Posted on March 22, 2021
The victories emphasized the Conference’s success in this year’s Tournament, but today is arguably the make-or-break moment for the league’s revitalized reputation.
A losing record in the Round of 32 would reload the arsenal of some of the national pundits, providing a flimsy justification for the doubt cast over the Conference of Champions during the past few seasons.
But so far, so good.
Another string of victories would force the East Coast-centric broadcast analysts to admit they were wrong about the Pac-12.
I preview all four games here, and my picks, along with Nick Bartlett’s, Stephen Vilardo’s, and Anthony Gharib’s appear at the bottom.
Result: No. 7 Oregon 95. No. 2 Iowa 80
Round of 32
Monday, March 21st
9:10 am PT, CBS
Dana Altman and the Ducks face arguably the best team in the Big 10.
The Hawkeyes have legitimate Final Four potential, and outclass Oregon across the board on paper.
There isn’t a flaw in Iowa’s offensive attack, as Fran McCaffery’s team is among the Top 10 in the nation in points per game, three point percentage, assists, turnovers, and assist-to-turnover ratio. And the Hawkeyes are just outside the Top 10 in rebounds per game, while sitting in the Top 30 in blocked shots per contest.
Led by Luka Garza, there are three Iowa players averaging double-digits, including senior point guard Jordan Bohannon, who puts up more than four assists per game.
Against an opponent without a weakness to exploit, Altman must find the sliver of daylight to force the window open.
And that could be the Hawkeyes’ shooting from the free throw line.
For a team that is exceptional in nearly every other statistical category, Iowa is just an average team from the charity stripe.
That might spur Altman to instruct his players to make life miserable in the paint, contesting every look with an intensity that UO has yet to show this season. The game will arguably be won or lost by Oregon’s defense, and effort plays on that side of the court could be the difference.
The Ducks have the firepower to win the game, and compare relatively evenly with Iowa’s offense.
But the effectiveness of UO’s press-zone figures to determine the outcome.
No. 14 Abilene Christian v. No. 11 UCLA
Round of 32
Monday, March 21st
2:15 pm PT, TBS
The Bruins can’t overlook this game.
Abilene Christian is 16-2 since the beginning of January, and have won 13 of their last 14.
The Wildcats lead the country in turnovers forced per game, and jolted Texas into committing 23 mistakes in the Round of 64. And ACU shares the ball among the nation’s elite, with three players averaging in double-figures.
But Abilene Christian has a knack for turning the ball over and lacks size on the perimeter. Damien Daniels is listed at 5-foot-7 and 140-pounds, while Reggie Miller checks in at 6-foot, 150-pounds.
The two guards average 27 minutes and 23 minutes, respectively, presenting a height and strength disadvantage for UCLA to exploit.
Mick Cronin might direct his players to play “bully ball” on both sides of the court, imposing the Bruins’ will over the undersized guards. The practical effect could be a substantial rebound disparity, manifested in second-chance points and easy scores in transition.
But UCLA has made it through two games without strong nights from Tyger Campbell. The sophomore point guard is 5-for-18 from the field in the tournament, and was somewhat of a liability at times against BYU.
Assuming Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez, Jr. continue their proficiency from the field, the play of Campbell on the perimeter and Cody Riley down low figure to be the keys to a Sweet 16 appearance.
No. 5 Colorado v. No. 4 Florida State
Round of 32
Monday, March 22nd
4:45 pm PT, TBS
After displaying some nerves in the first few minutes of their opener against Georgetown, the Buffs settled in and dismantled the Hoyas.
Yet, Florida State presents a much greater challenge.
The Seminoles have five players that average between nine and 12 points per game, with each shooting roughly 50% from the field. The balanced attack makes the defensive game plan more complicated, requiring Tad Boyle to address different threats across the board.
But the Seminoles are sloppy with the ball, turning it over at a high rate despite their willingness to spread it around. That should bode well for Colorado’s defense, as Florida State committed 15 turnovers in its Round of 64 matchup against North Carolina Greensboro.
It might take another strong game from beyond the arc, but Boyle has the roster to get the job done.
McKinley Wright IV figures to continue to prove to the rest of the nation that he is an NBA-quality player, while Jeriah Horne should bounce back from his off night.
Jabari Walker is a matchup nightmare for Leonard Hamilton’s defense, with the ability to knock down threes in the pick-and-roll game. Hamilton could be forced to go small and put a more mobile wing on the true freshman, weakening his team’s ability to rebound on both sides of the court.
And with the confidence injected into every Pac-12 team due to the league’s success so far, the X-Factor favors the Buffs.
At the end of the day, effort plays and strong defense should carry the day.
No. 6 USC v. No. 3 Kansas
Round of 32
Monday, March 22nd
6:40 pm PT, CBS
The Trojans are a matchup nightmare for the Jayhawks.
It’s not the substantial height advantage USC has over its opponents that keeps coaches up at night, but the mobility of Andy Enfield’s bigs.
Evan Mobley and Company are skilled lanky-forwards that are emblematic of the evolution of the game over the past decade. It arguably started with Kevin Durant, but the new style of bigs that play with guard-like tendencies are perplexing to game plan against.
Bill Self has 6-foot-10 David McCormack to throw at Evan Mobley, but what does he do about Isaiah Mobley, Chavez Goodwin, and Isaiah White? And that’s without even mentioning Drew Peterson, a 6-foot-8 guard.
But despite the Pac-12 Coach of the Year honor bestowed on Enfield, the lack of emphasis on getting the ball in the paint during certain stretches of the game is confounding as it is reckless.
The size advantage the Trojans have should be talking point number one in every pre-game speech, and tolerating poor shot-selection from the USC guards doesn’t take advantage of their size down low.
In that sense, this game could be won and lost by the coaches, and you can bet Self has something up his sleeve.
Still, on paper, the Men of Troy have the advantage almost across the Board. The Trojans put up more points per game, shoot the ball better from the field, block more shots, and rebound the ball at a higher clip.
And with the Pac-12’s success through the first four days of the Big Dance, this game is arguably USC’s to lose.
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