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March Madness preview: Point spreads and efficiency metrics, matchups and money, pitfalls and potential

We’ve got matchups and metrics below, plus a look at the big picture for each of the Pac-12’s three tournament participants.
But let’s briefly address an important topic: Cash.
This year, NCAA units are worth $273,000; they cover tournament success (teams in the field + games won) from 2012-17.
The units earned this month will be paid in April of 2019, at approximately $283,000 apiece, and increase in value at 3.5 percent annually (on average) during the six-year period.
In other words, every victory by UCLA, Arizona State and Arizona will mean $1.8 million (approx) for the conference over the payment cycle.
We hear a few schools could use the cash.
*** Arizona
Seed/region: No. 4 in the South
First up: vs. No. 13 Buffalo (Thursday, 6:40 p.m., CBS)
Point spread: Arizona -9.5
Big picture: After a taxing regular season filled with injuries, suspensions, firestorms, denials, leaves, returns and spotty defense, the Wildcats are what everyone expected: A gifted offensive team led by one of the country’s top players (Deandre Ayton), poised to make a deep run through the NCAAs. Then again, the Elite Eight hasn’t been a problem for the Wildcats under Sean Miller. It’s the next step that’s so elusive.
Key question: Is this truly Miller’s best group, or were the Wildcats simply a good team in a bad conference about to be exposed by the demand of March?
Efficiency metrics: Arizona is No. 15 in the Pomeroy adjusted efficiency ratings, while Buffalo is No. 138 in adjusted defense. The Wildcats, it seems, should score at will.
Nugget of note: Dominant as Ayton has been, as elite a scorer as Allonzo Trier can be, don’t overlook the importance of wing Rawle Alkins. Three of Arizona’s seven losses came when Alkins was hurt.
Potential pitfall: Fifth-seeded Kentucky looms as a delicious second-round matchup, which means the Cats had best be wary of a letdown if they draw No. 12 Davidson instead.
Key to a deep run: There are two. The Wildcats were erratic defensively during the regular season and must avoid prolonged lapses in focus. And at some point, they will need a player other than Ayton or Trier to make a big shot. The best bet: underrated big man Dusan Ristic.
*** Arizona State
Seed/region: No. 11 in the Midwest
First up: vs. No. 11 Syracuse (Wednesday, 6:10 p.m., tru TV)
Point spread: ASU -1
Big picture: A collision of two bubble teams that went 8-10 in conference play. Syracuse’s inclusion in the at-large field was, for some, a greater surprise than ASU’s berth. The Orange have just two top-100 wins away from home.
Key question: Will we see the Devils of December (12 wins in a row) or the Devils of March (five losses in their last six games)?
Efficiency metrics: ASU is No. 17 in the Pomeroy adjusted offensive efficiency ratings, while Syracuse is No. 11 in adjusted defensive efficiency. If Tra Holder and Co. struggle to score, ASU’s sketchy defense will have to lead the way.
Nugget of note: The Sun Devils got a decent look at Syracuse’s vaunted zone defense when they faced Washington in early February: UW coach Mike Hopkins was a longtime Orange assistant until this season and deploys a similar defensive scheme. (If you’re wondering: ASU shot 26 percent from 3-point range and lost 68-64 in Seattle.)
Potential pitfall: If the Sun Devils manage to handle Syracuse and take down TCU in the first round, they’ll face rugged Michigan State, the No. 3 seed. It will be their third game in five days.
Key to a deep run:  The Sun Devils’ best hope is to treat the NCAAs as a second chance, to forget the frustrations and losses of the past month and play with the nothing-to-lose approach that fueled the sizzling early-season run. Oh, and  they had better shoot the hell out of the ball.
UCLA
Seed/region: No. 11 in the East
First up: vs. No. 11 St. Bonaventure (Tuesday, 6:10 p.m., tru TV)
Point spread: UCLA -3.5
Big picture: A rare instance of UCLA entering March Madness with limited attention, thanks partly to the controversy surrounding USC’s exclusion and partly to 2018 being viewed as a bridge season between Lonzo Ball year and the arrival of a loaded recruiting class. Might the pressure release allow the Bruins to produce an upside surprise?

Key question: How will UCLA, not the deepest of teams, handle the long trip to Dayton and the short turnaround? Four starters played 38+ minutes in the overtime loss to Arizona on Friday night, with Aaron Holiday logging all 45.
Efficiency metrics: UCLA is No. 110 in the Pomeroy adjusted defensive efficiency ratings, while St. Bonaventure is No. 94. Neither team plays much defense. Haven’t seen an over/under yet, but it’s worth watching.
Nugget of note: Opposite ends of the tournament success spectrum here: UCLA with its 11 national titles against a program that hasn’t won a tournament game since 1970.
Potential pitfall: We’ll say it: Toughness. Are big men Thomas Welsh and GG Golomon and the skilled but skinny freshmen prepared to play with the grit necessary to advance in the NCAAs? If the Bonnies are smart, they’ll test UCLA physically in the opening minutes.
Key to a deep run: The Hotline likes the Bruins’ draw. They should handle St. Bonaventure and have more than enough playmakers to take down No. 6 Florida and No. 3 Texas Tech to reach the Sweet 16. At that point, they would face a Purdue team that’s hardly imposing … Did I just pick UCLA for the Elite Eight? When you have a guard like Holiday, all things are possible in the NCAAs.
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