Posted on March 9, 2023
Day Two at the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament features the Quarterfinal matchups between the eight remaining teams.[Read how each of them got here in Stephen Vilardo’s Round 1 Game Notes.]
The action begins with UCLA against Colorado and ends with USC versus Arizona State.
I preview all four games here and my picks, along with those of Stephen Vilardo, appear at the bottom.
9-seed Colorado vs. 1-seed UCLA
Thursday, March 9
Noon PT, Pac-12 Network
One of the most integral parts of the Bruins’ roster, Clark’s absence can’t be understated.
Still, Mick Cronin has managed to develop quality depth with Dylan Andrews and Will McClendon coming off the bench. The two seldom-used players must step up with Clark out for the remainder of the year.
The team’s ceiling, however, arguably now rests on the shoulders of David Singleton.
The senior was already the X-Factor for UCLA as a sharp-shooting sixth man, and his return to the starting lineup will be instrumental to the Bruins’ success in March.
Matched up with Colorado, the key to advancing to the Semifinals is forcing turnovers. The Buffs are sloppy with the ball, entering the game 262nd in TO’s committed per game.
Tad Boyle’s team doesn’t have much of an interior presence, yet his group rebounds and blocks shots at a high rate. Coming into the Quarterfinal 19th in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, Colorado’s strength is its defense.
Adem Bona’s battle in the paint with Lawson Lovering is one to watch. UCLA doesn’t play two bigs together very often, arguably playing into the hands of Colorado’s personnel.
The Buffs don’t have anyone to stop Jaime Jaquez Jr., though, and the Pac-12 Player of the Year figures to eat.
As long as UCLA’s defenders stay attached to their opponent and disrupt passing lanes like they have all year, Cronin’s group should score enough points to pull away in the second half.
5-seed Washington State vs. 4-seed Oregon
Thursday, March 9
2:30 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
Playing in the opening round arguably gives the Cougars an advantage. After breaking the ice on Wednesday, Kyle Smith’s team might come out hot on offense while playing with high defensive intensity.
The Ducks, on the other hand, are at risk of coming out of the gates cold and falling into a hole early.
Still, the matchup to watch is the battle between WSU’s Mouhamed Gueye and Oregon’s N’Faly Dante. The two bigs are among the top centers in the league and figure to trade buckets all game.
Gueye has a finesse advantage and can score from the midrange, but Dante is stronger in the paint and a better defender.
Outside of the primary bigs, the play of the wings could be a determining factor.
The Cougars have threats to score from the perimeter in Andrej Jakimovski, Jabe Mullins, and DJ Rodman while Oregon has similar talent in guard-forward hybrids Jermaine Couisnard, Quincy Guerrier, and Rivaldo Soares.
Wazzu is the superior three-point shooting team, though, and should win the battle between the wings.
That leaves the matchup between TJ Bamba and Will Richardson as a wildcard. Bamba has the potential to go off any game and Richardson can be ice-cold.
Schematically, the key to beating WSU is defending the perimeter and forcing turnovers. Kyle Smith’s team is elite at hitting shots from deep and taking care of the ball, creating a respectfully efficient offense.
But, if Oregon forces the Cougars to commit turnovers while contesting shots from three, the WSU offense tends to stall out.
At the same time, Oregon must win the rebounding margin and limit its own turnovers. Mistakes have been a problem for the Ducks and any turnovers above their average of 12.4 per game could be costly.
10-seed Stanford v. 2-seed Arizona
Thursday, March 9
6:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
The Cardinal lit up Tommy Lloyd’s defense in Palo Alto earlier this year, scoring 88 points while shooting 61.1 percent from the field.
The Tree’s height across the board flustered UA’s offense, too, although a large percentage of the struggles were attributable to Azuolas Tubelis’s foul trouble.
The Wildcat big hardly played in the matchup and only attempted two shots with zero rebounds.
That’s unlikely to be repeated in Las Vegas.
Combined with the perceived slights against Kerr Kriisa and Courtney Ramey in the All-Conference team selections, the Cats should come out highly motivated.
The key for Arizona is limiting turnovers.
Mistakes have been a consistent problem throughout UA’s season and could tip the scales in Stanford’s favor. Kriisa, in particular, must value the ball and execute without coughing it up.
The junior led the Pac-12 in assists by averaging 5.4 per game yet turns it over 2.7 times per night. If the Estonian keeps his mistakes below his average, Arizona will be in a stronger position.
On defense, the Cats must contain Spencer Jones.
The Cardinal forward had an off night from the field in the opening round but has the capability to single-handedly beat Lloyd’s team with his three-point shooting.
Brandon Angel and Harrison Ingram are the other primary threats to game plan around. Angel is a mismatch for Tubelis when Stanford is on offense and a problem for UA’s leading scorer on defense.
At 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, Angel is the type of player that Tubelis has historically struggled against. If the Cardinal junior contains Arizona’s leading scorer, Jerod Haase’s group could secure the upset.
Similarly, Ingram is a matchup problem with no easy answer. Cedric Henderson Jr. and Pelle Larsson figure to rotate against him, but Ingram has a size and physicality advantage over both.
The X-factor, though, is Oumar Ballo. The Arizona center’s efficiency against Maxime Raynaud could tip the scales either way. If Ballo is missing his shots around the rim, Arizona will be in trouble.
There aren’t many teams in the nation with the personnel to adequately match up with and frustrate Arizona, but Stanford is one of them. In that sense, this game is officially on Upset Alert.
6-seed Arizona State v. 3-seed USC
Thursday, March 9
8:30 pm PT, ESPN
The Trojans are a matchup problem for the Sun Devils. Bobby Hurley’s system is guard-oriented and does most of its damage with its starters.
USC has a similar guard-based offense but is taller with stronger scorers. Boogie Ellis might be the top player in the Pac-12 and Drew Peterson is among the league’s best.
Add in a superior group of role players with Kobe Johnson, Reese Dixon-Watters, and Tre White, and Andy Enfield has the roster composition to outmatch ASU.
Neither team particularly emphasizes getting the ball into the hands of their bigs, creating a matchup of very similar systems.
USC is among the elite in blocking shots and is a respectable passing team. Enfield’s group limits its turnovers fairly well, too, making the Trojans well-rounded and tough to beat.
Joshua Morgan matches up reasonably well with Warren Washington down low, turning the game into a direct battle between the guards.
Like every Arizona State game, the shooting efficiency of Desmond Cambridge Jr. and DJ Horne could determine the game. Frankie Collins is a skilled distributor, as well, and an off night from him might be tough to overcome against USC.
At the same time, the game plan to beating Enfield’s team is relatively straightforward. If the Sun Devil defense is able to make Boogie Ellis and Drew Peterson inefficient from the field, USC doesn’t have a consistent third or fourth threat.
From the big-picture standpoint, Arizona State is on the wrong side of the Bubble and has more on the line.
But, the Trojans can’t feel comfortable if the Selection Show were held today. With high stakes on the table for both programs, this matchup may be the most intense of the day.
Our Senior Writers’ Game Picks
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