a highly competitive match up between the Pac-12’s preseason favorites. In four games against Arizona, the senior guard has averaged 15 points per contest, including 17 in a quadruple overtime victory against the Cats in 2015-16. He’s also the conference’s leading distributor by a wide margin, averaging two more assists than than UCLA’s Aaron Holiday.
Dusan Ristic and Deandre Ayton are posting historic rebounding numbers: their 24.4 combined average per 40 minutes, would be the third highest output in the conference in the past five years behind only Ryan Anderson/Kaleb Tarczewski 26.7 in 2015-16, and 25.3 combined from Thomas Welsh/TJ Leaf last season. Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu aren’t far behind Arizona’s big men, second in the league with 19.4 rebounds per 40 minutes — so it should be fun two watch these two front courts battle it out.
Where USC has been lacking this season is any support in the back court for McLaughlin, who’s upped his minutes per game from 34.1 last season to 35 this season (fifth most in the Pac-12).
Simply put, a combined 7.9 points per game is not what fifth-year coach Andy Enfield expected from highly-regarded transfers Shaqquan Aaron (Louisville) and Derryck Thornton (Duke). If Aaron and Thornton can’t find a way to impact this game, they won’t be able to keep up with Arizona.
Jason Bartel — Arizona wins 78-73
I think if USC had held on against ASU on Thursday I would go with the Trojans, but I’ll go ahead and believe that Arizona isn’t going to lose back-to-back home games.
That’s my only reasoning. Arizona is weird. College basketball is weird. Life is weird. So who knows what’s going to happen besides Brushfire getting handed out to ZonaZoo (I’m totes jealous of those lucky souls).