Dane Miller’s Key Dec 14-15 Men’s Hoops Previews

Posted on December 14, 2021

  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

The Conference of Champions enters the week with three teams ranked in the Top 10 of the AP Poll for the first time since 2016-17.

On Saturday, No. 4 UCLA and No. 8 Arizona secured true road wins over Marquette and Illinois, while No. 10 USC pulled away from Long Beach State in the second half at the Galen Center on Sunday.

And up in the Bay Area, California toppled Santa Clara in a victory that could signal a run for the Bears over the next few weeks.

Pac-12But it wasn’t a perfect weekend.

Washington State stumbled on a neutral court against South Dakota State, and Oregon continued its down-slide in Palo Alto against Stanford.

Approaching the end of the nonconference season, we have learned one thing: The Pac-12 is elite at the top, and shaky from fourth on down.

Plenty of time remains for a team such as Utah to force its way into the picture, but the Conference might end up with just three teams in the Big Dance come March.

Still, the Tuesday and Wednesday slate features seven games that provide new opportunities. I preview three of the matchups below, and my picks for all seven showdowns are at the bottom.

Arizona State at Creighton

SHI Health Center, Omaha, NE
Tuesday, December 14
5:00 pm PT, FS1

The Sun Devils may have found themselves on the road in Eugene.

After starting the season 2-6, a road game at Matthew Knight Arena could have been the nail in the coffin. But Bobby Hurley rallied his players and Arizona State secured its first-ever win at MKA.

The momentum continued a few days later with a victory against Grand Canyon University.

But the renewed hope will be put to the test against Big East opponent Creighton. The Blue Jays are coming off a respectable win over BYU and currently sit 57th in the NET.

ASU’s DJ Horne vs Oregon | Chris Pietsch/The Register Guard

Greg McDermott’s team has the advantage in points per game, field goal percentage, assists, blocked shots, and rebounds. Facing a team that outclasses it on paper, Arizona State must play with more heart.

Talent discrepancies can be overcome through effort plays and willingness to accept roles. DJ Horne has emerged as the go-to scorer, while Kimani Lawrence is Mr. Consistency.

But the rest of the Sun Devil roster must continue to identify their role and accept it.

To pull off the upset, ASU has to sink its opportunities from the perimeter, take care of the ball, and generate blocked shots on defense.

usc logoUC Irvine at No. 10 USC

Galen Center, Los Angeles, CA
Wednesday, December 15
6:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

The No. 10 Trojans face a UC Irvine team that could end up winning the Big West’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Anteaters already have victories over Boise State, Pepperdine, and Santa Clara, and have made the Big Dance twice since 2014.

UCI’s two losses are respectable, too, coming at the hands of Fresno State and New Mexico State. USC can’t look past this game.

The Trojans will have a height advantage, but UC Irvine has some comparable bodies to throw at them. Led by 6-foot-9 senior forward Collin Welp, the Anteaters have seven players measuring 6-foot-9 or taller.

USC’s Isaiah Mobley vs. Long Beach State | Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

UCI’s height helps contribute to its 42.1 rebounds per game, currently 21st in the nation and just 1.4 grabs off of SC’s mark of 42.5 per night. And although not quite matching the Trojans’ 4.8 blocks per contest, Irvine is not far off with 3.1 per game.

Perhaps most worryingly, UC Irvine is the 23rd-best three point shooting team in the country, averaging 38.7% from distance, and six of its players average 8 points or more.

But USC is 14th in the country in field goal percentage and has a talent advantage across the board. The depth of the Trojan bench figures to play a prominent role in Wednesday’s matchup, where USC’s passing and turnover limitation should carry the day.

New Mexico State at Washington State

Beasley Coliseum, Pullman, WA
Wednesday, December 15
7:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

This is a big one for the Cougars.

The defeat to South Dakota State wasn’t ideal, but the Jack Rabbits have made the NCAA Tournament five times since 2012, and landed two NIT bids over the same period.

On the scale of mid-major stumbles, the loss to the Summit League squad wasn’t as bad as some are making it out to be.

But another defeat to a mid-major that seems to make annual appearances in the Big Dance would be a death blow to WSU’s at-large dreams. The Aggies have eight NCAA Tournaments on their resume since 2010, and are riding a three-game winning streak.

Picked to finish first in the WAC, New Mexico State is led by Teddy Allen and Jabari Rice. The duo in the backcourt average a combined 30.3 points per game, 11.4 rebounds per night, and 5.8 assists.

WSU’s Michael Flowers vs S. Dakota State | Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review

Shutting them down figures to be the game plan for Kyle Smith.

In a matchup that’s fairly even on paper, the outlier analytics are turnovers, assists, and rebounds. The Cougars have the advantage in turnovers and rebounds, but WSU struggles to pass the ball.

Of the 350 schools in Division I, Washington State ranks 309th in assists per game.

That’s a problem for a team with expectations of making the NCAA Tournament, and indicates chemistry issues. Smith’s rotation of 10 players may be contributing to the issue, with each player gunning for more time.

But to beat New Mexico State, the Cougs must protect the paint by contesting every shot and not allowing any easy baskets. At the end of the night, hampering NMSU’s offensive flow should be enough for Wazzu to win at home.

December 14-15 Game Picks

—More from Dane Miller—