Posted on February 11, 2023
USC can’t stumble against Oregon State in Corvallis, Oregon’s season is arguably on the line against No. 7 UCLA, and Utah can’t afford a loss to Colorado in Salt Lake City.
Add in rivalry games between No. 4 Arizona and Stanford along with Washington State and Washington, and today’s slate of action in the Pac-12 is as good as it gets.
I preview all six games here and my picks, along with those of Stephen Vilardo, appear at the bottom.
USC at Oregon State
Saturday, February 11
3:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
Without Josh Morgan, N’Faly Dante went 8-for-11 against USC as Oregon enjoyed +10 points in the paint advantage.
Doubling the concern, the timeline for Morgan’s return is unclear, throwing the remainder of USC’s season into question.
Oregon State might not have a dominant big the way the Ducks do, yet Wayne Tinkle has variable options to throw at Andy Enfield.
KC Ibekwe is a raw center that could find some open looks when the Trojans go small and Rodrigue Andela is capable enough to draw some attention in the paint.
But the Beavers’ frontcourt strength rests on their forwards. Tyler Bilodeau, Michael Rataj, and Dzmitry Ryuny are each 6-foot-9 wing/big hybrids that can hit midrange and perimeter shots.
The problem, though, is that USC matches up well with the trio’s finesse style of play. The Trojans have several tall, skilled wings that are more athletic and stronger scorers than the OSU group.
Facing a similarly built opponent, the Beavers will likely have to win a shootout to beat USC.
That won’t be easy against the likes of Drew Peterson, Tre White, and Kobe Johnson, each of whom is more than capable of slowing down Tinkle’s forwards.
It’s a personnel matchup problem that doesn’t bode well for Oregon State.
Look for Vince Iwuchukwu to have a strong game in the paint and the USC guard/forward hybrids to score at will from all over the court.
And with his supporting cast expected to have strong games, Boogie Ellis should have an efficient night from the field with open looks throughout the contest.
Arizona State at California
Saturday, February 11
5:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
The comeback victory on Thursday against Stanford could be the spark Arizona State needed to get back on the right side of the Bubble.
But as the old saying goes: “Don’t count your chickens before your eggs hatch.”
California may not have much offensive firepower without Devin Askew, but the Bears are dangerous if they are hitting their threes.
Mark Fox’s group played Arizona respectably in the middle twenty minutes of the game, but started slow and then ran out of steam in the second half.
Still, Cal went 7-for-17 from three and might have found some confidence from the perimeter that could loom large against Arizona State.
Combined with an ASU group that might be overlooking the game, Fox’s roster could keep it closer than some expect.
Lars Thiemann, though, must be fed the ball against a Sun Devil frontcourt that could be without its starting center due to COVID.
The senior has a size advantage against any big Bobby Hurley can throw at him and should be able to take advantage.
On the other bench, rebounding is likely the main point of emphasis for Arizona State. The Bears are a poor rebounding team and Hurley’s group is among the better teams at securing boards.
Other than crashing the glass, sharing the ball the way the Sun Devils have done all season is key.
That shouldn’t be a problem with Frankie Collins running the point, but any temptation to try and beat Cal one-on-one should be avoided.
As long as the Arizona State defense plays up to its normal standard, the Sun Devils should secure the sweep.
No. 4 Arizona at Stanford
Saturday, February 11
5:00 pm PT, ESPN2
The old rivals always play each other tough and a one or two-possession game wouldn’t be surprising.
For Tommy Lloyd and the Wildcats, limiting turnovers and limiting points off turnovers are keys.
The Cardinal don’t take care of the ball very well, but extra possessions could be taken advantage of by the Tree’s outside shooters.
Live-ball turnovers could be particularly dangerous and lead to fast break or transition buckets for Jerod Haase’s group.
At the same time, the Cardinal must have an answer for Azuolas Tubelis. But, unlike most teams in America, Haase has the personnel to somewhat defend him.
At 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, Brandon Angel is the type of player that historically has been able to hamper the Lithuanian.
And when Lloyd moves Tubelis to the center position when Oumar Ballo rests, Maxime Raynaud has the height and speed to stick with Arizona’s leading scorer.
It’s a bit of an unusual roster type that the Wildcats haven’t had to deal with much this year.
