Dane Miller’s Pac-12 Men’s Hoops Previews for Feb. 29

WSU must win to keep pace with Arizona while UCLA battles for a bye in the Pac-12 Tournament

Posted on February 29, 2024

  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

Pac-12With all eyes on the Pacific Northwest tonight, the spotlight is on Washington State and UCLA to deliver.

The Cougars need to win to keep pace at the top of the standings while UCLA is in a battle for a pivotal bye in the Pac-12 Tournament.

I preview all three of the night’s games here and my picks appear at the bottom.

Stanford at Utah

Thursday, February 29
5:30 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Since taking over at Utah last season, Craig Smith’s teams are 4-8 in the month of February. That’s just not going to get it done.

In fact, since beating Oregon in mid-January of this year, the Utes are 2-6 with an average margin of defeat of 14.8 points.

But Smith’s group faces a Stanford program that has regressed. The Tree have lost four straight games and are 1-6 since beating Arizona State at the start of the month.

Jerod Haase’s unit commits too many turnovers and hasn’t had the same explosive perimeter shooting lately.

Deivon Smith had a triple-double vs Stanford in Jan. | Godofredo A. Vasquez/AP

They shot just 29.2 percent from deep against the Beavers and are 66-for-184 (35.8 percent) over their past seven contests. Still, all it takes is one game to get back on track.

Rebounding will play a pivotal role.

Stanford is not a strong rebounding team and the Utes must take advantage. Smith has the personnel to create a mismatch in the paint that could produce a key rebounding advantage all game long.

But if the Cardinal are securing rebounds, particularly on the offensive side, the Utes could be in trouble.

UCLA at WashingtonWashington football pac-12

Thursday, February 29
7:30 pm PT, FS1

The Bruins head to Seattle for a clash of styles.

Mike Hopkins runs an offense-first, high-paced system that puts up points. The Dawgs are second in the Pac-12 in scoring offense and No. 35 nationally, averaging 80.8 points per game.

KenPom puts UW’s pace as the 27th-quickest in the country with the third-most efficient offense in the Conference.

Mick Cronin’s system is the opposite. The Bruins run one of the slowest tempos in the nation and focus almost exclusively on defense.

UCLA is easily the worst field goal-shooting team in the Pac-12 and enters the game No. 318 nationally out of 351 teams. That means 90.8 percent of the teams in the country shoot the ball better than Cronin’s roster.

Sahvir Wheeler scored 27 vs UCLA in Jan. | Mark J. Terrill/AP

The result? UCLA fails to win games unless its defense plays elite.

To complete the season sweep, the Bruins have to lockdown Keion Brooks Jr. and Sahvir Wheeler. The duo are the heart and soul of Hopkins’ roster and can score from any spot on the court.

The X-Factors are Koren Johnson and Moses Wood. Johnson has been playing at an all-conference level off the bench the last few games and Wood can single-handedly win games from three.

But even if UCLA stops all four of those players, it still won’t win if its backcourt has another poor shooting night like it did against USC.

usc logoUSC at No. 19 Washington State

Thursday, February 29
7:30 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

The Pac-12’s Game of the Day is on the Palouse.

Kyle Smith’s team underestimated Arizona State and left Tempe with an embarrassing loss. As a result, the regular season championship is up for grabs.

Still, Wazzu has a more favorable path than Arizona. The Cats still have to face Oregon in Tucson and the L.A. schools on the road.

But the defeat at Desert Financial Arena was likely the last time WSU overlooks an opponent this season.

The Trojans are a very talented group and enter the game with confidence. Boogie Ellis has his shooting touch back and could have a strong night.

Isaac Jones had 26 pts and 11 rebs vs USC in Jan. | Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

Andy Enfield’s team turns the ball over too often, however, and is surprisingly below-average at rebounding. Despite having a handful of bigs to work with, USC struggles on the glass.

That’s a problem facing a Washington State team that has the best field goal percentage defense in the Pac-12. Opponents can’t score easily against the Cougs.

A team that doesn’t rebound the ball well is arguably doomed from the start.

Forcing turnovers can help negate that issue, but Smith’s team is one of the top programs in college basketball at taking care of the ball.

That narrows the path for a USC win. Unless the Trojans are hitting their threes and are competitive on the boards, it’s the Cougars’ game to lose.

Dane Miller’s Game Picks

2023-24 Week 10 Pac-12 Games


Stanford at Utah
Feb 29, 5:30 PM PT
UCLA at Washington
Feb 29, 7:30 PM PT
USC at Washington State
Feb 28, 7:30 PM PT
Washington State
 Overall Record 159-72-0 (69%)

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