Dane Miller’s Dec 21-22 Pac-12 Men’s Hoops Previews

If Selection Show were held today, the league might only put three teams into the Big Dance

Posted on December 21, 2022

  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

Pac-12The Christmas break is right around the corner and the Pac-12’s At-Large bid chances remain precarious.

USC picked up a respectable win over Auburn last weekend, but the Conference remains top-heavy with juggernauts Arizona and UCLA.

If the Selection Show were held today, the league might only put three teams into the Big Dance.

Yet, with two matchups against ranked opponents on Wednesday and No. 25 Arizona State facing a critical road test, the perception of the rest of the Pac-12 could begin to shift with favorable results.

I preview five of the most impactful games over the next two days below. My picks and those of Stephen Vilardo appear at the bottom.

No. 20 TCU v. Utah

Wednesday, December 21
6:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Tipping off at the Utah Jazz’s arena in Salt Lake City, the Utes look to secure their second win over a ranked opponent.

TCU has a victory over then-No. 25 Iowa earlier in the year, along with wins against Providence and SMU.

But the Horned Frogs haven’t otherwise been tested. KenPom ranks their strength of schedule 362nd, which is second-to-last in all of Division I college basketball.

Yet, the Big 12 team’s strength is its defense. Led by powerful center Eddie Lampkin Jr., the Horned Frogs “D” is No. 37 in Field Goal Percentage Defense and No. 26 in Scoring Defense.

Jamie Dixon’s group plays aggressive in the paint and figures to be one of the toughest defensive matchups Utah faces all season.

Utah center Branden Carlson | Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News

On the other end of the floor, containing Mike Miles Jr. will be pivotal. The junior guard is averaging 17.7 points per game while shooting 50.6 percent from the field.

And with four other players averaging nine points or more, Craig Smith’s defense will need to be hitting on all cylinders.

Limiting turnovers, blocking shots, and rebounding all figure to be high on Utah’s game plan.

But the deciding factor could come down to defending the perimeter. TCU is one of the worst teams in the country from beyond the arc and if the Horned Frogs get hot from deep the Utes could be in trouble.

No. 23 Auburn at Washington

Wednesday, December 21
6:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Despite an underwhelming resume, No. 23 Auburn remains ranked and is the first AP Top 25 nonconference opponent to come to Alaska Airlines Arena since 2019.

Going back further, the matchup is just the fifth game at Hec Ed against a ranked out-of-conference team since the Pac-12 expanded in 2011.

The historic significance of the showdown makes the injuries the Huskies are dealing with hurt that much more. Impact transfers Noah Williams and Franck Kepnang aren’t available, dwindling down Washington’s firepower to concerning levels.

Braxton Meah has stepped up, though, in his expanded role as the primary big. Keion Brooks Jr. remains the leading scorer, too, although he had a quiet night against Idaho State last game.

Washington center Braxton Meah | Washington Athletics

The Tigers are a strong rebounding team and figure to exploit the tendency of UW’s zone to give up offensive boards. If the Dawgs can limit those second-chance opportunities, they will have a better chance of securing the win.

Defending the three could be vital as well. Auburn is not a strong three-point shooting team and any buckets that drop from outside would provide an unexpected boost.

Mike Hopkins’ zone tends to give opponents fits and the execution of the system by his players could tip the scales in UW’s favor.

If the perimeter players on the Husky defense disrupt passing lanes and consistently tip entry passes, Washington has just enough on offense to get the win.

But if Auburn is hitting its midrange shots and getting the UW players out of defensive position with quick passes into the paint and fast ball movement along the perimeter, the SEC team could leave Seattle with a win.

No. 25 Arizona State at San Francisco

Wednesday, December 21
7:00 pm PT, CBS Sports Network

The old saying goes, “Defense travels” and that adage will be put to the test on the road in San Francisco.

Bobby Hurley’s team has established its identity on “D,” holding opponents to 35.12 percent from the field. The Sun Devils are No. 6 in the nation in field goal percentage defense, No. 32 in scoring defense, and No. 19 in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric.

ASU is up against a San Francisco team that doesn’t have a potent offense. The Dons average fewer points per game than the Sun Devils, shoot the ball from the field at a lower rate, and are a worse three-point shooting team.

Those are all positive analytical signs for Hurley’s group.

ASU guard Desmond Cambridge (4) blocks a shot | Michael Chow/Arizona Republic

San Francisco does rebound the ball well, though, creating a key emphasis for the ASU staff to point to. But the Dons are sloppy with the ball, establishing two straightforward game plan aspects for Arizona State to focus on.

As long as the Sun Devils out-rebound SFU and win the turnover battle, Hurley’s team should be in a position to win.

Still, the trio of DJ Horne, Frankie Collins, and Desmond Cambridge Jr. will need to have efficient nights on offense. And depending on the personnel San Francisco has on the court, Warren Washington could have an exploitable size advantage that should be capitalized upon.

Look for Arizona State to win battles on defense and pull away with superior backcourt play on offense.

USC vs. Colorado State

Wednesday, December 21
8:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Coming off a respectable win over a ranked Auburn team, USC faces a critical matchup in Phoenix at Colorado State.

An At-Large bid to the NCAA Tournament remains within reach, but a loss to the Rams would dampen momentum.

CSU is an efficient shooting team that willingly shares the ball. But the Rams do not rebound well and are a poor shot-blocking group.

USC forward Joshua Morgan | John McGillen/USC Athletics

In that sense, Joshua Morgan might be the key to a Trojan win. The junior big got back on track against the Tigers and will need to step on the neutral court.

If Morgan posts 10 points or more and gets close to double-digit rebounds, USC should be in a strong position. But if the primary Trojan big can’t get it done against Colorado State’s questionable frontcourt, Andy Enfield’s team could stumble.

At the same time, Enfield has extracted career performances out of several different players over the last week.

In a matchup that could see the backcourts go toe-to-toe, an unexpected night from a player such as Kobe Johnson, Malik Thomas, or even Reece Dixon-Watters could prove to be the difference.

George Washington v. Washington State

Thursday, December 22
6:00 pm PT, ESPN2
Round One, Diamond Head Classic

In the first round of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu, the Cougs take on George Washington.

The annual tournament held over the Christmas holiday presents an opportunity for Washington State to seize momentum. As the only high-major program in the field, Wazzu is one of the favorites to win the event.

The Colonials are the first hurdle and present somewhat of a unique challenge.

WSU guard TJ Bamba (5) | WSU Athletics

George Washington’s rotation is short and limited to six primary players. James Bishop IV is the leading scorer with 22.2 points per game and averages 35.8 minutes per night. Brendan Adams is the second-leading scorer with 16.9 points per contest and plays 36.9 minutes per game.

Keeping the duo contained will be challenging, but if WSU slows them down it will be in a favorable position.

Hunter Dean is the lone big in GWU’s primary rotation, potentially opening the door for WSU to play two bigs to create a mismatch on offense.

The production of role players Carlos Rosario, Mael Hamon-Crespin, and Adrame Diongue could then prove to be the difference.

But Kyle Smith’s primary focus figures to be on defense and slowing down Bishop and Adams. If the Cougs are able to force the two scores into an inefficient night from the field, Washington State has superior offensive weapons to secure the win.

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