Posted on January 26, 2023
Arizona and Arizona State face critical road tests in the State of Washington while UCLA battles USC at the Galen Center.
Combined with Utah taking on Oregon State at Gill Coliseum, the top teams in the Pac-12 all have tough challenges.
I preview the five games here and my picks, along with those of Stephen Vilardo, appear at the bottom.
Colorado at Oregon
Thursday, January 25
6:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
Inconsistent from game to game, Colorado must find a way to slow down N’Faly Dante. The Oregon big averages 13.2 points per game on 62.0 percent shooting.
If the senior center isn’t contained, Tad Boyle’s team could be in for a long game.
Without a presence in the paint other than Lawson Lovering, the burden of hampering Dante will fall entirely on the sophomore big.
Lovering has grown by leaps and bounds this season, yet figures to struggle to defend Oregon’s third-leading scorer.
Outside of defending Dante, one of the keys to beating the Ducks is perimeter defense. Dana Altman’s team is one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country.
But, if UO gets hot from three the Ducks are a different animal.
In that sense, hampering Jermaine Couisnard is vital. The South Carolina transfer is 3-for-12 from deep over the last two games, yet is knocking down 42.9 percent of his shots from three on the season.
If the Buffs keep Couisnard from getting open looks and contest the lion’s share of his shots, Boyle’s group will be in a stronger spot to pull off the road upset.
On the other end of the court, CU lives and dies by the play of KJ Simpson and Tristan da Silva. If either has inefficient nights, the Buffaloes probably won’t leave with a victory.
With such a clear reliance on the duo, look for Altman to throw everything he has at defending them.
No. 8 UCLA at USC
Thursday, January 25
6:00 pm PT, ESPN2
UCLA’s offense has been out of sorts recently and part of the reason could be due to Amari Bailey’s absence. The freshman guard hasn’t played since before Christmas, yet averages 9.5 points per game on 47.7 percent shooting.
With Bailey in the lineup, the Bruins have scored 80 points or more eight times. But without the freshman, Cronin’s team has yet to breach the 80-point mark.
Reports out of Westwood indicate Bailey will be back in the lineup against the Trojans, potentially changing the dynamic of UCLA’s offense.
Still, the Bruins must force Boogie Ellis and Drew Peterson into inefficient nights from the field. The duo is the heart and soul of USC’s team, each with the skill to beat UCLA on their own.
Apart from hampering the Trojans’ two-leading scorers, Adem Bona must frustrate Joshua Morgan and Vincent Iwuchukwu. Staying out of foul trouble will be key along with controlling the defensive glass.
As long as the Bruins play their patented aggressive defense with an emphasis on tipping balls, spacing, and contesting shots, the struggles on offense should take care of themselves.
It might be a low-scoring game, yet Cronin has the personnel to adequately defend Ellis and Peterson.
The deciding factor, then, could come down to the battle between the two frontcourts. Whichever team wins the points in the paint margin could walk away with the win.
Utah at Oregon State
Thursday, January 25
8:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
The Beavers are fresh off securing their first true road win in almost two years and are a much more dangerous team at Gill Coliseum.
Jordan Pope continues to wrack up Freshman Player of the Week honors while sophomore Glenn Taylor Jr. is one of the most consistent players in the league.
Bolstered by Dexter Akanno, the Oregon State guards combine to average 7.3 assists per game and 33.6 points per night.
And with a multi-faceted frontcourt that can hit shots from the perimeter, the Beavers are a legitimate challenge on their home court.
Utah, though, has one of the top defenses in the country along with one of the most unique players in the nation in Branden Carlson.
With a defense-first philosophy, Craig Smith’s roster executes switches as well as any team out there.
The result is a group that rarely gives up open looks or has defensive breakdowns. Shots are often contested and opponents lose confidence as the game goes on.
On the other end of the floor, Carlson is almost unguardable. The 7-foot center plays with guard-like tendencies and is 7-for-11 from three over the last three games.
Able to score from the perimeter, around the rim, and in the midrange, Carlson is a matchup nightmare for most teams in the country.
The Beavers don’t have an answer for him and could struggle to keep the Utah big under 25 points.
Still, the game might be closer than expected.
The deciding factors could be OSU’s three-point shooting and UU’s rebounding. The Utes are among the top teams in the nation in rebounds per game while the Beavs are among the country’s worse.
If the analytics hold true, Oregon State must get hot from three to pull off the upset.
Arizona State at Washington
Thursday, January 25
8:00 pm PT, ESPNU
Washington’s defense is not easy to navigate, but it waxes and wanes based on the effort level of its players. That effort level is directly correlated to the play of its offense and the score of the game.
When the Dawgs are putting up points and humming on the other end of the floor, Mike Hopkins’ players have much more active hands when on defense and their rotations are crisper.
But if UW isn’t scoring, the players’ confidence evaporates resulting in decreased intensity on defense.
In that sense, a strong start by both teams is vital.
As always with Hopkins’ zone, rebounding will have an outsized influence on the outcome. The scheme gives up far too many offensive rebounds and second-chance points.
Yet, if the Huskies can win the rebounding margin they will be in a strong position to defend home court.
Secondarily, ASU’s shooting from three could be a deciding factor. The Washington zone gives up open looks from the perimeter with regularity while simultaneously goading opponents to settle for deep threes.
If the Sun Devils aren’t hitting their looks from beyond the arc, it will be far more difficult to secure the win.
Ball movement, then, is key for Arizona State. Hurley’s group shares the ball well and is more than willing to make the extra pass for a better shot.
Quick passes along the perimeter and into the paint will help get the UW players out of position and exploit the soft spots in the zone.
Still, ASU will need to hit their midrange opportunities or it could be a long night in the Emerald City.
No. 6 Arizona at Washington State
Thursday, January 25
8:00 pm PT, FS1
The Arizona offense was broken in Tucson the last time the teams matched up, managing to score just 61 points at McKale Center. But with a change in the starting lineup, the Cats are arguably back to form.
Cedric Henderson Jr. now starts with Pelle Larsson coming off the bench. The change helps the flow of the system, giving Henderson more confidence and allowing Larsson to play looser.
Combined with Oumar Ballo’s recovery from the multiple hospitalizations that he was dealing with in the first game, it’s fair to say this is not the same Arizona team Wazzu faced earlier this month.
But the Cougs remain dangerous due to the combination of their three-point shooting and ball security.
Kyle Smith’s group is 183rd in turnovers per game and borderline elite at 71st in three-point shooting percentage.
That’s a recipe for limiting opponent possessions while pulling away with shots from deep. It worked in Tucson and Smith will need another strong shooting night from his players.
The problem, though, is the health of Mouhamed Gueye. The sophomore big dominated Arizona in Round One but is dealing with a hamstring issue that could affect his play.
If Gueye isn’t at full strength, Adrame Diongue could be called in to defend Ballo and Azuolas Tubelis.
Smith effectively played both bigs to counteract UA’s frontcourt strength in the first matchup, and will likely need both to once again contain Lloyd’s top two scorers.
Even if they do, Courtney Ramey has regained his swagger and is 12-for-23 from deep over the last three games.
Add Kerr Kriisa’s 25 assists over the last four games to UA’s 10-game winning streak in Pullman, and a double-digit Arizona win could be in cards.
Our Senior Writers’ Game Picks
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