Posted on March 3, 2022
The Pac-12 enters the final week of the regular season with conference seeding up for grabs.
The hardest-fought battle is between the 6 and 10-seeds, with scenarios that could result in Arizona State, Washington State, Washington, or Stanford emerging on the six-line.
Meanwhile, Oregon and Colorado are jostling for the pivotal 4-seed which provides the bye in Las Vegas.
An unexpected loss could have consequential results and damage the chances of securing the automatic bid.
I preview all four games here, and my picks along with Stephen Vilardo’s appear at the bottom.
California at Arizona State
Desert Financial Arena, Tempe, AZ
Thursday, March 3
5:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
Potentially entering Las Vegas as low as the 9-seed, Bobby Hurley knows how important securing a win tonight is for his team.
The winner of the 8-9 matchup has to face the 1-Seed, and ASU can avoid that eventuality if it sweeps the Bay Area schools at home this week.
The Bears, on the other hand, are locked into either the 10 or 11-seed. Depending on if Utah beats Colorado on Saturday, Mark Fox’s team can lose both games in the desert and still enter Sin City on the 10-line.
Without much to lose, Cal could play loose on offense and take risks from deep.
But Hurley’s squad has been on a roll over the last month, setting themselves up for a run in Vegas. Even still, momentum is fickle and can be reversed in just a single game.
With a stronger defense and a comparable offense, Arizona State figures to utilize its lanky bigs to generate offense from defense and pull away in the second half.
Stanford at No. 2 Arizona
McKale Center, Tucson, AZ
Thursday, March 3
6:00 pm PT, ESPN2
The historic accomplishment is mostly meaningless, though, when viewed in the context of UA’s season goals.
The Pac-12 Tournament Championship has always been considered a bigger prize in Tucson, and returning to the NCAA Final Four is the Number One Priority on the fanbase’s wishlist.
Despite the big win over the Trojans, the Cardinal present a bit of concern for the No. 2 team in the nation. The Tree play scrappy and won’t back down from the challenge.
Last time in Palo Alto, Azuolas Tubelis suffered a high-ankle sprain after Harrison Ingram dove for a ball that he mishandled.
The injury lingered for several contests, arguably contributing to Arizona’s loss at Pauley Pavilion two games later. Staying healthy against a team it drastically outmatches on paper becomes the elephant in the room.
Lloyd’s offensive pace and emphasis on defense means there are more opportunities for disaster to strike, and games tend to get chippy once the score gets out of hand.
Ideally, UA will jump out to an early lead and true freshmen Adama Bal and Shane Nowell can see significant minutes in the second half.
Oregon at Washington
Alaska Airlines Arena, Seattle, WA
Thursday, March 3
7:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
The Ducks have won 12 of the last 13 in the series, and enter Hec Ed angry after letting one slip against USC.
Still fighting for the 4-Seed, Oregon must sweep the Washington schools this weekend or hope Utah upsets Colorado on Saturday. But if CU wins, anything less than a sweep would relegate UO to the 5-Seed.
And Washington has some advantages on paper.
The Dawgs hold the edge in turnovers committed per game, blocked shots per night, and free throw percentage. Those analytics signal a simple strategy for Mike Hopkins’ team: Make the game ugly.
A slow-it-down, half-court game without many transition or fast-break buckets would favor UW. It starts with the Huskies’ defense, but it’s hammered home with deliberate offense.
The Dawgs don’t share the ball efficiently, too often relying on one-on-one matchups to score points. Yet, the system benefits Terrell Brown Jr.’s playing style and might help keep the pace down.
If Washington can keep the game in the 50s, its home crowd could provide the extra juice to topple the Ducks.
Oregon State at Washington State
Friel Court at Beasley Coliseum, Pullman, WA
Thursday, March 3
8:00 pm PT, FS1
Credit should be given to Kyle Smith and his players for staying the course and engineering the comeback, but the close victory produced more questions than answers.
The Cougars have substantially improved in the three seasons that Smith has been at the helm, but appear to be bumping into a ceiling.
Once thought of as an At-Large threat, the perception of falling short of expectations is permeating within the program.
Yet, the image can be turned on its head with a strong March.
The Cougars outclass the Beavs on paper in every major statistical category, other than assists per game and field goal percentage. The two analytics go hand in hand, and arguably indicate the flaws in WSU’s team.
One-on-one offense can be counteracted with strong team defense, resulting in lower shooting percentages. And with a guard-focused offense that takes too many threes, the issues can compound and snowball.
Still, the Cougs have enough talent on their roster to win the Conference’s automatic bid, and could finish the year as the 6-seed if it sweeps the Oregon schools this week.
February 28 & March 1 Game Picks
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