Dane Miller’s Pac-12 Men’s Hoops Previews for Feb. 15

Three of tonight's games in the Conference of Champions are on ESPN, ESPN2, and FS1

Posted on February 15, 2024


  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

Pac-12There are four games in the Conference of Champions today with most of the matchups on quality channels.

Two of the contests are on ESPN and ESPN2 while a third is on FS1.

I preview all four of the games here and my picks appear at the bottom.

Colorado at UCLA

Thursday, February 15
6:00 pm PT, ESPN

The Bruins enter the game fourth in the Pac-12 standings and winners of seven of their last eight.

The Buffaloes are trending in the opposite direction. With just one victory in their last four games, Colorado has seen its NCAA Tournament chances dip.

A win against UCLA at Pauley Pavilion, however, would begin to change the narrative.

To get the job done, CU must take care of the ball. Mick Cronin runs one of the slowest tempos in the country designed to limit the number of opponent’s possessions.

UCLA’s scoring defense is No. 15 nationally and the slow tempo is at least part of the reason why.

Colorado’s KJ Simpson vs Arizona | Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports

It makes every possession that much more valuable while putting a premium on limiting turnovers. That’s a problem for Colorado.

The Buffs are second-to-last in the Pac-12 in TO’s committed per game. Tad Boyle’s group averages 13.2 per contest and will be hard-pressed to beat the Bruins if they meet or exceed their average.

On the other hand, one of the ways to counteract Cronin’s defense is to snag offensive rebounds. Extra possessions are pivotal when facing such a slow pace and UCLA is not a great rebounding team.

The Bruins are ninth in the Pac-12 in rebounds per game.

If Colorado can limit its turnovers while generating second-chance points from offensive rebounds, it might have a shot at the upset.

Stanford at WashingtonWashington football pac-12

Thursday, February 15
6:00 pm PT, ESPN2

The matchup between Stanford and Washington is an underrated battle.

The Cardinal are fighting for a pivotal bye in the Pac-12 Tournament while the Huskies are trying to get out of the bottom half of the bracket.

The Tree got the upper hand in the first matchup, but Washington is a much better team at home.

Both offenses are capable of putting up 100 points and each run quick tempos.

Whichever team ends up winning the rebounding and turnover margins might end up on top. The Cardinal are sloppier with the ball, entering the game last in the Conference in TO’s committed per night.

Stanford’s Maxime Raynaud vs USC | Robert Edwards/USA TODAY Sports

Still, the key to beating Stanford is defending the three.

Jerod Haase has shooters at every position and on his bench. His team shares the ball at an elite level, too, generating open shots all game long. And if those threes are falling, the Tree are effectively unbeatable.

But momentum and energy can affect their shooting performance, potentially opening the door for UW to take advantage of its shot-blocking abilities.

The crowd will get riled up from emphatic blocked shots and help produce the extra effort to close out on shooters.

On the other end of the floor, getting Moses Wood going is a must. The three-point specialist can change the game and he adds to the arsenal that Mike Hopkins has at his disposal.

If Wood has an efficient night from three and the Dawgs keep Stanford under 50 percent from deep, they should find a way to win.

California at Washington State

Thursday, February 15
7:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Kyle Smith and the Cougars are new to the scene at the top of the Pac-12 standings.

Without much experience in their current position, it’s unknown how they react to what could historically be described as a Trap Game.

But after California beat the Cougs earlier this season, Smith will undoubtedly have his players locked in.

The path to the NCAA Tournament remains tenuous for a school like Wazzu that has yet to establish its basketball brand.

The Cougars remain unranked and frankly not many around the country think of them when discussing teams that can make a run in March.

That predisposed bias would be directly reinforced if they get swept by the Bears.

Mark Madsen’s group features three primary scorers and a handful of role players. Matched up against WSU’s personnel, center Fardaws Aimaq is arguably the key.

Cal’s Fardaws Aimaq vs UCLA | Jeff Chiu/AP

Washington State doesn’t have a dominant big and most of its defensive firepower is from its wings and guards.

Aimaq scored 18 points in the first game on 50 percent shooting. That can’t happen a second time.

If the big is scoring down low and dominating the glass, the perimeter will open up for the rest of the Cal scorers to take advantage.

Both teams take care of the ball fairly well, rebound at about the same rate, shoot the three at similar percentages, and score essentially the same amount of points per game.

In contests that are expected to be close such as this one, three-point and free-throw shooting tend to be the difference makers. If Cal gets the upper hand in both of those categories, it could walk away with the win.

Utah at USCusc logo

Thursday, February 15
8:00 pm PT, FS1

Utah suddenly finds itself squarely on the Bubble.

The Utes’ NET ranking has dropped to dangerous levels after losing three of their last four games. In fact, Utah is below .500 since the start of the new year.

With a 4-7 record since beating Washington on New Year’s Eve, Craig Smith’s team is teetering on collapse.

Matched up against last-place USC, the game is a “must-win.”

Dominating the glass and forcing turnovers are the keys to beating the Trojans. Andy Enfield’s team is just an average rebounding group and 10th in the Pac-12 in turnovers committed per contest.

That means opponents create extra possessions against them consistently. Combined with a relatively fast pace and a middle-of-the-pack field goal percentage offense, it’s no wonder why USC finds itself in last place.

Utah’s Branden Carlson vs ASU | Rob Gray/USA TODAY

Said another way, the Trojans give their opponents too many offensive opportunities while failing to make their shots consistently enough to overcome.

It’s one thing to commit turnovers within an offense that shoots the ball efficiently. It’s an entirely different story when those turnovers come from an inefficient offense.

Still, USC has shooters that must be game-planned around.

Boogie Ellis has the potential to go off and Isaiah Collier is elite around the rim.

Help defense can be used to counteract Collier’s driving abilities while staying attached to Ellis during his shooting motion can help prevent buckets.

On the other end of the court, Gabe Madsen and Deivon Smith are arguably the key.

USC has variable bigs to adequately match up with Carlson and the other pieces of Utah’s frontcourt, assuming Enfield plays his personnel correctly.

If he does so, that will make the offensive burden fall to Madsen’s and Smith’s shooting efficiency. If either has an off night, the Trojans might defend the Galen Center.


Dane Miller’s Game Picks

2023-24 Week 7 Pac-12 Games


Pick

Colorado at UCLA
Feb 15, 6:00 PM PT
UCLA
Stanford at Washington
Feb 15, 6:00 PM PT
Washington football pac-12Washington
California at Washington State
Feb 15, 7:00 PM PT
Washington State
Utah at USC
Feb 15, 8:00 PM PT
Utah
 Overall Record 147-61-0 (71%)



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