Dane Miller’s Pac-12 Men’s Hoops Previews for Feb. 2

With Selection Show on the horizon, every conference game from here on in matters

Posted on February 2, 2023

  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

The Pac-12 Conference men’s basketball season marches on with the first games in the month of February.

Needing a win to remain within shouting distance of an At-Large bid, Oregon faces No. 5 Arizona in Tucson.

Similarly situated, but on the right side of the bubble, USC takes on Washington State in a game it must win to hold steady in the projected field.

With Selection Show on the horizon, every game from here on in matters.

I preview all six Pac-12 games below and my picks, and those of Stephen Vilardo, appear at the bottom.

Oregon State at Arizona State

Thursday, February 2
5:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Looking to end a four-game losing streak, the Sun Devils take on the Beavers at The Bank.

Oregon State has struggled on the road all season but enters the game with momentum. Led by the front runner for Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, Jordan Pope, Oregon State has the personnel to match up with Arizona State.

Both teams are guard-oriented and rely on a trio of starters.

Wayne Tinkle has Pope, Glenn Taylor Jr., and Dexter Akanno to initiate his offense while Bobby Hurley gets it done with Desmond Cambridge Jr., DJ Horne, and Frankie Collins.

The shooting efficiency and assist-to-turnover ratio among the two groups of guards could determine the outcome.

ASU forward Warren Washington vs WSU | James Snook/USA TODAY Sports

In the frontcourt, ASU’s Warren Washington was frustrated by OSU’s multifaceted bigs earlier in the season. Tinkle doesn’t have a standout star but has several interchangeable pieces that all play well together.

Able to throw weight around with Rodrigue Andela and KC Ibekwe, Tinkle can also use a finesse lineup with Michael Rataj, Tyler Bilodeau, and Dzmitry Ryuny.

The unheralded Oregon State bigs held Washington to just two points on 1-for-5 shooting five games ago in Corvallis.

Keeping the primary Sun Devil center contained once again figures to be part of Tinkle’s game plan, while Hurley will need more from Washington this time around.

But the game figures to come down to the battle between the guards. As long as Arizona State returns to the defensive form it displayed earlier in the year, the Sun Devils should successfully defend their home court.

Stanford at Utah

Thursday, February 2
5:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

With its status as a bubble team in question, Utah faces an arguable must-win matchup against Stanford.

Jerod Haase’s group has started to come together after inexplicably struggling through most of the year.

Riding a four-game winning streak, their longest of the season, the Cardinal have a deep bench to address the Utes’ defensive firepower.

Maxime Raynaud has taken advantage of his increased playing time due to James Keefe’s injury, averaging 13.2 points per game over the last five contests.

The Frenchman has a similar body type to Branden Carlson, yet doesn’t have the defensive acumen of a player like N’Faly Dante.

Stanford forward Harrison Ingram vs Cal | D. Ross Cameron/USA TODAY Sports

Raynaud only averages 0.7 blocks per game along with 0.6 steals, making the matchup relatively more favorable for Carlson.

But Stanford’s primary threat is Harrison Ingram.

The sophomore guard/wing hybrid has increased his efficiency and regained confidence during the Tree’s winning streak. Over the last four games, Ingram is scoring 12.0 points per night while shooting 14-for-24 (58.3 percent) from the field.

Craig Smith’s defensive game plan for the heart and soul of the Cardinal’s roster could determine the outcome. If Ingram is hot, the Tree have the depth to pull off the upset.

Yet, Stanford turns the ball over too often and figures to pay the price for mistakes on the road.

Washington at No. 9 UCLA

Thursday, February 2
6:00 pm PT, FS1

On a rare losing streak, No. 9 UCLA enters its matchup with Washington having dropped its last two games.

The Bruins have been cold from the field during the slide, shooting 41-for-123 (33.3 percent) since beating Arizona State in Tempe.

The shooting woes are somewhat of a perfect storm facing the Huskies’ zone defense. Mike Hopkins’ scheme takes advantage of teams’ inability to knock down mid-range and perimeter shots.

If UCLA continues to shoot the ball poorly, UW’s players could receive a substantial boost of confidence.

The increased belief invariably translates to stronger offensive performances and creates a snowball effect for Washington’s roster.

For an opponent that lives and dies by momentum, the shooting problems UCLA brings to the game are like fuel to a fire.

Washington center Braxton Meah vs Arizona | The Seattle Times

But UCLA’s defense has remained stout, for the most part. The 77 points given up to USC was the third-most Mick Cronin’s group had given up all season and the most since November 20th.

However, UCLA has held 13 of its last 16 opponents to 65 points or less.

Continuing the defensive strength will be pivotal against Washington. In Seattle, the Bruins held UW to 2-for-25 from three while blocking five shots and forcing 12 turnovers.

