Cal vs. UCLA Pick NCAA – Jan 11th

Home is where the heart is, and up until yesterday it had also been where the winning was in conference play. But a rash of road victories over quality home opponents swept through the college hoops landscape, including Maryland, Baylor (both wins for me), Seton Hall, Virginia, Iowa State and Kansas State perhaps salvaging their season by winning in Norman one game after the Sooners looked like a Final Four team destroying the Longhorns in Austin.

Go figure. Things get wacky when conference play starts, and despite a 60% ATS start to the 2015 season, I find conference play to be a little trickier than the pre-con games where there are usually a few suspect lines lurking for easy pickings.   In conference play, you really have to look at some of the subtler factors and even the coaching matchups to find a winning edge.

Speaking of tricky, what the hell do you do with Kentucky if you are Vegas right now? There was no line large enough to hold them down as they were barnstorming the nation leaving a General Sherman-like swath of scorched Earth across the most storied programs in college basketball. Now that they have entered conference play it looks like someone spiked their Gatorade with Ambien.

So, are they the team that held UCLA to eight points in twenty minutes? Or are they theteam that needed three combined overtime periods to dispatch Ole Miss and Texas A&M?? Should they be favored by 30 or by 3 against Missouri Tuesday night?? All I know is that if you are betting that game, I have a Roulette wheel you might be interested in as well…

Today’s Free Pick:

Cal Bears at UCLA Bruins -7

I’m not so sure an overtime win over Stanford is enough to completely erase a five game losing streak that included a 71-39 loss to Utah and losses to Alabama and Colorado. But apparently all is forgiven for oddsmakers who have installed the punchless Bruins as seven points favorite. Perhaps it has more to do with the failings of the Cal Bears, who have dropped games to Cal-Santa Barbara and back to back conference losses to Washington State and USC. Those are troubling losses, as those are likely two of the three or four worst teams in the league.

So neither team has much to thump their chest about heading into this rivalry game. But I have a tough time laying seven points with Bryce Alford and company given how anemic they’ve looked since early December. They should be able to grab a second conference win over a Cal team that is also a mess, but I’m not putting money on them blowing anyone out. Let’s put it like this; the loser of this game has a tough road to navigate to get anywhere close to the NCAA Tournament.

Neither team has been a great wager; UCLA is 2-8 ATS and Cal is 3-6-1 ATS in their last ten games, but this rivalry has been pretty even, a perfect 5-5 over their last ten matchups. I like a close, if not “good”, game tonight in Westwood.

Free Pick: California Bears +7

Chris Scheeren / Author