Posted on February 4, 2023
Beginning with a potentially closer-than-expected matchup between Washington State and No. 9 UCLA and ending with a showdown between Stanford and Colorado, the six games across the two days could impact NCAA Tournament projections and seeding.
I preview all six contests here and my picks, along with those of Stephen Vilardo, appear at the bottom.
Washington State at No. 9 UCLA
Saturday, February 4
4:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
The Bruins were out-rebounded in the first game and posted just five assists. That’s unlikely to happen again for Round Two in Los Angeles.
UCLA averages 14.8 assists per night and should move the ball well at home. Tyger Campbell has 19 over the last three games after posting just two on the Palouse.
With such a clear area to improve upon, look for the Bruins to make the extra pass and not settle for the first opportunity. Similarly, expect UCLA to crash the boards with intensity on both sides of the court.
The result should be open looks around the basket, a points-in-the-paint advantage, and plenty of uncontested shots from the perimeter. Whether or not the Bruins knock down those open threes, though, is a different question.
Apart from sharing the ball and attacking the glass, Cronin’s emphasis promises to be focused on limiting turnovers.
Throughout most of the year, UCLA has taken care of the ball at an elite level. Yet, over the past few games, the mistakes have increased.
That’s a problem for an upperclassmen-laden team with a defense-first mentality. Allowing extra possessions against quality opponents can be a deciding factor and must be cleaned up before March.
But the keys to beating Washington State are defending the three and making Mouhamed Gueye inefficient.
As long as the Bruins have high effort levels on “D” leading to deflections and contested shots, Cronin’s group should hold sway at home.
Oregon State at No. 5 Arizona
Saturday, February 4
6:30 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
The Lithuanian junior scored 40 points against the Ducks on 16-for-21 shooting, coming one point shy of tying the Arizona record in the arena.
Matched up against Oregon State’s frontcourt, Tubelis should feast again. Wayne Tinkle’s group is underrated and deserves more credit, yet are relatively undersized at the Power Forward position.
Tubelis historically struggles against more physical players and OSU’s 4’s fall on the finesse side of the spectrum. The Beavers have multiple options to throw at the Pac-12’s leading scorer, though.
Michael Rataj, Tyler Bilodeau, and Dzmitry Ryuny each can somewhat match up with the Lithuanian. Still, none have the skill to adequately defend him.
That could force Tinkle to put Rodrigue Andela on Tubelis and go with a two-big lineup with KC Ibekwe at Center.
While that could hamper the UA star, Andela is prone to picking up fouls and Ibekwe would be forced to defend Oumar Ballo. The result could be a breakout game from Ballo who is left open when Tubelis is fed the ball.
No matter what Tinkle decides to do he has a mismatch problem in the paint.
One of the few ways the Beavs can keep the game close is through outside shooting and points off turnovers. But if Arizona limits the points off of its mistakes and rebounds effectively, the Cats should pull away at home.
Washington at USC
Saturday, February 4
6:30 pm PT, FS1
The Trojans are a different team with Vince Iwuchukwu in the lineup. The freshman makes plays on both ends of the court and could get the first start of his career with Joshua Morgan out due to an ankle injury.
But the loss of Morgan is a substantial development that hurts Andy Enfield’s team. Any prolonged absence from USC’s starting center would be damaging during the most pivotal part of the season.
Matched up against the Husky zone, the ball movement of the USC guards could be a determining factor. The scheme intentionally goads opponents into taking deep threes and difficult mid-range shots.
If opponents don’t move the ball rapidly around the perimeter and into the paint, Washington players are able to rotate into effective guarding positions and block shots.
It’s a difficult defense to attack, but the principles of quick passing with a de-emphasis on dribbling historically break the zone down.
In that sense, the passing efficiency of Boogie Ellis, Drew Petersen, and the rest of the USC backcourt is the key.
Outside of ball movement, crashing the offensive glass is a must. Mike Hopkins’ zone consistently gives up offensive rebounds and second-chance opportunities, which at the end of the day is the system’s fatal flaw.
The Huskies will be without Cole Bajema, on whom the Pac-12 has imposed a one-game suspension for “making significant contact with the groin area” of a UCLA player.
