Miller: Week 13 Thursday Men’s Hoops Previews

Colorado, Stanford, and UCLA each have opportunities to improve their projected seeds

Posted on February 18, 2021

Dane Miller
  By Dane Miller, SportsPac12

There’s nothing quite like the sting of a loss in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament, and though it may not seem like it, games in the month of February go far in avoiding that devastating feeling.

It all comes down to seeding.

And on the second-to-last Thursday in February, Colorado, Stanford, and UCLA each have opportunities to improve their projected position. CU has a tough challenge in Eugene, but the Bruins have a winnable matchup against a respectable Arizona squad, while the Cardinal face a can’t-lose scenario in Seattle.

Stumbles tonight could cost each program a vital spot or two in the bracket, substantially damaging any hopes of a run to the Sweet 16, while doubling the chances of a defeat in the First Round.

I preview each of those games here, as well as the remaining matchups in the Conference of Champions on Thursday. My picks along with Nick Bartlett’s appear at the bottom of the page.

Utah at Oregon State

Thursday, February 18th
5:30 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

The day’s games in the Conference of Champions kick off with what might be an overlooked matchup in Corvallis.

The Utes have built momentum over the month of February, while the Beavers have stayed stagnant after playing three of their five games on the road. But Gill Coliseum is a haven for Wayne Tinkle’s squad, with OSU holding a 9-4 mark overall and a 6-2 record against Conference opponents.

The home cooking may benefit Jarod Lucas the most, as the guard is 17-for-33 from the field over the past five games at Gill, including 12-of-23 from deep. Tinkle may need his three point shooting against a Utah roster that has come alive as Timmy Allen has increased his efficiency.

The junior guard hasn’t needed to put up his traditional 15 shots per game to reach his 17 point average during the month of February, getting it done while taking an average of 11 shots over the past three games.

Throw in the potential for breakout performances from players such as Ian Martinez, while mixing in the consistency of Pelle Larsson, and Tinkle has his hands full.

And that’s without even mentioning Alfonzo Plummer.

Arizona at UCLA

Thursday, February 18th
6:00 pm PT, ESPN

The Arizona-UCLA series is the most traditional rivalry the Pac-12 has to offer.

Dating back to the previous century, the two teams accomplishments are unrivaled, as the only two programs to win a National Championship while a member of the Pac-12 since the 1950s.

To a certain extent, each school is beyond it’s Glory Days, and both are in a comparable rebuild to the success of their heyday.

But that doesn’t make the rivalry any less meaningful.

And in some ways, it makes it matter even more.

Sean Miller and Mick Cronin recruit the same areas of the country and often offer the same recruits, turning these showdowns into something much deeper than just the final score of a game on Thursday.

The Wildcats’ lack of a defensive “dog” inside opens UA up to easy buckets in the paint. Azuolas Tubelis and Jordan Brown struggle at times to defend skilled opposing bigs, making things too easy around the rim.

If Miller’s pack-line defense wins the battle down low by securing the points in the paint margin, the Cats could get their first win at Pauley Pavilion since 2017.

California at Washington State

Thursday, February 18th
7:30 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Reeling from a loss to the Huskies on Monday, the Cougars must find a way to put that game behind them.

Kyle Smith is playing his cards close to the vest, refusing to confirm the status of Isaac Bonton for the matchup against the Bears. The senior guard’s 18.4 points per game were sorely missed against UW, and his questionable availability puts an even greater emphasis on Noah Williams.

But the sophomore hasn’t played well in February, going cold from the field with a head-scratching 11-for-50 mark over the past five games.

That’s unsustainable with Bonton potentially out of the lineup, and Smith may look to Aljaz Kunc and DJ Rodman to help pick up the slack.

Similarly, Efe Abogidi has struggled during the second month of the year. The freshman is 12-of-28 from the field and averaging just 6.8 points per game during the stretch.

Juxtaposed is a California program energized from an upset over Colorado on Saturday. Matt Bradley put up a career-high 29 points in the victory, while true freshman Jalen Celestine posted a career-high 13.

Sometimes it’s unfair to pin a team’s hopes on one player, but the availability of Isaac Bonton may make-or-break WSU’s chances.

Colorado at Oregon

Thursday, February 18th
8:00 pm PT, ESPN2

In arguably the Game of the Day in the Conference of Champions, Oregon takes on Colorado at Matthew Knight Arena.

The Buffs are 1-6 in the building since joining the Conference, but already have a win at USC to their name this season. Yet, the Ducks are as healthy as they’ve been all year and are just starting to gel.

Chris Duarte remains one of the top players in the Pac-12, Will Richardson is starting to hit his groove, and LJ Figueroa and Eugene Omoruyi are the pillars of consistency.

But freshman Franck Kepnang has emerged as a key role player off the bench, adding a different dimension inside that makes UO even more dangerous.

Tad Boyle must find a way to deal with all of Dana Altman’s weapons if CU is to pull off the upset. It’s not impossible, but it figures to be a steep mountain to climb.

And it starts with McKinley Wright IV.

In Colorado’s losses, the senior guard hasn’t taken over the game the way he is capable of doing, acting more as a facilitator when Boyle needs him to be an assassin.

Look for Wright to be aggressive early and often, with Jeriah Horne and D’Shawn Schwartz taking their opportunities from three.

Stanford at Washington

Thursday, February 18th
8:00 pm PT, FS1

On the precipice of the wrong side of the bubble, the Cardinal took care of business against Utah.

The win kept the door open for one of the final spots in the Big Dance, but simultaneously ratcheted the pressure up on the dwindling remaining games of the season.

And in the Emerald City against a struggling Husky program, Jerod Haase can’t afford a defeat.

Fortunately, the Tree have the services of Daejon Davis, Ziaire Williams, and Bryce Wills, who have returned from injury or quarantine over the past week and a half. The reloaded roster once thoroughly dismantled an Alabama team projected to wind up as a 2-seed, displaying the potential Haase has when healthy.

With only a handful of weeks remaining before Selection Sunday, the onus is on Stanford to sweep the Washington schools. The East Coast observers have duly noted UW’s upset over Colorado, and a win at Alaska Airlines Arena would be viewed better than one may think.

To get it done, the Cardinal’s point guards must manage Mike Hopkins’ zone with consistent dribble penetration and kick-outs to the soft spots in the defense. In the end, a strong night from three should be enough to get it done.


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