Posted on February 7, 2024
Nobody likes playing away from home on Wednesdays.
The odd midweek game throws everyone’s schedule off and tends to favor the home teams even more than usual.
The LA schools get the short end of the stick this week. Traveling to the Bay Area to face in-state opponents, it’s going to be tough to walk away with a win.
I preview both games here and my picks appear at the bottom.
UCLA at Stanford
Wednesday, February 7
6:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
Winners of five of their last six, Mick Cronin’s team appears to have found itself.
But the Cardinal are the toughest opponent UCLA has faced since losing to Arizona in Tucson. The numbers speak for themselves.
Stanford is No. 10 in the nation in three-point percentage, No. 14 in assists per game, and No. 63 in field goal percentage. In other words, Stanford has shooters at every position and can score in a variety of ways.
Spencer Jones has been off recently, but Maxime Raynaud, Michael Jones, and Brandon Angel all shoot over 50 percent from the field.
Jerod Haase goes deep into his bench, too, playing up to 10 guys on any given night.
The result is an offense that can adjust to its opponent’s strengths and weaknesses to find the ideal lineup.
Yet, none of that matters to Cronin. He knows that if his players listen to what he says and execute the defensive system correctly, any type of opponent will struggle to score.
And it’s been working recently.
Since the start of the six-game stretch, only Arizona has scored more than 70 points against it. In the five victories, UCLA’s opponents are averaging just 60.6 points per game.
When combined with the emergence of the Bruin offense it’s no wonder why they look like a completely different team.
To get the job done on the road and avoid the season sweep to the Tree, UCLA must win the rebounding margin. Cronin’s defense figures to frustrate Stanford’s passing and offensive flow, leading to poor shots that are off the mark.
But if the Cardinal can secure offensive rebounds and convert those chances into second-chance points, a victory could slip away.
At the same time, UCLA must defend the three. There’s a reason why Stanford is one of the top three-point shooting times in the nation. They are the elite of the elite.
Every player from the one to the five can knock down shots from the perimeter and they all have the green light to shoot it.
Raynaud, in particular, must be adequately guarded along the arc or he could dramatically open up the rest of Stanford’s offense.
On the other end of the floor, one of the UCLA guards must have a strong night. The Cardinal are not much of a defensive powerhouse and will give up open looks.
Assuming Cronin’s defense does what it needs to do, the game will be won or lost by the Bruin backcourt.
USC at California
Wednesday, February 7
8:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
The Bears secured a pivotal road win over Arizona State last week and already have victories over Stanford, Washington State, Colorado, and UCLA.
In some ways, the answer is already apparent.
But USC has won 10 straight in the series and presents a hurdle that the program has continually failed to clear. Yet, this year might be different.
Andy Enfield’s team is 1-6 in true road games with the lone victory coming over Alabama State in December. The Trojans have dramatically underperformed expectations and a mostly inept offense is to blame.
USC is 2-13 when it scores fewer than 80 points but 7-0 when it scores 80 points or more. In other words, its offense is either clicking or they lose the game.
The shooting inefficiencies in the backcourt shoulder much of the blame, but the failure to emphasize the bigs is a close second.
Still, Enfield’s group just dropped 82 on Oregon State and may have found itself. Kobe Johnson was ostensibly benched in a long overdue coaching decision.
With other players afforded opportunities, the offensive production was much more variable and efficient.
Whether that continues or not remains to be seen.
From an analytics standpoint, the teams are balanced in a handful of key areas. The points per game are almost identical, the field goal percentages are comparable, and the rebounding numbers are similar.
The Trojans share the ball at a much higher clip, though, and are a far superior shot-blocking team.
Yet, the strength in the defensive paint might not matter so much against Cal.
The Bears are mostly a guard/wing offense with one primary big that can score at all three levels. Jaylon Tyson does like to drive, but he’s not limited to scoring around the rim.
Jalen Cone is almost exclusively a three-point shooter and the role-playing forwards can all score from anywhere on the court.
The practical result is that USC’s shot-blocking strength could be at least partially negated by Cal’s roster composition.
The Trojans had just three blocked shots in the first matchup, although the frontcourt was successfully able to contain Fardaws Aimaq.
If Aimaq struggles once again, it’s unlikely that Cal will get the win.
The X-Factor is Cone and California’s ability to generate turnovers. If Cone gets hot from three and Mark Madsen’s group wins the turnover margin, the Bears should like their chances.
Dane Miller’s Game Picks
2023-24 Week 6 Pac-12 Games
|UCLA at Stanford
Feb 7, 6:00 PM PT
|USC at California
Feb 7, 8:00 PM PT
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