Dane Miller’s Pac-12 Men’s Hoops Previews for Dec 10-12
Posted on December 10, 2022
The Pac-12 basketball season is at the midway point of nonconference play.
Oregon has dealt with numerous injuries to begin the year and is a shell of its true self, while Arizona and UCLA remain the class of the Conference.
The next three days feature seven games highlighted by No. 10 Arizona vs. No. 14 Indiana on Saturday and No. 21 Creighton vs. Arizona State on Monday.
I preview all seven matchups here and my picks for each game will appear on the day the game is set to tip.
Denver at No.19 UCLA
Saturday, December 10
Noon PT, Pac-12 Network
The matchup with Denver at Pauley Pavilion is a somber occasion as former Bruin Jalen Hill is set to be honored before the game.
The 22-year-old passed away while in Costa Rica over the summer and the news was difficult for many to bear. The impact he made on his teammates, coaches, family, and the UCLA community won’t be forgotten.
Hill’s family is expected to be in attendance and the ceremony before the game will be filled with emotion. Moving on from such a tragic event is exceedingly difficult, but the ceremony will help everyone involved continue their healing process.
In the context of the bigger picture, the game itself is mostly meaningless. Yet, a former teammate’s passing is a unique form of motivation that should manifest into a great team effort.
Denver hasn’t played any opponent remotely in the same league as the Bruins, but is 8-2 and put up plenty of points. The Pioneers shoot the ball well, although making plays for their teammates is not a high priority for them.
Averaging just 11.5 assists per game, the key for UCLA is its defense. On the other end of the court, the Pioneers don’t defend well (319th in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric) and should concede points relatively easily.
As long as the Bruins defend aggressively, crash the boards, and limit their turnovers, the game shouldn’t be close.
Washington State v. UNLV
Saturday, December 10
1:30 pm PT, FS1
In the first game of the Las Vegas Clash, Washington State takes on UNLV at MGM Arena.
Considered a neutral venue, the game is a barometer test for the Cougars’ season. Injuries have hampered the potential of Kyle Smith’s team and guard Jabe Mullins’ status remains questionable.
Andrej Jakimovski has yet to play this season, too, along with Dishon Jackson.
Taken together, Wazzu is lacking substantial firepower that it could have later in the season.
And while the personnel issues make a difference, the 4-4 start to the season has been a disappointment.
The Rebels, on the other hand, are undefeated with wins over then-No. 21 Dayton and Minnesota. On a path to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013, UNLV has analytical advantages in several key categories.
The Mountain West program scores more points per game, blocks more shots per night, has higher assist numbers, and rebounds the ball at a greater clip, all while maintaining nearly identical shooting and turnover numbers as the Cougars.
That’s a problem for Smith’s team without several key contributors.
The matchup to watch is Mouhamed Gueye against UNLV’s David Muoka. At 6-foot-10 and 235 pounds, the Chinese center might struggle to defend Gueye’s speed.
But if the Rebels shut down Wazzu’s primary interior scorer, it could be a long day for the Cougs.
Butler at California
Saturday, December 10
2:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
Substantially outmatched on paper, California hosts Butler in a game that figures to end in a blowout.
The Bulldogs have wins over BYU and Kansas State, while all three of their losses have come to high-major programs.
Devin Askew missed the Eastern Washington game due to COVID protocols and his status is questionable. If he can’t go, Kuany Kuany and Lars Thiemann will have to carry the load.
Both are playing their best basketball of their careers and are one of the few bright spots on Mark Fox’s team. Each will need to have efficient nights from the field while staying out of foul trouble for the Bears to keep pace with Butler.
Cal’s hallmark in the Fox era has been defense and his team will need to block shots at a high rate against the Big East team. Getting to the free throw line early and often will help, too, and could produce a choppy game that would favor the Bears.
The Bulldogs have a short six-man rotation and get most of their contributions from the starting five. With all five starters averaging double-digits, slowing one or two of them down won’t be enough.
The deck is stacked against the Bears and it could be an ugly day in Berkeley.
Nevada at Oregon
Saturday, December 10
4:00pm PT, Pac-12 Network
Another team that has struggled with injuries to start the season, Oregon hosts Nevada in a game the Ducks should probably win.
Steve Alford’s team has victories over Grand Canyon University and Sam Houston State but was beaten by Loyola Marymount one week ago.
