Posted on February 9, 2023
Oregon arguably has a must-win matchup against USC today followed by a substantial opportunity against No. 7 UCLA this weekend.
By the same token, Arizona State can begin to salvage its resume with a game in Palo Alto against Stanford.
With just four contests on Thursday, most eyes will be on the two pivotal matchups.
I preview all four games here and my picks, along with those of Stephen Vilardo, appear at the bottom.
No. 7 UCLA at Oregon State
Thursday, February 9
6:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
The Beavers don’t have the firepower to contend with UCLA, making the game somewhat of a tune up for Saturday’s matchup with Oregon.
Without much to worry about on the opposing bench, Mick Cronin’s group can focus on fixing the turnover issues that have hounded them over the past few games.
UCLA has committed 49 TOs over the last four contests for an average of 12.25 mistakes per night. That’s roughly 25 percent above their average of 10.5 turnovers per game, a substantial increase that must be fixed.
Amari Bailey and Jaime Jaquez Jr. are responsible for 19 on their own, creating a point of emphasis for Cronin to use as motivation in the matchup.
Still, Oregon State has an underrated frontcourt and a roster that plays stronger on their home floor. The Beavers beat Colorado in the last game played at Gill Coliseum and should come out with nothing to lose.
The game plan to beating Wayne Tinkle’s team, though, is relatively straightforward. As long as the Bruins keep Jordan Pope and Glenn Taylor Jr. in check, they should walk away with the win.
Look for Jaylen Clark and Tyger Campbell to stay in the face of the duo all game and Adem Bona to have a productive night against OSU’s somewhat undersized bigs.
Arizona State at Stanford
Thursday, February 9
7:00 pm PT, FS1
At the same time, a win at Maples Pavilion could begin to turn the momentum back in Arizona State’s favor.
In the context of Selection Sunday, the matchup with the Cardinal is one of the most impactful of the season for Bobby Hurley’s squad.
Stanford is playing better than it has all year, stringing together four-straight wins before going cold in Boulder against the Buffs. Winners of four of their last five, the Tree are a capable team.
Maxime Raynaud’s efficiency has been a large part of the Cardinal’s recent success.
The sophomore Frenchman is shooting 37-for-67 (55.2 percent) from the field over the last seven games and presents a unique challenge for the Sun Devils to defend.
Warren Washington is built to effectively guard Raynaud in the paint, but Stanford’s primary big is capable of scoring from the perimeter and mid-range.
If Raynaud is knocking down his shots outside of the paint, the Tree will be in a stronger position to defend home court.
Apart from the battle between the centers, the showdown between the backcourts is the storyline to watch.
Desmond Cambridge Jr., DJ Horne, and Frankie Collins must have efficient games. The ASU trio combine for 36.8 points per game, which is equivalent to 51.6 percent of its offensive production.
If Stanford is able to keep them below their averages, Jerod Haase has a deep enough bench to leave the game with a victory. At the same time, the Tree must limit their turnovers and prevent offensive rebounds.
The Sun Devils have a strong defense that’s difficult to score on and any extra possessions could loom large down the stretch.
No. 4 Arizona at California
Thursday, February 9
8:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
Without Devin Askew for the remainder of the year and with DeJuan Clayton’s status in question, Mark Fox’s team is without a leader on offense. Joel Brown could be an answer, yet the guard is 9-for-41 from the field over the last eight games.
Facing Arizona’s elite frontcourt, Cal has a matchup problem.
Lars Thiemann is a respectable center with the body type to physically oppose Oumar Ballo, but Fox doesn’t have a power forward to adequately defend Tubelis.
At 6-foot-9 and 235-pounds, ND Okafor is the type of player that could frustrate the Lithuanian. But the freshman is too raw at this point in his career and doesn’t have the skills to keep Tubelis in check.
Grant Newell might be able to give it a go, yet at 6-foot-8 and 220 pounds, the forward doesn’t have the size to effectively guard him.
That leaves Kuany Kuany as another option, but he’s even more undersized at 6-foot-9 and 200 pounds.
The result should be another strong game from the favorite to win the Pac-12 Player of the Year.
Combined with the polarized pace that each team plays with, the game could get ugly by the end of the first half.
Look for Tommy Lloyd to go deep into his bench with Adama Bal, Filip Borovicanin, and Henri Veesaar getting meaningful playing time.
USC at Oregon
Thursday, February 9
8:00 pm PT, ESPN2
The game is pivotal for each team’s NCAA Tournament aspirations. With a win, the Trojans could cement their status as an at-large team on the right side of the bubble.
At the same time, a Duck victory could put them right on the cusp of the Play-In game if the Selection Show were tomorrow.
It’s a more important result for Oregon, but one that USC would benefit from for seeding purposes.
The status of the Trojans’ starting center Joshua Morgan is in doubt after an ankle injury sidelined him against Washington. If the junior isn’t able to go, Andy Enfield will be without a substantial presence in the paint.
Morgan averages 2.4 blocks per game and snags 4.8 rebounds while shooting 57.4 percent from the field. Vince Iwuchukwu is a capable replacement, yet the freshman remains on a minute restriction that could force Enfield to go small.
That’s a problem facing an Oregon team that is among the nation’s elite at rebounding. The Ducks already have an advantage in rebounds per game and could feast on what might be a depleted Trojan frontcourt.
Second-chance opportunities could be a difference maker with Oregon knocking down open threes off offensive rebounds.
The absence of Morgan could also lead to a points-in-the-paint advantage for UO with N’Faly Dante scoring 15 or more.
Unless Boogie Ellis and Drew Peterson are knocking down their shots from the floor with consistency, the Ducks should be in a position to defend home court.
Our Senior Writers’ Game Picks
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