Another performance like that could be needed if UCLA’s shooters remain cold.

Still, Cronin understands how to attack Hopkins’ zone with consistent ball movement and an emphasis on not settling for shots.

The Bruins are among the nation’s best at sharing the ball and figure to get their mojo back against the scheme that regularly gives up open looks from all over the court.

Unless the Huskies enjoy a substantial rebounding advantage, UCLA should get back on track.

California at Colorado

Thursday, February 2
7:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Colorado takes on California in Boulder where the Buffs are 8-1 against the Bears since joining the Pac-12.

Mark Fox’s team is probably better than their 3-18 record, but haven’t developed offensive chemistry due to the injuries to Devin Askew and DeJuan Clayton.

Both players are somewhat ball-dominant and high-volume shooters, which makes their sporadic availability have an outsized effect on team chemistry.

Cal’s role players are forced to adjust to each player’s style, leading to contributors such as Kuany Kuany and Joel Brown becoming less effective.

And with a revolving door of availability between Askew and Clayton, the entire Bear offense has ground to a halt.

Buffs forward Tristan da Silva vs Oregon St | cubuffs.com

Faced with a matchup in altitude against a CU team seeking to bounce back, California is in a tough spot.

KJ Simpson, though, is stuck in the worst two-game stretch of his college basketball career. The Buffs’ leading scorer is 3-for-26 from the field over the last two contests.

Colorado is dependent on his efficiency and the poor shooting performances have led to back-to-back losses. Returning to the confines of the CU Events Center should help, yet it remains a storyline to watch.

Outmatching California across the board on paper, one of the only ways the game could stay close is if Colorado turns the ball over too often and the Bears take care of the rock.

Even then, Lars Thiemann must get out of his funk and Grant Newell might have to score 15 points or more for the Bears to secure the upset.

Oregon at No. 5 Arizona

Thursday, February 2
7:30 pm PT, ESPN

Welcome to the Kerr Kriisa Revenge Game.

The dunk N’Faly Dante slammed home in the opening stages of the matchup in Eugene made national waves with Kriisa on the short end of the stick.

The play didn’t seem to bother the Estonian, though, and his well-known acumen for trash-talking makes him able to brush off plays that go against him.

Still, the extra motivation Kriisa figures to play with against the Ducks should shine through on the defense. But it’s the offensive side of the court where he figures to make the difference.

Oregon guard Jermaine Couisnard vs Utah | goducks.com

Shooting 11-for-21 from three over the last two games with eight assists to four turnovers, the heart and soul of Arizona’s roster is on a hot streak.

But outside shooting might not matter if Oregon dominates the glass the way it did in the first half in Eugene.

The Wildcats are statistically one of the top rebounding teams in the country, yet were embarrassed by the Ducks at Matthew Knight Arena.

In that sense, Tommy Lloyd’s game plan figures to emphasize defensive rebounding with a special challenge to Azuolas Tubelis. Arizona’s leading scorer snagged just six boards against Oregon and should come out strong on the glass in Tucson.

Apart from rebounding, UA’s turnovers could determine the outcome. If Lloyd’s group limits mistakes, or at least limits the points off of turnovers, the Cats should defend McKale.

Washington State at USC

Thursday, February 2
8:00 pm PT, FS1

From losing their opener against Florida Gulf Coast to being projected as an At-Large bid to the Big Dance, the Trojans’ season has been a whirlwind.

The Cougars got the upper hand in Pullman earlier this year, but that was prior to Vince Iwuchukwu returning to the lineup. With a legitimate second big to carry the load when Joshua Morgan gets a rest, USC is a different team.

Matched up against WSU’s Mouhamed Gueye, Iwuchukwu’s defensive efficiency against Gueye could be a deciding factor.

Gueye has been battling through a hamstring injury over the last three games, though, which has led to a series of poor shooting nights. The sophomore is 9-for-37 from the field over the stretch despite many of his shots coming in the paint.

USC forward Vince Iwuchukwu grabs a ball vs UCLA | Trojans Wire

Unless the Senegal native is back to his regular form, Washington State faces an uphill battle. Combined with DJ Rodman’s cold shooting over the last four games, the Cougars have regressed.

Kyle Smith’s team remains dangerous, however, due to their perimeter shooting and care of the ball.

His group may live by the three and die by the three, but the combination of strong outside shooting and turnover limitation makes WSU capable of beating any opponent on a given night.

That means Boogie Ellis and Drew Peterson can’t have off nights. There aren’t many other teams in the country as reliant on two individual players as USC is on the duo, and any struggles could be terminal.

Yet, as long as Ellis and Petersen maintain an efficient night from the field, the Trojans should handle business.

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