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Dane Miller’s Pac-12 Men’s Hoops Previews for Feb. 18 & 19

The league may get as few as two teams into Tournament unless its Bubble teams turn it around

Posted on February 18, 2023


  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

With only a couple of weeks left in the regular season, Pac-12 Men’s Basketball is entering its closing stage.

The league may get as few as two teams in the NCAA Tournament unless its Bubble programs start to turn it around. Utah and Arizona State are both on the outside looking in, while USC and Oregon have the same problem.

Every result matters and there are several noteworthy games on Saturday.

I preview all six games across the weekend and my picks, along with those of Stephen Vilardo, appear at the bottom.

Utah at Arizona State

Saturday, February 18
3:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Each on the wrong side of the Bubble, Arizona State and Utah look to salvage their weeks.

The Utes haven’t been the same team since Gabe Madsen’s injury and the recent stumbles are arguably attributable to his absence. The Sun Devils’ struggles, on the other hand, are more fundamental.

With the No. 8 offense in the Pac-12 according to KenPom, it’s fair to question Bobby Hurley’s system. His team is overly reliant on guard play despite having capable bigs in Warren Washington and Duke Brennan.

Other than a season or two when Arizona State couldn’t miss from three and played at a fast pace, its offenses under Hurley have held the program back.

Facing Utah’s strong defense, a game in the 60s wouldn’t be a surprise.

Utah center Branden Carlson vs Arizona | Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star

Winning the rebounding battle will be key for both teams, as each is among the nation’s elite at securing boards.

Mirrored on paper in several key categories such as assists per game, blocked shots, turnovers per game, and assist-to-turnover ratio, the two programs are evenly matched.

But unlike ASU, Craig Smith’s offense runs through his primary big, Branden Carlson.

The 7-footer is one of the most unique players in College Basketball and the Sun Devils don’t have an adequate player to defend him.

Able to hit shots from the perimeter, midrange, and in the paint, Carlson figures to have an efficient night against Hurley’s defense.

But to beat Arizona State on its home floor, Utah will need strong production from Lazar Stefanovic and Marco Anthony.

If the supporting players on the Ute roster are held in check, the Sun Devils could do just enough on offense to secure the win.

Colorado at No. 8 ArizonaArizona football Pac-12

Saturday, February 18
5:00 pm PT, ESPN2

In one of the few organic rivalries that developed during the Pac-12 era, Arizona and Colorado face off at McKale Center.

The game plan for Tommy Lloyd against the Buffs figures to be simple: Pound the ball inside.

Tad Boyle doesn’t have the personnel to adequately defend Oumar Ballo and Azuolas Tubelis. Lawson Lovering is the only legitimate big that sees playing time and he is undersized at 225 pounds.

That’s a significant problem that Lloyd promises to exploit.

Tristan da Silva may have the speed and skill to contend with Tubelis, but the junior is giving up almost 30 pounds to Arizona’s leading scorer.

If the UA guards get the ball to the Lithuanian near the blocks and Boyle doesn’t send a double-team, the Wildcat leading scorer could get buckets at will.

Arizona guard Kerr Kriisa vs Utah | Arizona Athletics

And when Lloyd shifts Tubelis to center when Ballo rests, Lovering doesn’t have the quickness or strength to contain him.

Look for Arizona to hammer the ball down low and post one of its largest points in the paint advantages of the season.

The X-Factor in the matchup is the efficiency of KJ Simpson. Once an Arizona commit, Simpson turns it up a notch when facing the Wildcats.

Capable of dropping 30, Lloyd’s decision of which player to assign to him could be critical.

Pelle Larsson and Cedric Henderson Jr. figure to rotate against da Silva, taking away what are arguably the top defenders on Arizona’s roster.

That leaves Kerr Kriisa, Courtney Ramey, or Kylan Boswell to take on the assignment.

If the UA trio is able to keep Simpson contained, Arizona should win by double-digits.

Oregon State at WashingtonWashington football pac-12

Saturday, February 18
5:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Arguably fighting for his job, Mike Hopkins looks to sweep the Oregon schools in Seattle for the second time in his career.

Facing an Oregon State team that doesn’t share the ball with any degree of efficiency, the Husky zone should thrive.

Ball movement is the scheme’s kryptonite and the Beavers enter the game as the second-worst team in the Pac-12 in assists per game.

In fact, only 12 teams in all of College Basketball average fewer assists per night than Wayne Tinkle’s squad.

That makes OSU substantially less potent on offense and creates a straightforward game plan revolving around stopping Jordan Pope and Glenn Taylor Jr.

But Hopkins’ system doesn’t focus on an individual opposing player.

Washington guard Keyon Menifield vs Oregon | Stephen Brashear/AP

Instead, it forces opponents to beat Washington as a collective unit that works together. As long as the UW players don’t blow their defensive assignments and give up easy looks, the zone should effectively limit the Beavers.

