Posted on December 21, 2021
Outside of Arizona, UCLA, and USC, the Conference is 5-28 in Quad 1 and 2 matchups. And those five wins are clustered, with Arizona State owning three.
The remaining two are split between California and Washington State.
On Sunday, Oregon played No. 1 Baylor close in Eugene, but the Ducks are 0-5 in matchups in the top two quadrants. On another worrying note, Washington State is 2-3 in Quad 3 games.
The struggles to begin the year likely limits the Conference to three teams in the NCAA Tournament. A run in the Pac-12 Tournament could change the number, but the damage has been done.
Yet, opportunities remain with just over a week left in the nonconference season. I preview three games below, and my picks for all the matchups on Tuesday and Wednesday are at the bottom.
Wyoming vs. Stanford
Stan Sheriff Center, Honolulu, HI
Wednesday, December 22
2:00 pm PT, ESPNU
The Cardinal are in Honolulu for the Diamond Head Classic and face Wyoming to open the tournament. The Cowboys are a tough draw in Round One, but the Tree are prepared after facing a solid Texas team in Las Vegas.
Harrison Ingram and Jaiden Delaire are the only Cardinal players averaging double-figures, taking up most of the attention during Wyoming’s preparation.
That could open the door for a strong game from Brandon Angel, Maxime Raynaud, or Noah Taitz, with the Cowboy staff focused on containing the go-to scorers.
But the Stanford offense lives and dies by the play of Michael O’Connell. The point guard is working through a bit of a sophomore-slump, shooting a lower percentage from the field than last season.
If O’Connell gets into a rhythm on the Islands, the Tree should be able to handle Wyoming.
Yet, Jerod Haase must find a way to slow down Graham Ike. The big man is averaging 19.6 points per game and dropped 35 on Denver earlier this month. And the Cowboys have other options, too, with five players averaging double-figures.
It’s a tough task for Stanford, but a strong night from its offense should put it into position to win.
No. 6 Arizona at No. 17 Tennessee
Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, TN
Wednesday, December 22
4:00pm PT, ESPN2
The Wildcats play their third true road game of the season when they head to Knoxville to face No. 17 Tennessee.
Ranked No. 6 in the nation, Arizona’s Azuolas Tubelis is a matchup nightmare for the Volunteers. At 6-foot-11 and 245-pounds, the Lithuania lefty has a European-finesse game with accents of American strength in the paint.
Matched up against either Olivier Nkamhoua or John Fulkerson, the sophomore big will have a height, strength, and speed advantage.
Rick Barnes could be forced to go to his bench to slow down Tubelis, risking his team’s offensive firepower in the process.
But even if Tennessee slows down Tubelis, Bennedict Mathurin on the wing and Kerr Kriisa on the perimeter are liable to exploit any over-commitment to defending the paint.
And any counter-adjustments could be taken advantage of by Christian Koloko and Oumar Ballo down low, if UT chooses to focus on the perimeter.
It’s a pick-your-poison dilemma for the Volunteers.
Yet, the Vols take care of the ball better than Arizona, and forcing the Cats into mistakes could be the main focus of Barnes’ game plan.
At the end of the day, it may take an unexpected performance from one of UA’s role players to secure the victory on the road.
No. 7 Kansas at Colorado – CANCELED
CU Events Center, Boulder, CO
Tuesday, December 21
6:00 pm PT, ESPN2
The Buffaloes face their toughest test of the season to date tonight in Boulder. Former Big 12 foe Kansas is ranked seventh in the country and possesses one of the most potent offenses in Division I basketball.
The Jayhawks are the third-best shooting team, averaging 51.9 percent from the field, and score 85.8 points per game, the eighth-highest in the nation.
Led by Ochai Agbaji, Bill Self’s roster shares the ball and limits turnovers. Ranked in the Top 50 in three point percentage, assists, and assist-to-turnover ratio, KU doesn’t have many flaws.
But the Jayhawks aren’t perfect.
Rebounding and free throws are an issue for Kansas, opening the door to Colorado’s game plan: bully ball down low.
The weakness in the paint favors Evan Battey, with the big man primed to dominate the glass. Foul trouble could play a role, but the offense could be ran from the inside out to allow open looks from the perimeter as KU collapses to stop Battey.
For the Buffs to pull off the upset, the senior leader must stay out of foul trouble and CU’s guards must knock down their open looks from deep.
December 21-22 Game Picks
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