Miller: Week 6 Saturday Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Previews

The winner of the Oregon-Stanford matchup could emerge as the Conference favorite

With Thursday’s Pac-12 men’s basketball action in the book, I take a glance back at those games, give a renewed look at the big picture, and preview Saturday’s upcoming matchups. The Washington-Arizona State game has been postponed, but for now, all of the other scheduled games are a go.


 


Thursday Review
The tried-and-true method of winning the Pac-12 Regular Season Championship is to win at home and split on the road. In that context, Oregon, Colorado, Arizona, and UCLA held steady on Thursday.

Evan Mobley | Jae C. Hong/AP

The Ducks took longer than expected to dispatch California, but put together a strong finish to win by double-digits. Down in LA, the Buffs arguably displayed their strongest performance of the season, dismantling a good USC team by negating Evan Mobley and holding strong after a Trojan run in the second half.

And in the Pacific Northwest, Arizona dominated Washington after some predicted Sean Miller’s team might emerge without motivation in the first game since the announcement of the postseason ban.

But in the most head-turning result from Thursday, UCLA squeaked by with a two-point victory over Utah. Mick Cronin’s team didn’t play well at home, and if Utah true freshman Pelle Larsson hadn’t made a freshman mistake in the final moments, the Utes could have escaped with a victory.


Big Picture
At the end of the season, the teams that are able to sweep on the road invariably secure the all-important byes in Las Vegas. On the first weekend of traditional conference play, Colorado and Arizona have opportunities for the taking.

But Arizona is only fighting for the regular season title after its postseason ban, putting CU’s matchup with UCLA in the primary spotlight—at least in the context of seeding for the Pac-12 Tournament.

As for the casual East Coast observer and the national pundits in the eastern time zone, the matchup between Oregon and Stanford takes the cake. The winner could arguably emerge as the early-season favorite to win the Conference while generating talk of a No. 4 seed or higher in the Big Dance.


Saturday’s Games

Utah at USC

Saturday, January 2nd
1:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

usc logoLooking to salvage the week, both programs enter Saturday’s matchup after dropping their Thursday night tilts. The Utes haven’t won a conference road game since February 2019, but were one play away from getting it done at Pauley Pavilion on Thursday. But Utah arguably doesn’t have the size inside to contain Evan Mobley in the same way that CU’s Evan Battey did.

The Buffs were able to shut down the star freshman, holding him to one point above his season low and forcing his worst field goal percentage of the year. However, Larry Krystkowiak doesn’t have the proverbial “bully” down low to hamper Mobley, and a breakout performance wouldn’t be surprising. In order to break their road conference losing streak, the Utes need Alfonzo Plummer to stay hot all game.


 

California at Oregon State

Saturday, January 2nd
3:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

In a rematch of the opening game of the season for both programs, the Bears and Beavers face off at Gill Coliseum. There was some doubt as to whether this game would take place after COVID protocols caused OSU to postpone its game with Stanford on Thursday, but those issues appear to have worked out and this matchup is a go.

In the nine games Cal has played since its loss to Oregon State in November, it has markedly improved. Mark Fox’s transfers have become more familiar playing in his system and have carved out defined roles. But still without Grant Anticevich, due to an emergency appendectomy, the Bears will rely on Ryan Betley and Makale Foreman to make up for the scoring. And after putting up 21 points against the Ducks, Matt Bradley could drop as many as 30 on the Beavers, if Wayne Tinkle’s defense can’t slow him down.

Arizona State at Washington

Saturday, January 2nd
3:30 pm PT, FS1

Postponed. 


Colorado at UCLA

Saturday, January 2nd
6:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

With a road sweep on their mind, the Buffs stride into Pauley Pavilion brimming with confidence. But Colorado is 2-5 in the arena since joining the Pac-12, including a defeat last season when CU was ranked No. 20. On the other hand, UCLA struggled at times against Utah and escaped by the skin of their teeth when a true freshman froze on the final play of the game.

Chris Smith had his best night in nearly a month, but appeared to tweak his knee in the latter stages of the matchup. Mick Cronin will expect a better shooting night out of Jamie Jaquez Jr., and a stronger defensive performance from his entire team. And in the race for the pivotal byes in Las Vegas, the result of this game should begin to add clarity to the picture.


 


Stanford at No. 21 Oregon

Saturday, January 2nd
7:00 pm PT, ESPN2

In what may be the best matchup of the weekend in the Pac-12, the Ducks and Cardinal do battle at Matthew Knight Arena. The Tree haven’t won in Eugene in seven years and have a 1-6 overall record in the building, with all six defeats coming by double digits. But this is the strongest Stanford roster in at least a decade.

Earlier in the season, Jerod Haase broke an 11-year losing streak to Arizona, setting the table for a potential upset over Oregon. And the Ducks struggled through 35 minutes against a California team without its second-leading scorer. The matchups to watch are Stanford’s hard-nosed defense on Eugene Omoruyi and Chris Duarte, and the Cardinal’s ability to handle Dana Altman’s press-zone. Whichever team commits less turnovers likely wins the game.


Arizona at Washington State

Saturday, January 2nd
7:30 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Clamoring for respect, the Cougars finally have their opportunity to prove to everyone what they are made of. Through an 8-0 start, Washington State hasn’t faced a quality opponent the likes of Arizona. And even though UA’s postseason ban took some shine off its season, Sean Miller’s players have shown it doesn’t effect the way they carry themselves on the court.

To pull off the upset, Kyle Smith’s team must out-rebound the Cats and take care of the ball. If the Cougs rely on one-on-one matchups to score points, they may find themselves outmatched by Arizona’s talent. Finding ways to share the ball and getting Efe Abogidi going early figures to be key, as well as limiting the Wildcats’ three-point shooting by contesting shots and staying disciplined against Miller’s dribble handoffs and swing action beyond the three-point line.







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