Posted on December 11, 2019
Upshot from Last Week: Three Strikeouts vs. Top 25 Foes
Three strikes, you’re out. The Pac-12 went 0-3 in its matchups featuring ranked opponents, a substantial missed opportunity that may have consequences come March. In fairness, the Conference was an underdog in each game, and two of them were true road tests, but striking out against three Top 25 programs is not an ideal result.
The young Washington Huskies had the final chance to redeem the Pac-12 in a battle with No. 6 Gonzaga, but fell short in a seven-point loss. The Dawgs kept it close throughout the game, and were within a possession with one minute remaining. Unfortunately, Mike Hopkins’ squad couldn’t pull off the upset, even with Isaiah Stewart’s 21-point performance. UW needs greater production from its bench in order to take the proverbial “next step.”
Perhaps most impressive, in the basketball version of the Holy War the Utes beat BYU in overtime. Utah is the second-youngest team in all of college basketball, and the confidence this victory provides shouldn’t be understated. To be fair, Larry Krystkowiack’s squad benefitted from TJ Haws fouling out, and Yoeli Childs leaving due to injury. Still, the Utes handled adversity well, coming from behind to record a hard-fought win which may revitalize their season.
In a widely under the radar matchup, the Arizona State Sun Devils strode into the Bay Area and came away with a four-point win over San Francisco. Bobby Hurley’s team is brimming with belief in their ability to win away from home. That experience in those types of road environments will go a long way once conference play begins, where road victories come at a premium, and separate the good teams from the great teams.
While their victories may not have turned many heads, Washington State had its best week of their season. The Cougs beat Idaho, and then held off a late surge by New Mexico State to notch back-to-back wins for the first time this year. Kyle Smith has built some momentum after their Cayman Islands trip, an experience that appears to have brought his team closer together.
Conversely, California had its worst week of the season, losing by double-digits to cross-town rivals San Francisco and Santa Clara. It’s not the fact that the Bears dropped these games, it’s the way in which they lost. No Power 6 program should lose by 19 to Santa Clara, and the result shows just how far off things are in Berkeley.
UCLA only had one game all week, and handled their business against Denver. Cody Riley went off, scoring 21 points with 11 rebounds to lead the Bruins to a 19-point win in Westwood. Ideally, the full seven days between matchups provided ample time for their freshmen to study for finals.
Similarly, the Oregon Ducks had a lone game against Hawaii. Dana Altman’s squad won by 25, but the real story was N’Faly Dante’s continued absence. A report early in the week indicated the five-star center was deemed eligible by the NCAA, and many people were expecting him to play in this game. Altman cleared things up, stating that Dante will not play until after the quarter officially ends on December 14th.
Oregon State and Stanford had the week off, presumably to allow their student-athletes to focus on school.
General Outlook: Conference Still has a Ways to Go
While the Conference of Champions’ reputation is certainly improved from last season, this week proved it still has a way to go. The Arizona, Colorado, and Washington losses will have a ripple effect that trickles down through the Conference.
That effect will most heavily be felt by the teams that become reliant on conference victories to make the NCAA Tournament. Those teams may find themselves on the outside of the bubble looking in come Selection Sunday. In order to avoid the dreaded “bubble team” label, the mid-level teams need to continue handling their business while notching an upset here or there.
Fortunately, opportunities to shed the label abound this week. Numerous schools have winnable games against quality opponents, and some have matchups that could be described as “must-win.” For the Conference’s Tournament hopes, these next few weeks are as pivotal as they come.
Noteworthy Upcoming Games (December 11-18)
Fresno State at California
Wednesday, December 11
7:00 p.m., Pac-12 Network
The Bears have another shot at an in-state opponent, and must continue to defend Haas Pavilion. Cal is undefeated at home, but to extend that streak Mark Fox will need a sizable improvement from the last two games. Fresno State presents a difficult challenge, but not an impossible one. The Bulldogs record is not indicative of their quality, and they will give the Bears a run for their money.