That could make the deciding battle come down to the guards.
Courtney Ramey, Kerr Kriisa, and Pelle Larsson must have efficient games from the field. If the trio, along with Kylan Boswell, are hitting their perimeter shots with efficiency, Arizona will be hard to beat.
But if the UA guards are shooting poorly from the field and committing turnovers, Stanford has the firepower to defend its home court.
Even then, if Stanford can’t stop Tubelis and the lefty scores 25 points or more, the Tree probably won’t avoid getting swept at home.
No. 7 UCLA at Oregon
Saturday, February 11
7:00 pm PT, ESPN
Dana Altman and the Ducks are on the cusp of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and would likely move to the right side of the bubble with a win.
Entering the game second in the Pac-12 with three Quad 1 wins, UO’s season is arguably on the line.
Matched up against the Bruins, forcing turnovers is key. The efficiency of Mick Cronin’s offense is drastically reduced by TOs and allowing extra possessions can be devastating in low-scoring games.
Amari Bailey, then, becomes one of the focal points. The freshman arguably has the capability to single-handedly shift the game in either direction.
He has committed 11 turnovers over the past four games but is shooting 24-for-42 (57.1 percent) from the field over the stretch.
If Jermaine Couisnard is able to force the freshman into mistakes while limiting his shooting efficiency, Oregon will be in a stronger position.
But, Cronin has numerous other options if Bailey is contained. Jaime Jaquez Jr. can score at will, Jaylen Clark has regained his shooting confidence, and David Singleton is relatively back to form.
It’s a tough match-up for Altman to game plan against.
The Ducks, though, should have an advantage in the battle between N’Faly Dante and Adem Bona.
If Oregon feeds Dante from the opening tip and its perimeter players are knocking down threes, the crowd at MKA might push the Ducks to the upset.
Colorado at Utah
Saturday, February 11
7:00 pm PT, FS1
The dynamic of Craig Smith’s offense has changed since Gabe Madsen’s injury. Lazar Stefanovic now runs the show and is averaging just over 12 field goal attempts per game since the injury.
The high-volume shooting makes the Utes’ success rise and fall on Stefanovic’s efficiency.
For Tad Boyle, that creates a relatively straightforward defensive game plan. Branden Carlson remains a matchup problem but making Stefanovic’s night difficult arguably takes precedence.
Enter KJ Simpson.
The Buffs’ second-leading scorer is more known for his offensive prowess, but he leads the team in steals and figures to be assigned the task of slowing down the Utah sophomore.
If Simpson can force Stefanovic to take a high-volume amount of shots to reach his average, Colorado will be in a favorable position.
But that still leaves Carlson to deal with.
Lawson Lovering has improved this season and will be the primary big opposite of Utah’s leading scorer. Although he has improved, Carlson is head and shoulders above Lovering and figures to eat all game.
Without another big to defend the Utah center, Colorado is vulnerable in the paint.
The X-Factor, though, is Tristan da Silva.
The forward leads CU in scoring and can tip the balance in the Buffs’ favor on his own. If the junior is knocking down his shots and scores 20 points or more, Colorado might secure the road win.
Washington at Washington State
Saturday, February 11
7:30 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
The Cougars have won four of the last six in the series and haven’t lost to UW at Beasley Coliseum since 2019.
The success will be put to the test against a Husky team that ranks eighth in the nation in blocked shots per game. Mike Hopkins’ zone allows offensive rebounds all game, but the scheme puts his players in a position to block shots each possession.
Scoring in the paint against the Washington zone isn’t easy and opponents invariably settle for outside shots.
Yet, attacking the soft spots can be done through quick and continual ball movement while avoiding over-dribbling.
The Cougs don’t share the ball with any degree of efficiency, though, potentially negating a schematic advantage that is otherwise there for the taking.
Smith’s team is a strong outside shooting group, however, and could feast on the open looks from three.
In addition to the three-point shooting, WSU takes care of the ball fairly well and figures to avoid the turnover pitfalls that some teams struggle with against Washington.
As long as Wazzu is hitting its threes with relative efficiency and crashing the offensive glass to secure second-chance opportunities, it should hold sway at home.
Our Senior Writers’ Game Picks
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