Miller: Pivotal Games Looming for Pac-12

This Week in Pac-12 Men's Hoops: Last Week Upshot, Outlook & Noteworthy Games

Posted on December 3, 2019

  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

Upshot from Last Week: Feast Week a Mixed Bag

You win some, you lose some. The Pac-12 had a mixed-bag of results during Feast Week. No team outperformed their expectations, and a few fell short.

The lone exception was Stanford. The Cardinal finished second in the Hall of Fame Classic with strong showings against Oklahoma and Butler. Freshman Tyrell Terry made a splash on the national stage, averaging 20.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in the two-game tournament. Jerod Haase’s team outperformed expectations, emerging as a legitimate dark horse to not only make the NCAA Tournament, but contend for the Conference title. 

N’Faly Dante

The flagship of the Conference, the Oregon Ducks, had a respectable performance in the Battle 4 Atlantis, but arguably fell short of expectations. Dana Altman’s team finished fourth, beating No. 16 Seton Hall by two, but losing in overtime to No. 8 Gonzaga, and suffering a four-point defeat to No. 7 North Carolina. While the classification of their trip to the Bahamas may seem harsh, the way the Ducks played up to that point had a lot of people believing they were one of the best teams in the country. Granted, they did not have N’Faly Dante who may be their best player. That being said, a fourth-place finish was disappointing.

The Arizona Wildcats won the Wooden Legacy, but struggled against questionable opponents. While on paper the results may be acceptable, the reality is Sean Miller’s team escaped against Pepperdine, and struggled in their win over Penn. The championship game against Wake Forest was their best performance, but the young Cats were unable to maintain a double-digit lead. The result was an underwhelming tournament that merely met expectations, if at all.

The ESPN Orlando Invitational was similarly unkind to USC. Andy Enfield’s team nearly stumbled against lowly Fairfield, and were then blown-out by a Marquette team that likely makes the NCAA Tournament. The Trojans bounced back with a strong outing against Harvard, finishing third in the tournament. Unfortunately, the margin of defeat against Marquette damaged their at-large bid chances, and may come back to haunt them come Selection Sunday. On the bright side, Onyeka Okongwu is arguably the best freshman in the Conference.

Maui may be a nice place to visit, but for UCLA it was a trip to forget. Mick Cronin’s team left the islands with a sixth-place finish in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational. This was always going to be a transition year for the first-year coach, but the deflation of the program has arguably been worse than expected. The Bruins suffered an opening game 15-point defeat to BYU, beat hosts Chaminade, and lost by 13 to Michigan State. The loyal UCLA fans who made the trip left the islands with more questions than answers.


Colorado celebrates its MGM Main Event title.| CU Athletics

Colorado won the MGM Main Event, beating Clemson in the championship game to remain undefeated on the year. The victory was a quality win at a neutral site, a very important factor for the NET rankings the Selection Committee uses. The result boosts their potential seed come March, and helps the confidence of their players heading into a pivotal December.

Washington State’s international trip to the Cayman Islands was about what you would expect. The Cougars lost to Nebraska, beat Old Dominion, and lost to Colorado State. The losses to the Power 5 programs weren’t blowouts, and they handled their business in the game they were expected to win. Ideally, the trip brought Kyle Smith’s team closer together, building chemistry for the grueling Conference season.

Arizona State escaped with a victory over Princeton. Remy Martin dropped 33 points in the true road test, and Khalid Thomas ensured the victory with a last-second game-winning three. Bobby Hurley’s squad had Thanksgiving with their families, and should come back ready for a decisive December.

California beat UC Davis in a closer-than-expected game. The Bears turned the ball over 15 times, an issue that will be exploited in the Conference season if it is not addressed. 

Oregon State crushed San Jose State to win the Continental Tires Las Vegas Classic. Wayne Tinkle’s team then had a bit of a Thanksgiving hangover, beating Portland State by just five. The team may have been preoccupied with finals, though, as they now have two full weeks to focus on school.

Utah beat UC Davis by four, a game that was much closer than expected. The young Utes have a daunting December schedule, but could surprise teams if they improve defensively and become more consistent on offense. 

Washington had Feast Week off, an unusual scheduling quirk considering their recent upswing. Like it or not, these tournaments are scheduled years in advance, and this is likely the last time the Dawgs aren’t invited to a noteworthy event. 

General Outlook: Revitalized Image Still Intact

The revitalized image of the Pac-12 is still intact, though Feast Week didn’t move the dial either direction. Fortunately, the incredible first two weeks of the season appear to have buoyed the national perception of the Conference into December. 

