Miller: Week 3 Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Previews

With conference play already beginning, the window for error is quickly closing

Posted on December 9, 2020

  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

After two weeks of play in an uneven season, the Pac-12 has just a single team in the AP Top 25.

It’s still early, but UCLA hasn’t lived up to its preseason billing, at least until Jalen Hill returned last week. And though Oregon lost its opener to Missouri without Will Richardson, Dana Altman and the Ducks appear to have things going on the right track.

At the same time, USC has played in a few nationally relevant games and garnered respectable results, while Stanford stumbled in the second half of the Maui Invitational.

But with conference play already beginning, the window for error is quickly closing. Most Tournament resumes are built in December, and this year is no exception.

Continuing to hold strong in nonconference play will help the Pac-12 get up to six invitations to this year’s Big Dance, though that number could dwindle quickly with embarrassing losses.

Below are previews for 12 relevant games in the Conference of Champions between December 9th and December 15th.

California at Pepperdine

Wednesday, December 9th
6:00 pm PT, CBS Sports

Mark Fox and the Bears travel to Malibu to take on Lorenzo Romar and the Waves. The WCC opponent forced UCLA into triple overtime, lost to San Diego State by five, and took down UC Irvine by 14. At this point of the year, Romar’s squad is a seasoned as they come and have enough talent to make this a long game for Cal. To pull out the win, Fox needs a strong start from Matt Bradley and a big game from Makale Foreman, who has emerged as a true second threat to score.

San Diego at UCLA

Wednesday, December 9th
6:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

After thoroughly dismantling Seattle University and California, the Bruins take on the Toreros playing in their season opener. That doesn’t bode well for San Diego, as Mik Cronin’s squad is beginning to fire on all cylinders after the return of starting center Jalen Hill. UCLA point guard Tyger Campbell has 18 assists and just three turnovers over the last two games alone, and the sophomore is averaging an astounding 7.25 assists per game. Facing a San Diego team that is playing in its first game since the WCC conference tournament on March 5, the Bruins should run away with this one.

Seattle at Washington

Wednesday, December 8th
8:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

It’s a long season, but after starting 0-3 this inter-city matchup feels like a tipping point for Washington. A defeat to Seattle University would arguably be a legitimate reason to sound the alarm bells. The Redhawks have already played six games and will be motivated to send a message to UW. And at this point, a Husky loss wouldn’t be all that much of a surprise. Mike Hopkins’ team already has a double-digit loss to UC Riverside on the books and is one of the worst-shooting teams in the country. To secure the win, Washington’s zone defense must hold steady all night and generate transition buckets.

No. 24 San Diego State at No. 23 Arizona State

Thursday, December 10th
7:00 pm PT, FS1

In the Game of the Week in the Pac-12, No. 23 Arizona State battles No. 24 San Diego State in Tempe. This matchup provides another strong opportunity for Remy Martin and Josh Christopher to increase their national reputation and further boost the Sun Devils’ nationwide respect. For Bobby Hurley, it’s just another strong nonconference matchup that won’t phase him or his players on any level. After six years in the desert, these types of games are what have attracted talent like Christopher, and there’s extra motivation playing at home. Though the status of Marcus Bagley is questionable, the shooting of Martin and Christopher should carry the day.

Marquette at UCLA

Friday, December 11
6:30 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

A Big East school like Marquette rarely ventures to the West Coast for a true road game, but the Golden Eagles weren’t afraid to schedule UCLA at Pauley Pavilion. With a win over then No. 4 Wisconsin already under their belt, Marquette has plenty of confidence to leave L.A. with a victory. However, the Bruins appear to have regained their identity after starting big-man Jalen Hill came back from injury. Mik Cronin’s defense returned to its normal form upon the center’s return, and keeping the Golden Eagles below 60 points should be the ticket to a Bruin win.

UTEP at Arizona

Saturday, December 12
4:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Through the first two and a half weeks of the season, Arizona had a plethora of games postponed or cancelled due to the Coronavirus. But the times it did take the floor have allowed Sean Miller to get a feel for his team. This year’s version of UA is a defense-focused unit with a primary scorer in James Akinjo. Down low, Jordan Brown is the second threat to score, but a consistent third option has yet to emerge. Miller has experimented with using Jemarl Baker at the one and Akinjo at the two, a change that has allowed Akinjo to get easier looks while providing Baker open shots from three. And with another matchup that projects as a win, Miller will likely continue to tinker with his lineups.

