Miller: Week 4 Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Previews

The Conference doesn't appear to have a dominant team this season

Posted on December 16, 2020

Dane Miller
  By Dane Miller, SportsPac12

The Conference of Champions had its strongest week of the year.

UCLA took down Big East opponent Marquette at Pauley Pavilion, while California toppled a respectable San Francisco team at Haas Pavilion.


 

Though Arizona State lost to No. 18 San Diego State without star freshman Marcus Bagley, the Sun Devils followed it up with a respectable true road win against vaunted mid-major Grand Canyon University.

Despite not having a team ranked in the AP Top 25, the Pac-12 isn’t in dire straights. There doesn’t appear to be an elite team, such as Oregon last year, but the balance from top to bottom is apparent.

As nonconference play continues along with early-season conference matchups, below are noteworthy games between December 16th and December 22nd.


UTEP at Arizona State

Wednesday, December 16th
6:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Fresh off a close victory against Grand Canyon, the Sun Devils project to have an easier go of it against the Miners. Led by Souley Boum, UTEP may have the firepower to stick with Arizona State for the first 10 minutes, but the Miners’ inability to effectively rebound is likely to be their undoing in Tempe. Look for Bobby Hurley’s squad to exploit their advantage down low and attack the glass for offensive rebounds. ASU’s second-chance points, transition buckets, and three-point shooting should make this a double-digit victory. And if things go right, Remy Martin could drop 30 or more.


San Francisco at USC

Wednesday, December 16th
6:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

usc logoThe status of this matchup at the Galen Center is in question due to a positive COVID-19 test within the Trojan program. But if it ends up getting the green light, it’s one to watch. The Dons are coming off a last-second defeat to California, but have a win over then-No. 4 Virginia as well as a 25-point trouncing of Nevada. In all five of San Francisco’s victories it has held opponents below 70 points, while its three defeats have each come when conceding more. Finding a way to contain Evan Mobley figures to be a challenge, and the Trojans have scored more than 70 in each of its four wins. The one time USC failed to breach 70? A three-point loss to UCONN.


San Francisco at Oregon

Thursday, December 17th
5:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Facing their first WCC opponent of the season, the Ducks have an opportunity to make a statement to East Coast observers. San Francisco took down then-No. 4 Virginia earlier this year, and a blowout victory over the Dons would force analysts to take note. Even though San Francisco is coming off a loss to California, the box score of this game will catch the eyes of AP voters. A strong night from Dana Altman’s team may help catapult UO back into the Top 25. On the court, the key to slowing down USF is by contesting their three point shots and forcing turnovers. And for the Oregon defense, that’s right up their alley.


Montana State at Washington State

Friday, December 18th 
4:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

The Cougars look to continue their unbeaten streak to open the season with a matchup against Montana State out of the Big Sky. Though Washington State has yet to lose, its schedule has been relatively soft and Kyle Smith’s team has struggled against lower-tier mid-major opponents. The Bobcats have a respectable win over UNLV to their name as well as a close defeat to Pacific in Stockton, and this matchup will be Montana State’s third true road test of the season. If Smith’s players aren’t prepared for a fight, they may get caught out.


 


UCLA vs. No. 20 Ohio State

Saturday, December 19th
1:15 pm PT, CBS

For just the ninth time in the storied history of both programs, UCLA and Ohio State square off. In the last seven matchups in the series, either the Bruins or the Buckeyes have been ranked, and that streak continues on Saturday with Ohio State sitting at No. 20 in the country. This will be the first truly nationally televised game featuring a Pac-12 school, providing Mick Cronin an opportunity to secure a signature win for the Conference and his team. But that figures to be a challenge. The Buckeyes don’t turn the ball over, averaging just 8.8 turnovers per game, and put up 80.4 points per game. Fortunately, the identity of UCLA is its defense. The clash of styles should create a close matchup that could come down to the wire. And on a “neutral” court in Cleveland, this early afternoon showdown on CBS has the feel of a Sweet 16 matchup.