#24 Colorado at Colorado State
Friday, December 13
5:00 p.m., CBS Sports Network
The Buffaloes face rival Colorado State in Fort Collins. Tad Boyle’s team should handle the hostile environment with poise, and take care of business. Occasionally, rivalry games bring out quality performances from unexpected players. However, if Colorado defends the three while exploiting their advantage in the paint, they should head home with a victory.
#10 Oregon at #5 Michigan
Saturday, December 14
9:00 a.m., CBS
In arguably the biggest showdown of the week, the Ducks head to Ann Harbor for a date with Michigan on national TV. A win would boost an already strong Tournament resume, and dramatically reinforce the image that the Pac-12 Championship is Oregon’s to lose. The eyes of the nation will be focused on this early-morning battle.
UCLA at Notre Dame
Saturday, December 14
12:00 p.m., ABC
The Bruins have an opportunity on national TV to shake off their disastrous November, and turn their season around. Most of the nation has written off their Big Dance chances, but a win would resuscitate some of those rumblings. For most of the country, this will be the first time they have seen UCLA. With all their tradition and prestige, to say a lot is riding on this outcome against Notre Dame is an understatement.
Georgia at Arizona State
Saturday, December 14
5:00 p.m., Pac-12 Network
While this game may not technically qualify as a “must-win,” it certainly has the feel of a First Four Play-In matchup. The Sun Devils have a decent Tournament resume, but a victory here would move them solidly in. Putting aside their tournament aspirations, Bobby Hurley’s squad should be motivated to defend the Bank against an SEC team full of swagger.
#6 Gonzaga at #15 Arizona
Saturday, December 14
7:00 p.m., ESPN2
The Wildcats face Gonzaga in their biggest non-conference test of the season. McKale Center will be packed with cautiously optimistic fans eager to will Arizona to victory. A loss wouldn’t be devastating, but it would leave people questioning where Sean Miller’s team really lies in the pecking order.
St. Mary’s at California
Saturday, December 14
7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network
Whoever is in charge of Cal’s scheduling should be commended for their willingness to set up games with quality mid-majors. Most schools are hesitant to schedule more than one, and the Bears have played several. In fact, this will be their fourth game against a WCC opponent, facing nearly half the teams in that conference. This time, they square off with St. Mary’s in a game nobody expects them to win.
UC Riverside at Washington State
Sunday, December 15
1:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network
Washington State can prove they have turned the corner by beating the Highlanders. Normally, this would be a game the Cougs would lose. If they find a way to win, it will be indicative of the culture Kyle Smith is building.
Long Beach State at USC
Sunday, December 15
3:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network
The Trojans can’t afford to drop this game. A loss would ruin their at-large bid dreams, and could send their season into an irrecoverable spiral.
San Francisco at Stanford
Tuesday, December 17
6:00 p.m., Pac-12 Network
Two of the best teams in the Bay Area square off in an old-fashioned shootout. If this game doesn’t initially get you pumped, you may want to consider the following: Stanford is on a path for an at-large bid but it’s not set in stone, and San Francisco is trying to get their Tournament hopes going with a noteworthy win. Neither can afford to lose this game, and it’s a cross-town rivalry. What more could you ask for?
In another battle for supremacy in a major metropolitan, the Huskies look to claim the city as their own in the “Battle for Seattle.” It’s good to see UW’s willingness to play this game, and it has the potential to be closer than expected, though the Dawgs should win easily.
The Beavers play UTSA in a trap game on a neutral court. Wayne Tinkle’s team may be looking ahead to their date with Texas A&M, but first need to take care of business in Houston. Fortunately, the Roadrunners have struggled mightily this year, and OSU should win by a large-margin.
The Sun Devils play in another Tournament-caliber game, bringing their total to four. To truly solidify its at-large expectations, ASU needs this victory. Bobby Hurley will rely on Remy Martin to guide them to another win over a WCC team.
The Utes have a tremendous task to beat Kentucky on a neutral court. Stranger things have happened, and the Wildcats do have a shocking loss to Evansville on their record, but Utah is just too young to provide any realistic expectations of an upset.
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