Dane Miller’s Key Week 6 Men’s Hoops Previews

Posted on December 11, 2021

  By Dane Miller, SportsPac12

The first few weeks of nonconference play have not been kind to most of the Pac-12.

Oregon has struggled, Washington State lost to Eastern Washington, Arizona State started slow, Oregon State hasn’t put it together, and Colorado has looked shaky.

Pac-12Apart from Arizona, UCLA, and USC, there aren’t many success stories the Conference of Champions can point to.

The poor nonconference season could result in just three teams being invited to the NCAA Tournament, with a fourth securing the automatic bid if one of the three ranked teams fail to win the Conference Tournament.

But today features a handful of matchups across the board, with three games standing out.

Arizona goes on the road to Champaign, Illinois, to battle the Illini, California hosts cross-town rival Santa Clara, and UCLA travels to Wisconsin to take on Marquette.

I preview the three games here, and my picks for all of today’s Pac-12 matchups appear at the bottom.

Arizona football Pac-12No. 11 Arizona at Illinois

State Farm Center, Champaign, IL
Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021
2:00 pm PT, Fox

The Wildcats face what figures to be their toughest test of the season to date when Tommy Lloyd takes the show on the road to Illinois.

No opponent has been able to slow down the UA offense, and the Cats enter the matchup leading the nation in points per game.

But it’s the Arizona defense that could carry the day in Champaign. The Illini turn the ball over at a substantially higher clip than the Wildcats, while also blocking fewer shots per game.

Arizona’s Shane Nowell | Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Forcing Illinois into turnovers could be the ticket to a road win, yet that might not matter if Lloyd’s defense isn’t able to contain Kofi Cockburn.

At the same time, the Cats must be wary of the inside-out game, with Utah transfer Alfonzo Plummer liable to rain threes if UA over-commits to defending the paint.

Christian Koloko has had a quiet few games after exploding in the Roman Main Event, and might struggle against Cockburn.

Yet, Azuolas Tubelis is a matchup nightmare for Illinois. The Lithuanian sophomore could drop 25 matched up against the skinnier Coleman Hawkins.

If Arizona manages to walk away with a win, the Wildcats could find themselves in the Top 5 of the next AP poll.

Santa Clara at California

Haas Pavilion, Berkeley, CA
Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021
6:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

This might be the biggest game of the Mark Fox Era since he took over the program in 2019. Santa Clara is a potential NCAA Tournament team, having already toppled Stanford, Nevada, and TCU.

But the Bears seem to have found themselves after their Feast Week trip to Fort Myers, taking down Fresno State and Oregon State after falling just short against ranked Seton Hall in Florida.

A win against the Broncos would not only boost recruiting momentum in the Bay Area, but it would also set Cal on a potential path to a middle-of-the-pack Conference finish.

Cal’s Joel Brown | Theo Wyss-Flamm/The Daily Californian

Looking back at what Oregon State did last season, it’s reasonable to expect another mid-level Pac-12 program to make a run in March.

It’s probably too early to anoint California as this year’s dark horse, but a victory today against Santa Clara would begin to move the needle.

To get it done, the Bears need to defend the perimeter, stay out of foul trouble, and play physical in the paint on offense.

Today could be the day where Cal basketball begins to finally emerge from its several-year slumber.

No. 4 UCLA at Marquette

Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, WI
Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021
6:30 pm PT, FS2

Weather problems forced the start time of this matchup to be delayed, and the broadcast has been moved from Fox to FS2.

Setting aside the unexpected changes, Mick Cronin and the Bruins face a challenge in Marquette, with the Big East program sharing the ball and blocking shots at some of the highest rates in the country.

But UCLA is elite at taking care of the ball, entering the game averaging just 8.9 turnovers per game, the seventh fewest in the nation.

UCLA’s Tyger Campbell vs Colorado | Ashley Landis/Associated Press

Ball security and outside shooting figure to be the keys to a Bruin victory, along with slowing down Darryl Morsell and Justin Lewis. The duo are the only players on the Eagles’ roster averaging double-figures.

Although, to be fair, Shaka Smart spreads playing time around.

With 10 Marquette players averaging 10 minutes per game or more, Cronin might have to be conscious of early foul trouble.

Smart could throw bodies at the UCLA frontcourt in an attempt to draw fouls, and the result could be a close first half or even a halftime deficit.

But UCLA should find a way to pull away in the middle of the second half by forcing turnovers and out-rebounding the Eagles.

Week Six Game Picks

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