Arizona and Pepperdine hook up for a Thanksgiving evening matchup in Anaheim as part of the Wooden Legacy Tournament in what could be a sneaky good game. Arizona comes into the contest as one of the hottest teams in the country to start the season and has steadily climbed the rankings in recent weeks.
The Wildcats are 6-0 on the season and hold dominant wins over two quality clubs in Illinois and New Mexico State so far on the young season. The freshman backcourt of Nico Mannion and Josh Green has been as advertised so far, while fellow freshman Zeke Nnaji is leading the team in scoring and shooting a ridiculous 81 percent from the field.
Kentucky transfer Jemarl Baker has given head coach Sean Miller a great weapon on the wing, shooting 11-of-20 (55 percent) from beyond the arc through the first six games.
For the Waves, Lorenzo Romar faces his former employer for the first time and brings one of the best mid-major players in the country with him. Colbey Ross is a 6-1 junior guard that averages over 20 points per game and shoots over 40 percent from beyond the arc on the season.
In a recent game against another Pac-12 opponent, USC, Ross put 38 points on the board, including six three-pointers. He has the ability to give Pepperdine a chance in every game the Waves play this season.
Arizona is a 15-point favorite in this game, with the over/under set at 154.
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Apart from Ross, Pepperdine also boasts a nice pair of forwards in brothers Kameron and Kessler Edwards. All three players are dead-eye shooters and not bashful about putting it up from deep.
While the offense for Pepperdine is not in question, it’s its defense that becomes a hindrance. The Waves are currently surrendering nearly 80 points per game despite playing the 189th-toughest schedule in the country to date. Teams are shooting 40 percent from behind the arc against the Waves, which ranks 330th in the country. If they are unable to slow down Mannion, Baker and Max Hazzard, they could be in trouble very quickly
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When Arizona lost Brandon Williams to injury prior to the season, prognosticators backed away from the Wildcats. But with the eligibility waiver for Baker and the seamless transition for Mannion, Arizona has been one of the more pleasant surprises in college basketball. Wing Josh Green has yet to get it going from beyond the arc but is still effective, averaging roughly 12 points per game.
The emergence of Nnaji has been the most surprising happening in arguably the entire country. Nnaji was a five-star recruit, but it is safe to say that no one saw this type of production on the horizon. He outplayed highly-touted Kofi Cockburn earlier this season, and there is no one in this Pepperdine frontcourt that is the type of player Cockburn is. Look for a dominant day for the Arizona big man.
Predictions and Pick
Given Pepperdine’s tremendous struggles on defense and Arizona’s incredible efficiency on offense early in the season, Arizona should have no trouble covering the 15 points. The bigger question is the total, as Pepperdine has a trio of talented kids, but the Wildcats are also holding opponents to just 28.7 percent from behind the arc this season. In the end, you’re going to slow Ross down, but you aren’t going to stop him. Arizona to cover, and both teams get around 80, so take the over.