Miller: Tuesday Pac-12 Elite Eight Previews

Two No. 1-Seeds stand in the way of the Pac-12’s second Final Four appearance since 2011

Posted on March 30, 2021

Dane Miller
  By Dane Miller, SportsPac12

A day of destiny.

The 1-Seeds in the West and East brackets stand in the way of the Pac-12’s second Final Four appearance since the Conference expanded in 2011.

A Trojan victory over Gonzaga would send USC to its first National Semifinal since 1954, while a Bruin win against Michigan would bring UCLA a taste of the Promised Land that it hasn’t enjoyed since 2008.

Both opponents present multifaceted challenges, yet Andy Enfield and Mick Cronin have the rosters to get the job done.

I preview both of the matchups here, and my picks, along with Nick Bartlett’s, Stephen Vilardo’s, and Anthony Gharib’s appear at the bottom.


No. 6 USC vs. No. 1 Gonzaga

Elite 8
Tuesday, March 30th
4:15 pm PT, TBS

Few

Mark Few and the Bulldogs arguably have one of the greatest offenses in college basketball history.

Gonzaga leads the nation in field goal percentage, hitting at an astounding rate of 55.1% over 29 games. Corey Kispert leads the way with 19 points per game, but Drew Timme puts up 18.9 each night, and Jalen Suggs adds 13.9.

The Zags score a jaw-dropping 91.8 points per contest, again the best mark in the country, and post 18.6 assists per game, the second-highest average in Division I basketball.

But the Trojans have a commanding advantage in blocked shots, and USC is a slightly better rebounding team by the numbers.

Both squads are roughly equal in three-point percentage and turnovers committed per game.

Enfield

Yet, the discrepancy in free throw shooting is what stands out the most on paper. Andy Enfield’s team is among the nation’s worst at the line, while Few’s players are in the top quarter.

If this game comes down to the wire, USC’s lack of proficiency from the charity stripe might cost it the win.

Still, the Trojans have a chance. Their size advantage is a mismatch for any team they play, and their mobility has the potential to make this game closer than many expect.

usc logoThe USC zone may make life difficult for Gonzaga, contesting every look at the basket and resulting in blocked shots from the tip. Limiting second-chance points might be one of Enfield’s emphasis, with specific instructions to turn and crash the boards after every attempt, regardless of where his players happen to be on the court.

The Pac-12 Coach of the Year could challenge his guards to step up their defensive rebounding efforts, perhaps going as far as to say they can’t win without their rebounding production.

Fortunately, the identity of the Trojans all season has been their defense.

On the biggest stage of the year, it’s time to show the rest of the country just how good it is.


No. 11 UCLA v. No. 1 Michigan

Elite 8
Tuesday, March 30th
6:57 pm PT, TBS

The Wolverines are fresh off an impressive 18-point victory over Florida State in the Sweet 16, and secured a respectable eight-point win over LSU in the Round of 32.

It’s no secret that Michigan presents the biggest challenge UCLA has faced so far in this Tournament.

The Wolverines have advantages across the board, edging the Bruins in points per game, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, three-point percentage, rebounds, assists, assist-to-turnover ratio, and blocked shots per game.

Cronin

Mick Cronin and his staff must be asking themselves, “What can we do?” The answer may be found on defense, particularly beyond the perimeter.

When a team as talented as Michigan sits on the opposing bench, the underdog coaching staff usually tries to take away one or two things their opponent does well.

The Wolverines shooting from three is among the nation’s elite, and finding a way to stifle those shots could be the key to making the Final Four. Cronin may implore his players to fight through screens, run around the outside on pick and rolls, and instruct his bigs leave their man to contest any open looks from beyond the arc.

The strategy may lead to some easy buckets around the basket and occasional offensive rebounds, but it’s the price you pay to prevent Michigan from putting the game to bed from the perimeter.

Howard

But even a strong night on defense might not be enough if the UCLA offense stumbles. The Bruins managed to take care of Alabama despite Johnny Juzang fouling out in the final minutes, but it’s arguably going to take an even better night to beat Juwan Howard’s team.

Tyger Campbell finally broke out of his shooting slump in the Sweet 16, and David Singleton was arguably the difference in that game. And with Michigan primarily focused on stopping Juzang, Jules Bernard, and Jaime Jaquez Jr., the opportunity for Campbell and Singleton to will UCLA to the National Semifinals is there for the taking.

It’s going to take a complete game from start to finish, but Cronin and his players are capable of taking down the Wolverines.

 




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