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Miller: Assessing SuperWest Hoops on the Edge of March

There may not be a Sweet 16-caliber men's basketball team in small group of quality teams

Posted on February 24, 2024

  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

Note: This column is based on a podcast I recorded recently (embedded below).

We’re right on the edge of March, at that point in the college basketball season when history is made and players become who they’re meant to be in their school’s lore.

It’s all about what they accomplish in the NCAA Tournament.

In my mind, there is not a single team in college basketball right now that has distinguished itself as the clear frontrunner to win the 2024 National Championship.

There may be only two that might be able to get it done—Houston and UConn. And let’s get this straight right now: It’s not Purdue.

I’m going to focus on the Pac-12 because it’s the conference I’ve been covering for the past five years and the one I’ve been following since I was a kid.

Arizona football Pac-12If it isn’t already obvious, I’ll start by saying that Washington State is better than Arizona. They’ve proven that, having beaten the Wildcats twice—once in Pullman and once on Arizona’s home court—both times by three points.

Make no mistake, the Cougars are the best team in the Pac-12.

They shut down Arizona’s offense in both games. They’re tall, they’re athletic, they can shoot, and they can score from anywhere on the court. They don’t have a lot of guys down low, slamming and dunking, but they get it done.

While they’re not the highest-powered offense, they do play elite defense. Their field goal percentage defense, or how well opponents shoot against them, is the best in the Conference.

In short, nobody scores a lot of points on Wazzu without having an amazing night, making shots around the rim, and hitting their free throws. Most teams aren’t going to have all three components clicking in a single game.

And you need all three phases of your offense working—three-pointers, free throws, layups, and dunks—to beat Washington State. The Cougar defense is that good.

It reminds me of UCLA’s defense a few years back, except Washington State has taller players and runs a faster pace on offense. They may not be blue-chip recruits, but Kyle Smith has some excellent players. Do not doubt that.

Zachary BonDurant/USA TODAY Sports

If you’re thinking there’s no way the Cougs can make a deep run in the NCAA tournament, think again. They’re at least getting to the Second Round. So let’s just give them that right now.

But how many people around the country even believed Washington State was a Sweet 16 caliber team before last night’s win at Arizona in Tucson? Some are thinking it’s possible now.

The West is wide open. Gonzaga’s down this year, BYU has the potential to make a run, and the Mountain West is loaded with quality, tournament-caliber teams.

Where would Arizona and Washington State land in the Mountain West this season?

New Mexico is a good (but not great) team that scores well on offense. But the Lobos have a questionable defense. All it takes, I think, is to get Jaelen House riled up, committing turnovers and taking bad shots.

You get that happening, and you beat New Mexico.

I’m not a Colorado State expert, so I don’t know a ton about the Rams. But having seen them play a few times, I think they’re a decent team. Depending on their seed, they might win a First-Round game.

They’re not winning a Second-Round game, though, and they are not making the Sweet 16.

San Diego State is a bit of an enigma. They have an awesome home crowd environment—spectacular, in fact, maybe one of the best on the West Coast, if not the country, there in Viejas Arena.

But I don’t think the Aztecs are making the Sweet 16, either. Neither is Utah State, Boise State, or Nevada. I do think the Broncos will win their opening-round game if they get in. I like the way they’re built.

BSU might be an eight seed, might be a nine or 10.  If they get an 11 or 12 seed, whoever’s playing them better watch out because a 12 or 11-seed Boise State is winning a First-Round game. I’m calling it right now.

The 10-7 matchup is always a little bit harder. Honestly, if you just look at the past, upsets tend to happen in 12-six matchups. Likewise, with the 11 and the six seeds.

There are bound to be some Cinderella’s here and there as well. The 15 seeds could be really interesting matchups this year. Remember what happened in the first round last year, with Purdue losing to a 16, and Arizona to a 15.

So where do Arizona and Washington State stack up there?

UA’s Caleb Love was a bright spot vs WSU | Zachary BonDurant/USA TODAY Sports

You have to think they’re the top teams in the West this year. But if Washington State is a borderline Sweet 16-caliber team right now, what does that make Arizona?

I think at best you’re looking at a Round of 32 team—maybe even one with a First-Round loss, depending on the seeds and matchups, at least as of this penultimate week of February.

Nonetheless, all it takes is one game to get your swagger back, to regain your confidence and your flow, to get back to where you’re not out there thinking and worrying, just playing basketball and scoring points.

As of right now, Arizona is not a Sweet 16 team.

Dane Miller on Hoops Podcast – Episode 1

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