Utah at BYU
Saturday, December 12
3:00 pm PT, BYUtv 

The Holy War may not have been allowed to take place on the gridiron, but the virus hasn’t prevented Larry Krystkowiak and Mark Pope from battling it out on the hardwood. The Utes have played in just two games heading into their matchup with the Cougs, but return most of their production from last season. On the other hand, BYU will have seven games of experience when it takes the floor, including a previous matchup with Pac-12 foe USC. Purdue transfer Matt Harmes figures to be pitted against Timmy Allen, while Utah’s Rylan Jones and Alfonso Plummer go up against BYU’s Alex Barcello. The team with better guard play could end up with the win, but Allen’s performance could carry the day for the Utes.

Oregon at Washington

Saturday, December 12
5:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

In the Pac-12 opener for the Ducks, Eugene Omoruyi leads reloaded Oregon for a road game in Seattle. The Dawgs have struggled in the early part of the year, while UO has shined. Apart from the opening loss to Missouri, the Ducks look like the contender they were expected to be. And without Will Richardson for a few more weeks, games like this just make Dana Altman’s team stronger. The two squads each bring a unique zone defense to the table, but their offensive styles are juxtaposed. Altman likes to push tempo, create in transition, and shoot the three, while Mike Hopkins plays more of a slow-down, condensed, perimeter based offense that likes to work from the outside in. An opening win on the road would be the first step in an Oregon regular-season championship run.

San Francisco at California

Sunday, December 13th
Noon PT, Pac-12 Network

Facing their second WCC opponent of the week, the Bears take on the Dons at Haas Pavilion. San Francisco already has a victory over then-No. 4 Virginia along with a respectable 25-point win over Nevada, making this a tough challenge for Mark Fox. Limiting the Dons’ easy looks from three and forcing turnovers projects to be the keys to a California win, but even that won’t be enough if the Bears are careless with the ball. The cross-town rivalry should be another entertaining game, as both teams are capable of securing the win. As always, Matt Bradley needs to score at least 20 points for Cal to get it done.

No. 23 Arizona State at Grand Canyon

Sunday, December 13th
4:00 pm PT, ESPN3

Credit to Bobby Hurley and the Arizona State administration for scheduling a true road game at GCU. A lot of programs avoid making the trip to face the Antelopes in their own arena, and the home crowd allowed into the building should be hyped for the matchup. Fortunately for Bobby Hurley, his team has plenty of talent to avoid an embarrassing loss. But that won’t stop Bryce Drew from pulling out all the stops to topple neighbor Arizona State, as the schools are separated by just 13 miles. The two schools played in 1980, when GCU was a junior college, but this will be the first official matchup between the two programs in what hopefully turns into a rivalry played every season.

Stanford at USC

Sunday, December 13th
6:30 pm PT, FS1

usc logoThe conference opener for both schools pits two programs vying for a Top 4 seed in the Conference Tournament in Las Vegas. Though it’s still December, the outcome of this game could be felt in March. The Trojans are led by big-man Evan Mobley while the Tree have young-gun Ziaire Williams along with a seasoned crew around him. The battle between the two freshmen will be a treat to watch, and it should garner national attention. With more experience and arguably more talent, the Cardinal could jump out to an early lead if things go right. But both teams have experience playing against talented opponents this season, making this battle a must-see matchup.

Northern Colorado at Colorado

Monday, December 14th
6:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Unless something changes, the Buffs will have a full week off between their game at No. 12 Tennessee and this matchup with Northern Colorado. Regardless, McKinley Wright IV is tasked with leading CU against the Bears, who may be playing in just their second game of the year. With COVID cancellations and postponements seemingly happening every few hours, it’s anyone’s guess if either program squeezes a game in before this showdown at the CU Events Center. But if Northern Colorado is taking the floor for just the second time in 2020-21, it better be prepared for a tough night. CU already has faced two true road tests against Big 12 and SEC opponents, and will view this matchup as an opportunity to stuff their stats.

—More from Dane Miller—