Now comes the most pivotal part of the season. The elite teams have dates with some of the best schools in the country, providing wonderful opportunities to not only boost their Big Dance seed, but open the door for potential bubble teams to sneak in.

If the middle-tier teams handle their business, and a lower-tier team pulls off an upset or two, the Pac-12 could be looking at a minimum of six teams in the NCAA Tournament.

Noteworthy Upcoming Games (December 3-10)


Arizona State at San Francisco
Tuesday, December 3
8:00 p.m., CBS Sports Network

The Sun Devils travel to the Bay Area for a substantial test against the San Francisco Dons. Bobby Hurley needs a strong performance from his guards, particularly Jaelen House. The Dons will do everything they can to lock down Remy Martin, providing ample room for House to get his buckets.  



BYU at Utah
Wednesday, December 4
5:00 p.m., Pac-12 Network

The Holy War’s iteration on the hardwood pits a reeling Utah team against a surging BYU squad. It’s not easy to come away with a victory in the Huntsman Center, especially if you are an in-state rival. The Utes will need the crowd behind them to squeak out the victory, and must shut down TJ Haws to have a realistic shot. 



Friday, December 6
6:00 p.m., ESPN2

The Trojans head to Fort Worth to take on a quality TCU team. USC yet again faces another tournament-level opponent, bringing their total to at least three on the year. Win or lose, Andy Enfield will continue to learn about his team. Dickies Arena will be packed with passionate fans, preparing the Trojans for future road tilts in conference season, but presenting a daunting task. 


#12 Arizona at #18 Baylor
Saturday, December 7
9:00 a.m, ESPNU

The Wildcats play Baylor in an early-morning battle with national implications. Sean Miller’s team will be mightily tested in their first true road game as the Cats look to avenge their defeat from a year ago. That defeat snapped a multi-year home winning streak against non-conference opponents, providing a little extra motivation to come away with a statement win. 




New Mexico State vs. Washington State
Saturday, December 7
12:00 p.m., Pac-12 Network

The Cougars face the New Mexico State Aggies in Spokane. Kyle Smith’s team has an opportunity to notch the first true signature win of his tenure. C.J. Elleby needs to score 25 points or more, and Wazzu as a team needs to shoot the ball efficiently. The Cougs can get it done, though it is a difficult assignment. 



California at Santa Clara
Saturday, December 7
2:00 p.m., WCCN (YouTube TV)

The Bears battle cross-town rival Santa Clara in a game that has implications for Mark Fox’s ability to recruit local talent. There are numerous quality prospects in the Bay Area, and Fox needs to show that his system is capable of beating a talented Santa Clara team. A victory would go a long way in jump starting the recruiting turnaround in Berkeley


#20 Colorado at #2 Kansas
Saturday, December 7
4:00 p.m., ESPN2

The Buffs square off against Kansas in the dreaded Allen Fieldhouse. Tad Boyle arguably has the biggest opportunity of the week to show the nation what the Conference of Champions is all about. The Jayhawks have lost to a Pac-12 team two years in a row, giving them pause as they prepare for their old Big 12 rival. The entire West Coast, most of the Big 12, and a significant portion of the East Coast will be anxiously watching one of the most anticipated games of the week. 



Hawaii at #13 Oregon
Saturday, December 7
4:00 p.m., Pac-12 Network

The Ducks take on Hawaii in what will be the first game for the highly touted N’Faly Dante. His ability to mesh with his teammates should prove pivotal to Oregon’s post-season goals. The coaching staffs on all the other conference schools will be taking a close look at his film from this matchup.


#9 Gonzaga at #22 Washington
Sunday, December 8
2:00 p.m., Pac-12 Network

The Dawgs have a unique opportunity to snatch a nationally significant victory while simultaneously beating an in-state rival. Washington almost pulled off the upset last season, and Mike Hopkins’ system matches up well with Gonzaga’s offense. This time around, UW has better players who are more athletic. The East Coast media will be foaming at the mouth to discuss whichever team comes away with the win. 


Northern Iowa at #20 Colorado
Tuesday, December 10
6:00 p.m., Pac-12 Network

Colorado plays a trap game against UNI in Boulder. Regardless of what happens in the Kansas game, the Buffs need to be prepared for a battle. The Missouri Valley Conference already has a major upset this year, and Northern Iowa is arguably the best team in that conference. A loss wouldn’t be considered a bad loss, but it certainly would be analyzed by the Selection Committee when determining seeding.    

—More from Dane Miller—