With an expected advantage on defense, the outcome figures to come down to the Dawgs’ offensive efficiency.

Keyon Menifield went off against Oregon but Keion Brooks was uncharacteristically quiet. That’s unlikely to happen against OSU’s roster, which doesn’t have a player to match up with Brooks.

Braxton Meah is similarly a mismatch nightmare for the Beavs. KC Ibekwe is too raw to adequately contain him and Rodrigue Andela is undersized.

That should lead to a strong game from Meah who could realistically score 20 points.

Unless Pope, Taylor Jr., or Tinkle’s versatile forwards are hitting their threes, the Huskies should secure the home sweep.

Stanford at USC

Saturday, February 18
7:00 pm PT, ESPN2

In what might be the Game of the Day in the Pac-12, USC looks to maintain its at-large resume against Stanford.

Spencer Jones was contained by UCLA’s defense on Thursday night. The Cardinal’s leading scorer was limited to just six points, his third-lowest total of the year.

That’s unlikely to happen at the Galen Center.

Jones figures to come out with something to prove and could light up the Trojans from deep.

But Andy Enfield should have an answer. Boogie Ellis and Drew Peters0n went off against California. The USC duo doesn’t rely on scoring in the paint, negating the defensive strength that Stanford has down low.

Stanford forward Spencer Jones vs UCLA | Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP

The result could be a shooting battle among the three stars.

One of the keys to watch, though, is the matchup between Maxime Raynaud and Vince Iwuchukwu. Similarly built, the two centers are equally skilled and could go toe-to-toe in the paint.

Whichever player ends up with a more efficient night could help lead his team to the win.

Despite the height Stanford has across the board, Jerod Haase’s group doesn’t play at a high pace. Combined with the number of turnovers they give up, the Tree’s offensive system is precarious.

If USC can force Stanford into mistakes while limiting their own, Enfield’s team should walk away with the win.

But if the Cardinal are hitting their threes, keep their turnovers below average, and limit Ellis and Peterson, Haase’s group might pull off the upset.

California at No. 4 UCLA

Saturday, February 18
7:30 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

In one of the largest mismatches of the Pac-12 season, No. 4 UCLA hosts California’s struggling offense.

The writing appears to be on the wall for Mark Fox’s tenure in Berkeley and his team is playing like it. Center Lars Thiemann is his most consistent player, yet the German has been ineffective over the last two games.

DeJuan Clayton has scoring potential, but his availability has been sporadic and his shooting is inefficient.

Grant Newell is a respectable freshman that can score from numerous spots on the court, yet the forward can also go cold for long stretches.

The result is a broken offense that is among the worst in College Basketball.

UCLA forward Adem Bona vs Stanford | Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP

Adem Bona should be able to slow down Thiemann and UCLA’s elite defense should frustrate the rest of the Bears’ roster.

One of the few concerns Mick Cronin might have is his team overlooking Cal. A slow start could indicate a lack of preparation and any one-on-one action could land his players on the bench.

Still, the Bruins’ willingness to share the ball figures to create open looks that its players capitalize on. On top of that, Fox doesn’t have the personnel to contain Jaime Jaquez Jr. or Amari Bailey.

The result should be a blowout victory at Pauley Pavilion.

Oregon Ducks Logo Pac-12Oregon at Washington State

Saturday, February 18
4:00 pm PT, FS1

In the Pac-12’s lone game on Sunday, Oregon faces another pivotal test for its at-large hopes.

The battle between Mouhamed Gueye and N’Faly Dante is one for the ages.

The two bigs are among the top players in the Pac-12 and have similar styles of play. Dante has more of a power game to him, but Gueye is arguably more rounded and has a finesse advantage.

One of the X-Factors in the game is the production of Nate Bittle.

The second Oregon big can score from the perimeter as well as inside, and WSU doesn’t have a player to defend him at the power forward position.

Adrame Diongue might be the answer, but he hasn’t played much lately. If Bittle has a strong game, the Ducks will be tough to beat.

Oregon center N’Faly Dante vs Washington | AP Photo via Peterborough Examiner

Still, Dana Altman must get a productive night from Will Richardson. The senior guard distributed the ball well against the Huskies but went scoreless in Seattle. That can’t happen again or Oregon will likely lose.

On the other side of the court, the key to beating the Cougars is defending the perimeter. Kyle Smith has numerous shooters that consistently knock down shots from deep.

If Altman’s squad allows open looks from three, Wazzu figures to make them pay.

But Washington State’s primary flaw is its lack of emphasis on passing. The Cougars are among the bottom of College Basketball in assists per game and too often rely on one-on-one action.

However, they take care of the ball better than average. Combined with their three-point shooting, the offensive system is respectfully effective when their shots are falling.

In that sense, creating turnovers is one of the keys to an Oregon win. If the Ducks don’t force mistakes with their zone press, WSU should defend its home court.


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