The Wolf Pack take care of the ball at an elite level, averaging only 10.9 turnovers per game. Forcing Nevada into mistakes could be one of the determining factors of the game.
The MWC team shoots the ball well from three, too, creating a clear emphasis for Oregon’s defensive game plan.
Former Oregon State shooting guard Jarod Lucas leads the way, averaging 17.3 points per game while shooting 41.4 percent from three. Containing the former Beaver will be pivotal to Oregon coming out on top.
Limiting second-chance opportunities with strong defensive rebounding probably rounds out Dana Altman’s defensive talking points.
On the other end, UO’s fortunes will likely ride on Will Richardson. The guard might need to score 20+ points, and staying out of foul trouble will be a high priority.
It’s a tall order, but Oregon’s starting five is better than any lineup Nevada can put on the floor.
No. 10 Arizona v. No. 14 Indiana
Saturday, December 10
4:30 pm PT, FOX
In one of the top matchups of the nonconference season, Arizona and Indiana face off for the first time in history.
The Cats haven’t played well since Maui but should have no problems rising to the occasion in Las Vegas.
The Hoosiers have a prolific offense that is similar to Arizona’s in many ways. With almost identical shooting and assist numbers, the teams are almost mirrored on offense.
Tommy Lloyd’s team does have a rebounding advantage, though, but IU turns the ball over less often.
The primary difference between the two teams is defense. The Hoosiers play significantly better on that side of the court and will be UA’s highest-graded opposing defense this season, per KenPom.
On the flip side, Arizona’s offense is the most lethal Indiana has faced, per the same metric.
In tight matchups like this one, individual player battles tend to decide the game. Oumar Ballo and Trayce Jackson-Davis will go toe-to-toe in the paint, with the winner likely leading his team to the win.
But, like nearly every team that matches up with Arizona, the question is, Who will defend Azuolas Tubelis? Race Thompson and Malik Reneau are cut from the type of cloth required to defend the Lithuanian Lefty and their defense could determine the outcome.
Reneau is only a freshman and averages just 16 minutes per game, arguably putting the burden of slowing down Tubelis squarely on Thompson’s shoulders.
If UA’s bigs win the battle in the paint, Lloyd’s team should secure the win.
Oregon State at Texas A&M
Sunday, December 11
3:00 pm PT, ESPN2
Heading on the road to College Station, Wayne Tinkle brings his revitalized program to SEC country.
As the Pac-12’s lone Sunday matchup, more eyes than normal will be on OSU. Relatively even on paper, the Beavers have a chance of pulling off the upset.
The Aggies have losses to Murray State, Colorado, and Boise State to start the year and may come into the matchup overconfident. Oregon State, on the other hand, has confidence after beating Washington and bringing USC down to the wire.
Jordan Pope has been in a slump over the last two games and arguably holds the key to an OSU win. If the true freshman has another inefficient night from the field, the Beavs could struggle to keep it close.
Realistically, Glenn Taylor Jr. will also need to have a strong game, too, in order for Tinkle’s squad to get the victory. The sophomore is trending up over the last five games and is a pivotal part of Oregon State’s potency.
But even if the Beavs fail to beat Texas A&M, the margin of the final score could indicate the steps the program has taken after last year’s debacle.
No. 21 Creighton v. Arizona State
Monday, December 12
6:00 pm PT, FS1
In a somewhat odd Monday night showdown in Las Vegas, the Sun Devils look to secure their second signature win of the season.
The key to slowing down Creighton is defending center Ryan Kalkbrenner and guard Ryan Nembhard. The two players are the engine of the Bluejays’ offense that could single-handedly beat Arizona State.
Fortunately, Bobby Hurley’s team’s calling card is defense. Warren Washington will need to utilize his strength against Kalkbrenner and either Desmond Cambridge Jr. or Frankie Collins will be tasked with defending Nembhard.
The individual battles between those five players will arguably determine the game.
That leaves DJ Horne as the X-Factor when the Sun Devils are on offense. If the junior guard has an efficient game from the field, ASU should be in a substantially better position to secure the win.
But if Horne struggles, Creighton has the personnel to get the job done.
Look for Arizona State’s defense to generate turnovers and blocked shots that put its offense in a position to do damage. Anything can happen, but on a neutral court, Hurley must like his chances.
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