As long as USC ends the game with a healthy rebounding advantage it should get the job done in L.A.
Oregon at Arizona State
Saturday, February 4
7:00 pm PT, ESPN2
The Ducks lost the first game to the Sun Devils last month after Bobby Hurley’s group rained threes from the opening tip. Yet, ASU hasn’t since come anywhere near the 90 points it scored at Matthew Knight Arena.
With just a single win and four losses since beating UO on their home court, the Sun Devils have gone from a shoo-in Tournament team to a group outside of the projected field.
Each needing a win to stay in the conversation, expect an intense hard-fought game.
One of the matchups to watch at The Bank is the battle between N’Faly Dante and Warren Washington.
The two bigs might get lost in what is expected to be a fight between the two backcourts, yet the Dante-Washington winner could tip the scales in either direction.
Still, similar to every other Arizona State game, the contest will be won or lost by the play of its guards.
Desmond Cambridge Jr., DJ Horne, and Frankie Collins might all need to have efficient games to beat the Ducks for a second time this year.
On the other end of the floor, Will Richardson must get more support from his fellow guards.
Quincy Guerrier, Jermaine Couisnard, Rivaldo Soares, and Keeshawn Barthelemy each have the capability to get buckets and must shoot the ball efficiently.
But if Hurley’s defense contains the supporting UO guards and forces Richardson to beat them on his own, the Sun Devils should feel confident in securing the win.
California at Utah
Sunday, February 5
3:00 pm PT, ESPNU
The injury to second-leading scorer Gabe Madsen has changed the trajectory of the Utes’ season. Losing such a pivotal part of Craig Smith’s roster this late into the year was a substantial blow to the program.
The team must learn how to win without him and are 0-2 since he went down in the first half against Oregon.
Now, the offense runs primarily through Lazar Stefanovic. The sophomore has attempted a high-volume 35 shots over the last two games and the new style of play forces the rest of the Utah roster to compensate.
And after two contests, the adjustments are still being made.
But the ship figures to be temporarily righted against California.
The Bears will be without leading-scorer Devin Askew after his season-ending surgery while third-leading scorer DeJuan Clayton has missed two of the last three games.
Cal is rudderless without a leader and primary threat to score.
That’s a problem facing a Utah team with one of the elite defenses in College Basketball. The Utes enter the game 30th in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric and are No. 6 in field goal percentage defense.
Matched up against such a stout group, one of the only ways to stay within striking distance is outside shooting. Mark Fox’s group did it once against Stanford earlier in the year, but could struggle to knock down treys in the altitude of Salt Lake City.
Unless the Bears are connecting on their shots from deep, Utah should win by double-digits.
Stanford at Colorado
Sunday, February 5
4:00 pm PT, FS1
The Tree are finally starting to play up to the expectations that many had of them during the preseason.
On a five-game winning streak with victories over perceived Bubble Teams Oregon and Utah, the Cardinal can arguably prove they deserve to be viewed as a potential at-large option.
Harrison Ingram had an off night in Salt Lake City, yet the sophomore has been pivotal during the winning streak. Combined with the consistency of Maxime Raynaud and Spencer Jones, Stanford is a dangerous team.
Juxtaposed are Tad Boyle and the Buffs. In the midst of a 2-5 stretch, Colorado is trending down.
Part of the struggles is due to Boyle’s over-reliance on KJ Simpson and Tristan da Silva. The duo is the only pair on CU’s roster averaging in double-figures and opponents know it.
As long as either Simpson or da Silva is hampered, Colorado has a much lower chance of winning.
Making matters worse, Simpson is on a cold streak. The sophomore is 7-for-36 from the field over the last three games including 0-for-10 from deep.
If the Buffs’ leading scorer remains stuck in his funk, it’s unlikely that Colorado will beat Stanford.
With such an obvious defensive game plan to focus on, look for Jerod Haase to use his depth and multi-faceted lineups to keep a fresh player on the Colorado duo throughout the game.
And with a favorable matchup in the paint with Raynaud against Lawson Lovering, Stanford should find a way to win.
Our Senior Writers’ Game Picks
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