Posted on November 30, 2022
With six matchups over two days, some of the league’s top teams begin their campaigns on the road. Arizona State travels to Colorado, Arizona heads to Utah, and UCLA makes the journey to Stanford.
USC tipped things off with a 66-51 victory over Cal on Wednesday. I preview the remaining five here and my picks for each game appear at the bottom.
Arizona State at Colorado
Thursday, December 1
5:30 pm PT, FS1
The off-court drama surrounding Marcus Bagley’s tweets and resulting suspension have taken attention away from the matchup.
Yet, the Sun Devils probably won’t be fazed.
The Buffs have been inconsistent and unpredictable this season. Fresh off a three-point win over Yale, it’s unclear which version of CU will show up in this game. One factor is certain, though: KJ Simpson is the heart and soul of the roster.
The sophomore is putting up 17.1 points per game and must be contained by Bobby Hurley’s defense.
The two teams have very similar analytics and are as evenly matched as it comes. Both score about the same amount of points per game, shoot the ball at similar percentages, rebound well, share the ball equally, and cough up turnovers at the same rate.
In such close matchups, the home team generally finds a way to win.
But there is one outlier: Blocked Shots.
The Sun Devils block 6.4 per game and are No. 5 in the nation compared to Colorado’s 3.9 which is 118th nationally. If Hurley’s team locks down the paint by blocking shots and cleans up the defensive glass, the game could come down to the Buffs’ outside shooting.
No. 4 Arizona at Utah
Thursday, December 1
5:30 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
The Utes are one of the nation’s top rebounding and shot-blocking teams, but Craig Smith’s roster hasn’t faced an opponent anywhere near the caliber of Arizona.
Similar to most teams in the country, Utah does not have the size to match up with the Cats. Branden Carlson doesn’t have the girth to slow down Oumar Ballo and there’s no clear-cut player to match up with Azuolas Tubelis.
Keba Keita somewhat fits the mold, but he probably isn’t ready to guard a player as skilled as Tubelis.
Tommy Lloyd’s game plan promises to pound the ball inside and take advantage of Arizona’s size. Kerr Kriisa is averaging 7.5 assists per game and all five UA starters average in double-figures.
Playing with quick offensive pace and high defensive intensity, the mixture of Lloyd’s personnel and system make Arizona one of the top teams in the nation.
The lone weakness is turnovers.
Utah will likely need to force 20 or more while staying hot from three all game to secure the upset. But even if they do, the Wildcats have the offensive firepower to overcome.
Washington at Oregon State
Thursday, December 1
7:00 pm PT, ESPNU
With the length to frustrate opposing guards, Mike Hopkins’ group is improving game by game. The victory over St. Mary’s in the Wooden Legacy Championship Game might end up as a turning point in UW’s season.
The buy-in from the players has become noticeable and there is a palpable belief that shines through in the way they play. Look for the Husky players to come out with high defensive intensity that leads to transition scores.
Yet, the fundamental flaw of Hopkins’ zone is that it gives up open looks from three and too many offensive rebounds. To beat it, the Beavers will need to knock down their outside shots with efficiency and crash the boards.
Getting the ball into the top of the key is similarly effective in breaking down the zone. Knocking down mid-range shots will be pivotal and Oregon State must execute its passes amidst the Huskies’ length.
However, Wayne Tinkle’s group is one of the worst rebounding and three-point shooting teams in the nation, which spells disaster against the Washington zone.
No. 21 UCLA at Stanford
Thursday, December 1
7:30 pm PT, ESPN2
The Cardinal have significantly underperformed this season, falling far short of their potential considering the talent on the roster.
Outmatched almost across the board, at least on paper, Jerod Haase’s team must win the rebounding battle. Securing offensive boards could prove vital and help make up for the turnover discrepancy that will inevitably come.
Mick Cronin has built a culture that doesn’t tolerate turnovers and his teams are always among the nation’s best at taking care of the ball. Haase, on the other hand, has not been able to coach his players to protect the ball.
The Bruins average just 10.1 TO’s per game, which is 17th in the nation, while Stanford commits 14.3 per night which is 250th in Division 1.
To secure the upset, the Tree might have won both the turnover battle and points-off-turnover margin.
Even if they do, Stanford has yet to show it is capable of beating a team the caliber of UCLA and Cronin has the offensive weapons to win a shootout.
Look for Bruin freshmen Amari Bailey and Adem Bona to have strong nights as they continue to improve in their first seasons.
Washington State at Oregon
Thursday, December 1
7:30 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
The Ducks are dealing with injuries across the board and are currently a shell of their full roster. But Will Richardson has stepped up in the circumstances and plays almost the entire game.
On the other bench, the Cougars have solidified their rotation after five games and do most of their damage with the starting five. Four Cougs average in double figures and the rotation is the shallowest it’s been in Kyle Smith’s tenure in Pullman.
That’s not a bad thing, either.
In previous years, the consistent sharing of playing time arguably prevented some guys from getting into a rhythm. With a shorter bench this year, the primary contributors remain in the game longer and develop stronger chemistry.
No longer playing “Hero Ball,” Wazzu shares the ball at an average rate while limiting turnovers. Outside shooting remains an emphasis, however, and the game could be decided by WSU’s three-point efficiency.
Defensively, finding ways to get Richardson into foul trouble could be a pivotal part of Smith’s game plan. If the Oregon senior has to come out of the game, the Duck offense could stall and provide Washington State the separation it needs.
USC 66, California 51
Wednesday, November 30
7:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
California remains winless on the year, yet all but one of its defeats have been by 10 points or less. In other words, Mark Fox’s team isn’t getting blown out in their losses.
The Bears are a stronger free-throw shooting team and have comparable shot-blocking numbers, but that’s where the similarities stop.
USC rebounds the ball substantially better, scores significantly more points per game, and has drastically stronger assist numbers. Those advantages are primarily attributable to the skilled personnel at Enfield’s disposal.
With multiple weapons to beat Cal in one-on-one situations and score baskets in different ways, the Bears are in a tough spot.
Limiting turnovers and forcing the Trojans into mistakes is one of the few paths to an upset. But if the points off turnovers number is relatively equal, Enfield’s team should leave with a win.
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