Miller: Week 13 Saturday Men’s Hoops Previews

Today's national TV broadcast gives USC a chance to make its case for a 3-seed against Arizona

Posted on February 20, 2021

Dane Miller
  By Dane Miller, SportsPac12

The trends continue. At least in the Pac-12.

Thursday’s results confirmed what we already knew: Utah and California still struggle on the road, Arizona can’t beat UCLA, and the Buffs don’t win in Eugene.

Some things never change, apparently.

But Saturday knocks, and the Trojans are waiting.

On national television in prime time on the East Coast, USC takes on the Wildcats at the Galen Center. The truly coast-to-coast broadcast gives Andy Enfield’s team a chance to make their case for a 3-seed in the Big Dance, while putting the Conference in the spotlight at the same time.

A convincing win would add fuel to the growing perception that the Conference of Champions is being taken lightly by everyone east of Denver. Yet, a defeat would play right into the hands of the implicit bias of what appears to be three-quarters of the national media and the talking heads on ESPN.

I preview that game here, along with the other five on Saturday. Nick Bartlett’s and my picks appear at the bottom.

Stanford at Washington State

Saturday, February 20th
1:00 pm PT, ESPN2

The Cardinal posted a convincing win over Washington in Seattle, but the steeper mountain to climb was always going to be the matchup in Pullman.

Noah Williams broke out of his shooting slump on Thursday, scoring a career-high 32 points on 12-of-20 from the field. And the hot shooting spilled over to his teammates. The Cougars made 12 threes and posted 22 total assists on 30 made shots.

All without Isaac Bonton.

But the Stanford defense makes Cal look like a junior college team. The identity of Jerod Haase’s Cardinal is a stifling man-to-man defense that makes opponents work for every bucket. Nothing comes easy.

And on ESPN2 in the early-afternoon, Kyle Smith can expect a motivated, hungry, and angry Stanford roster.

Even if Bonton returns, Smith must figure out how to exploit the Tree’s scheme, while limiting their athleticism on the other side of the court. Any throw-downs on the Cougar bigs will spur greater tenacity on defense, but the key could be containing Stanford runs with effective timeouts.

Arizona at USC

Saturday, February 20th
3:00 pm PT, Fox

The Pac-12 is one of the most disrespected conferences in the nation.

Although some pundits may not admit it, there’s no doubt that many of them view the West Coast Conference, and possibly even the Mountain West, as a stronger league.

The Trojans can quiet those members of the media with an emphatic victory over Arizona. The Wildcats are trending down over the past three seasons, but the UA basketball brand still holds sway in the minds of many.

And this game has the potential to get ugly.

Sean Miller’s roster has almost no interior defensive presence, and the lack of an opportunity to play in the postseason has driven his team to give up in the final five minutes of a handful of games. That’s a dangerous combination when facing the Mobley Brothers on their home court, and last time around Andy Enfield’s zone shut down the Wildcats’ undersized guards.

Look for the Trojans to run zone nearly the entire forty minutes, with Arizona’s perimeter players unable to exploit the gaps and forced to try to win the game from three.

Colorado at Oregon State

Saturday, February 20th
5:00 pm PT, ESPNU

This one is not going to be easy.

Even if Colorado didn’t have losses to Washington and California on its record, the matchup at Gill Coliseum would be one to keep an eye on. And now that the Buffs have proven they sometimes play down to their competition, this matchup is dripping with upset potential.

Yet, to a certain extent, the defeats to the Huskies and Bears may be the greatest motivating tool Tad Boyle could ask for.

Sprinkle in the sting from losing a winnable-game in Eugene just two days ago, and CU could come out with something to prove.

But even a typical strong start from the Buffs may not be enough, with Warith Alatishe coming off a 19-point night and Ethan Thompson looking to build on his 25 points from Thursday.

When it’s all said and done, the X-Factor may end up being the play of Jarod Lucas.

But Colorado should find a way to get it done on the shoulders of McKinley Wright IV.

Utah at Oregon

Saturday, February 20th
6:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

As the lone game of the day on the Pac-12 Network, the Oregon Ducks are out of the spotlight at a time when they need the limelight to improve their bracket projections. Still, the win over Colorado on Thursday did wonders for UO’s potential seed, arguably sealing an at-large invitation, baring a late-season collapse.

And even though the matchup with the Utes may not be eye-catching, the opportunity to continue the march toward a 7-seed or better remains.

Timmy Allen is capable of going off, but the junior guard will be challenged by Dana Altman’s press-zone.

The unique defense forced 17 turnovers just two days ago, even as the Oregon offense struggled. The 60 points scored was a season-low for the Ducks, and it seems unlikely Altman’s squad will struggle from the field in back-to-back games at Matthew Knight Arena.

The trio of Eugene Omoruyi, Chris Duarte, and Will Richardson may end up combining for 60 on their own, if things go right against the Utah defense.

Arizona State at UCLA

Saturday, February 20th
7:00 pm PT, ESPN2

The Sun Devils batted USC hard on Wednesday, but couldn’t contain the Trojan offense down the stretch.

Tonight, UCLA presents a similar challenge, albeit with a slightly less potent offense and a substantially weaker defense.

The relative variation in the strength of the opposing roster could be just enough to open the door to an ASU upset. The return of either Josh Christopher or Marcus Bagley would help, but Remy Martin has proven capable of putting his team in position to win, even without the freshmen stars.

Kimani Lawrence and Jalen Graham are vital pieces to Bobby Hurley’s game-plan, but the Sun Devils must get bounce back performances from the likes of Alonzo Verge Jr. and Jaelen House in order to beat the Bruins.

Even then, Johnny Juzang snapped his hot shooting streak on Thursday and could regain his touch against Arizona State’s porous defense. And with a UCLA team fighting for a better seed, it’s not as if Mick Cronin’s squad will be overlooking this matchup.

California at Washington

Saturday, February 20th
7:00 pm PT, ESPNU

While most Pac-12 basketball fans watch UCLA-ASU, the Bears and Huskies square off just a few channels down.

And coming off defeats, one of these teams will salvage its week.

Cal’s blowout loss to Washington State in Pullman was arguably its worst defeat of the season, and the significance the stumble has on the Bears’ confidence is a factor that will be determined in Seattle.

Was it just a fluke? Or is it emblematic of the direction of the Mark Fox Era?

The former is likely the truth, and should stay the truth, even if the Bears lose to lowly UW.

But a second loss in the Evergreen State may not be viewed as similarly by the Bay Area media, and you could begin to see public questioning of Fox if California can’t get it done.

To avoid that awkward scenario, Matt Bradley must take advantage of the weak Husky defense. Mike Hopkins’ zone presents plenty of opportunities from three, playing right into the hands of players such as Grant Anticevich and Ryan Betley.

In the end, the difference could come down to the performance of Fox’s defense.


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