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Submitted by Jim Hurley’s Network on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 at 4:53 PM

In a season where peaking late may matter more than ever, the #25 California Golden Bears enter March as the hottest team in the nation. Where did this come from?! What was a nice team in a deep conference is suddenly taking no prisoners on a rampage up and down the Pacific Coast.

CAL’S LAST 7 GAMES
California (-7) beat Stanford 76-61
California (-1½) beat Oregon 83-63
California (-9½) beat Oregon State 83-71
California (-2) won at Washington 78-75
California (-10) won at Washington State 80-62
California (-7) beat UCLA 75-63
California (-8) beat USC 87-65

No letdowns… no look-aheads… just message after message being sent to teams who had been getting more hype from Bill Walton and ESPN. Remember when UCLA/USC was supposed to be a resurgent rivalry? Cal just crushed them both last week… and UCLA has not shot at the Dance any more. Oregon currently leads the Pac 12 standings. CAL BEAT THEM BY 20!

What you don’t see in that listing of the last seven is what happened the first time Cal faced #18 Arizona. The Bears won that game too…

First Meeting: California 74, Arizona 73
Two-Point Shooting: Arizona 52%, California 50%
Three-Pointers: Arizona 4/9, California 8/22
Free Throws: Arizona 15/17, California 12/18
Rebounds Arizona 32, California 27
Turnovers: Arizona 11, California 7
Phantom Score: Arizona 78, California 65

Worth noting that Arizona graded out very well in our ‘Phantom Score” stat, a secondary stat that simply combines two-point scoring with rebounding. California had to win treys by 12 points to win the game by one. But… that was BEFORE Cal figured things out and started running roughshod. Thursday brings the hottest team in the league to face what is possibly the Pac 12’s scariest challenge (Arizona at home, though "Utah at home" is in the running). Let’s see what JIM HURLEY’S key indicator stats have to say about the matchup…

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency
California: 111½ per 100 possessions (#48 in the nation)
Arizona: 115.2 per 100 possessions (#21 in the nation)
Tricky to handicap today… because California has been playing better than its full season numbers lately, while Arizona is MUCH better than their overall numbers when playing at home. Arizona may actually have a top 25 offense at the moment, while Arizona is possibly top 10 on this side of the floor on its home court. Let’s assume an edge to Arizona even after you make those tweaks.

Adjusted Defensive Efficiency
California: 93.69 per 100 possessions (#15 in the nation)
Arizona: 95.8 per 100 possessions (#34 in the nation)

Slight edge to California, though Arizona may be getting so much of a home boost that it cancels out the ranking differential. Another big name program goes on our “vulnerable defense” list for tournament handicapping. Arizona just isn’t protecting the rim with enough passion. And, they spend too much time whining when things don’t go their way. California will try to exploit that early. Arizona will try to take it out of play with a fast start. You don’t often get Arizona in a “double” bounce back spot like this. Peak motivation for the hosts. Can Cal maintain its peak swagger?  

Pace Ranking
California: #162
Arizona: #148

Both are middle of the pack, which means neither can bet taken out of a comfort zone. Should be a very exciting game as long as neither blinks early. So many great games this week setting up what could be the most exciting March ever! And, this game in particular could be setting up a future meeting between Cal and Arizona in the Pac 12 tournament.  

Against the Spread
California: 17-12
Arizona: 15-14 (19-10 to the Over)

California is on a 7-game cover streak, as we listed earlier. But, five of those seven were at home. And, the two covers just barely got there up in Washington. So, it’s possible that Cal’s run is more of a “home phenomenon” that will still leave them outclassed here. Arizona’s usually priced to perfection because it’s a big name program. So, anything above the ½00 mark is respectable. Obviously, Arizona’s been better at home than on the road. We wanted to point out that Over/Under trend because the market has been slow to notice Arizona’s softer-than-usual defense. You regulars know that oddsmakers pay more attention to team sides than Over/Unders… which means totals trends can hold up for a long time.

Wow… this one could really blow up in either direction. Maybe it’s a wake-up call for Cal. Or, it’s final confirmation that Arizona just isn’t going to matter this postseason after weeks of hints being dropped.

How should you play this game and the rest of the busy midweek college basketball card? DON’T MAKE A MOVE UNTIL YOU HEAR WHAT JIM HURLEY HAS TO SAY! You can purchase MARCH MADNESS BEST BETS every game day right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about extended service, please call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453 during normal business hours.

More great stuff coming up in the NOTEBOOK… as the end of the regular season is about to hand off to marquee conference tournaments…

Friday-Saturday: North Carolina at Duke in the ACC (long awaited rematch!)
Sunday: SMU at Cincinnati in the AAC (last day of the regular season!)
Monday: Conference Championship Previews (Colonial, Metro-Atlantic)
Midweek: Major Conference Previews

March is finally here… and indicators are strong that this could be the most exciting postseason ever. The media is starting to pick up on that storyline. We’ve been telling you for weeks!

Keep reading the NOTEBOOK for helpful handicapping information… then hook up with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK for BIG, JUICY WINNERS!

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