Arizona vs. Stanford

Saturday, December 19th
5:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Sean Miller has never lost to Stanford while at Arizona, posting a 19-0 mark against the Tree since 2009. But this season the Cardinal field their most potent roster that Miller has faced, and Jerod Haase will likely remind his players of what’s on the line. The Cats have yet to face a quality opponent heading into this matchup, while Stanford has played three teams that should end up in the NCAA Tournament. At the least, Haase has a deeper understanding of his roster than Miller does at this point in the year. Still, this matchup is being played in Santa Cruz, California, at the Golden State Warrior’s G-League affiliate home court, giving it a postseason tournament feel. And on paper, Arizona is significantly deeper and does a far better job of sharing the ball. But a strong night from Stanford’s starting-five could be enough to carry the day.


USC at Oregon State

Sunday, December 20th
Noon PT, ESPN2

usc logoAssuming the Trojans have been cleared to play after contract tracing and a series of negative tests, the mid-day matchup on ESPN2 should be a treat. The battle between Evan Mobley and Warith Alatishe down low should get most of the attention, but the guard duel between Ethan Thompson and Drew Peterson is just as important. The Beavers certainly have the ability to pull off the upset, but it’s going to take a complete game to get it done. Mobley is one of the best players in the country, and is arguably the early frontrunner for the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. Stopping him is probably out of the question, but slowing him down is the key to beating USC. Look for Wayne Tinkle to deploy double-teams and traps to force someone other than Mobley to beat them.


 


Washington at Colorado

Sunday, December 20th
7:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

After nearly taking down Oregon in Seattle, the Dawgs face a neutral-court nonconference game against Colorado in Las Vegas. The Coronavirus has forced this unusual matchup, but it should prepare both teams for the eventual Conference tournament in March. McKinley Wright IV runs the CU offense as effectively as any guard on the West Coast, but he will be challenged by Washington’s non-traditional zone defense. The length of the UW defenders figures to make distributing the ball a challenge, though Mike Hopkins’ zone intentionally invites opponents to take threes. If Wright and Colorado knock down those shots with consistency, it could be difficult for the Huskies to keep pace on the offensive end. But Hopkins’ squad has shown game-by-game improvement, and Quade Green is more than capable of willing the Dawgs to victory.


California vs. Boston College

Tuesday, December 22nd
9:00 am PT, ACC Network

Coming off a last-second three to beat San Francisco, the Bears are ready to exact some revenge after last season’s six-point defeat to Boston College. This year, the Eagles have played poorly through six games, yet have faced one of the tougher schedules in the country. At 1-5, BC views this game as an opportunity to get its season back on track. For Mark Fox and Cal, this early-morning true road game “back East” on the ACC Network provides a stage to increase the Bears’ recruiting footprint. Reserve freshman guard Jalen Celestine out of New York committed to Cal after a similar East Coast trip in 2019-20, and continuing to develop that pipeline is important for Fox’s success. Grant Anticevich has stepped up his game over the last two contests, and the one-two punch of the Australian and Matt Bradley could be enough for a Cal victory.


Utah at Arizona State

Tuesday, December 22nd
6:00 pm PT, PAC-12 Network

The Utes travel to Tempe for a conference matchup with the Sun Devils. Arizona State has struggled with Utah during the Pac-12 Era, only managing a 4-4 record against UU at the Bank since 2011. But this year’s ASU team is more balanced than the typical Hurley squads of years past. Remy Martin and Josh Christopher are the prototypical Sun Devil guards that can score at will, while Jalen Graham, Taeshon Cherry, and Kimani Lawrence can all get buckets in the paint. Throw in Alonzo Verge Jr. and Holland Woods, and Larry Krystkowiak will have his hands full. Finding a way to slow down the multi-faceted Sun Devil offensive attack is the key, and limiting easy transition buckets is step one.


Grand Canyon vs. Colorado

Tuesday, December 22nd
8:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

In Las Vegas, the Buffs face burgeoning mid-major Grand Canyon University at T-Mobile Arena. Tad Boyle should have his team prepared, but if the CU underclassmen take this game lightly it could come back to bite them. The Antelopes have a score-first guard in Jovan Blacksher Jr. and two capable big-men in Alessandro Lever and Asbjorn Midtgaard. Bryce Drew’s team took Arizona State down to the wire, and could do the same with Colorado if it’s not careful. Fortunately, the Buffs have experience playing quality opponents and should be able to handle any early deficits. The game figures to be won and lost in the paint, but explosive guard play from either Blacksher or McKinley Wright IV could be the difference.







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