Posted on February 28, 2022
The Conference of Champions played two makeup games on Monday and has another scheduled for today.
UCLA overcame a halftime deficit to overwhelm Washington in Seattle, and Washington State closed out a close contest against Oregon State in Corvallis.
The premier game tonight features Arizona battling USC. A win by the Wildcats would secure the Regular Season Championship, adding a layer of drama to what already was a highly anticipated game.
I preview the matchups here, and my picks along with Stephen Vilardo’s appear at the bottom.
No. 2 Arizona at No. 16 USC
Galen Center, Los Angeles, CA
Tuesday, March 1
8:00 pm PT, ESPN
It may be a late tip and a Tuesday night, but this game promises to be one of the Conference’s top matchups of the year.
Not many teams in the country have the height to equal Arizona, but USC is one of them. Azuolas Tubelis and Isaiah Mobley went toe-to-toe in Tucson, while Boogie Ellis and Drew Peterson combined for 13 points on 4-of-25 shooting.
That probably won’t happen again at the Galen Center, and the Trojans have the momentum advantage after rattling off six-straight wins since the loss at McKale Center.
But the game might be decided by UA’s three-point defense and turnovers.
Arizona is sloppy with the ball (259th in the country with 13.6 per game), yet USC forces just 10.5 per night (324th in the nation).
And in Tucson, timely threes kept the Trojans close and the crowd from exploding, keeping the game within reach.
The Cats are fifth in the Pac-12 at defending the three, while USC is the top three-point shooting percentage team in the league.
Foul trouble and free throw attempt discrepancy could play a role, but the team that commits less turnovers and shoots a higher percentage from deep likely ends up with the win.
No. 17 UCLA at Washington
Alaska Airlines Arena, Seattle, WA
Monday, February 28
8:00 pm PT, ESPN2
But the absence of the Bruins’ leading scorer might not matter. Mick Cronin has the UW defensive scheme figured out, and his team dropped 76 on the Dawgs in L.A.
It’s like a broken record playing over and over this season, but the secret to neutralizing Washington’s zone has three basic elements: (1) quick ball movement around the perimeter; (2) sharp passes in the paint; and (3) a rapid shot with instruction to crash the offensive boards.
The three simple prongs get the UW defenders out of position and don’t allow them to rotate back to effectively contest shots.
At Pauley, UCLA shot 47.6 percent and secured 11 offensive rebounds. And after the game, Cronin stated in his press conference that ball movement is pivotal to counteracting Mike Hopkins’ zone.
Until Hopkins throws a wrinkle into his formation or instructs his bigs to immediately press when the ball gets into the key, opponents will continue to shoot high percentages against the Huskies.
The adjustments did work against Wazzu on Saturday, but the changes provide more open looks from three.
The Bruins are several steps above the Cougs, and it seems unlikely that UCLA will go 9-for-27 from deep the way WSU did.
Stuck in a Catch-22 with a defensive scheme that’s been exposed on film, UW might have to get into an offensive track meet to pull off the upset.
Washington State at Oregon State
Gill Coliseum, Corvallis, OR
Monday, February 28
8:00 pm PT, ESPNU
The junior shooting guard hasn’t announced any plans to go pro or enter the transfer portal, but the writing appears to be on the wall for his departure from Corvallis.
The magical run to the Elite 8 in 2021 will live forever in the annals of Oregon State’s history, yet the disastrous 2021-22 season has probably taken its toll.
Promising to have high-major suitors, it could only be a matter of time until an announcement is made.
That might make the matchup with Washington State a memorable game.
Lucas is 6-of-10 from deep over the past two contests and seems primed to go off against the Cougars.
Add in the emergence of true freshman Glenn Taylor Jr. over the last month with the point guard play of Deshawn Davis, and OSU has a chance.
The Cougars are out of the At-Large discussion and their only chance to make the NCAA Tournament is the automatic bid up for grabs in Las Vegas.
Fighting for anywhere from the 5-seed to the 9-seed, the outcome of Wazzu’s next three games will significantly impact its chances in Sin City.
A loss to OSU would be devastating, not only to seeding, but also to the Cougars’ confidence levels to get the job done.
To avoid that catastrophe, Kyle Smith must use his depth to wear down the depleted Beaver roster to generate turnovers in the second half.
February 28 & March 1 Game Picks
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