Miller: Week 11 Thursday Men’s Hoops Previews

The four-week January grace period is up, and at-large NCAA Tournament bids are up for grabs

Posted on February 4, 2021

Dane Miller
  By Dane Miller, SportsPac12

The first Thursday in February traditionally signals crunch time in the Conference of Champions.

The grace period the four weeks of January provides for teams still searching for their identity is gone, and the pressure is ratcheted up. At-large bids to the NCAA Tournament are up for grabs, and the Conference has enough national respect to land five teams in the Dance.

Normally, that would create a tense midfield battle among the Pac-12 teams on the bubble. But the way it’s shook out this year has led to just one team in contention for that final spot: the Stanford Cardinal.

Yes, the Arizona Wildcats are still playing for pride, and there’s a small chance Oregon State or Utah could creep into the conversation, but for all intents and purposes, the eyes of the Selection Committee are focused solely on the Tree.

And with another game on the ESPN family of networks, the Cardinal have the chance to show the East Coast why they deserve a shot.

I preview that game below, along with the three others on Thursday, and provide my picks along with Nick Bartlett’s at the bottom of the page.

Arizona at Utah

Thursday, February 4th
4:00 pm PT, FS1

Fresh off a historic comeback victory in Boulder, the Utes face an Arizona program that has had its way in Salt Lake City. Since joining the Pac-12, Utah is 2-5 against the Wildcats at the Huntsman Center, but Larry Krystkowiak’s team has won two of the last three.

The 10th-year coach must find a way to deal with UA’s bigs, while also contesting shots from the perimeter. The Cats rank 35th in the nation in rebounds per game, 40th in blocked shots, and 33rd in three point percentage—a deadly combination that propels Sean Miller’s team to lead the Conference in scoring.

But Alfonzo Plummer proved on Saturday, once again, that he can single-handedly make the difference for Krystkowiak.

Look for Miller to utilize a stout defensive game-plan focused on containing Plummer, effectively daring Timmy Allen to put the team on his back. With a defense-first mentality, the emphasis could be on the Cats’ ability to battle through screens and prevent easy looks at the basket.

Stanford at California

Thursday, February 4th
6:00 pm PT, ESPN2

Holding a 2-1 edge against the Tree after one season, Mark Fox knows how to beat the Cardinal. And at the end of last year, the Bears’ victory over Stanford in the Pac-12 Tournament arguably would have prevented the Tree from receiving an invitation to the Big Dance, had the tournament been played.

On paper, the few advantages California has over its rival are intertwined: assists per game, turnovers, and three-point shooting. If Fox can take advantage of those factors, this matchup could be closer than many expect.

But at the end of the day, it could come down to the play of Matt Bradley, specifically his assist-to-turnover ratio. Up to this point, the prolific scorer is averaging 1.5 assists per game compared to 3.1 turnovers. And against Arizona, Bradley had six turnovers to just one assist.

With capable scorers around him, including several who can get hot from three, the onus is on the leader of the Bears to play efficiently and share the ball.

Washington at Oregon State

Thursday, February 4th
6:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Despite being swept on the road in Southern California, the momentum the Beavers have created over the past few weeks remains.

At 8-7, Oregon State is exceeding everyone’s expectations, except perhaps those of Wayne Tinkle, and this matchup with the struggling Huskies presents another opportunity to solidify what is already a strong season.

Jarod Lucas had an off night against UCLA last time out, but the sophomore has made a considerable case to become the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player when it’s all said and done. His three-point shooting has jumped into the low-40s and his free throw percentage is 94.7%.

And against a Washington defense that gives up easy looks from deep, Lucas could have the best game of his season to date.

But if players other than Quade Green step up for UW, particularly Erik Stevenson and Jamal Bey, the Dawgs may score just enough points to pull off the upset.

Washington State at Oregon

Thursday, February 4th
8:00 pm PT, FS1

Finally returning from their second COVID-induced pause, Oregon takes on a Cougar team that won the lone game of the series in Kyle Smith’s first season.

On that night in Pullman, CJ Elleby went off for 25 points in what is arguably the defining moment of his career at Washington State, as the Cougs took down the No. 8 Ducks at Beasley Coliseum.

Flash forward to today, and WSU’s scoring has been replaced by a combination of Isaac Bonton and Noah Williams, who combine for 46.8% of the Cougs’ offensive production.

But Dana Altman’s press-zone tends to fluster opposing guards and force turnovers in mid-court that lead to easy transition buckets. And against Smith’s offense that already gives up 15.1 turnovers per game, the UO defensive attack could carry the day.

Altman’s offense is no slouch either, with four players averaging double-digits. Throw in the extra motivation to play after being forced to quarantine for so long, and WSU has a problem on its hands.

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