Miller: Saturday NCAA Men’s Hoops Tournament Previews

Posted on March 20, 2021


  By Dane Miller, SportsPac12

All season long, the national media talked up the Big 10 as the “best conference in America,” while casting aside the Pac-12 as an afterthought. The pundits labeled the league as the worst of the Power 6, hardly worthy of recognition—and certainly not deserving of AP Top 25 votes.

But after the first two days of the NCAA Tournament, that narrative has been all but destroyed.

The Conference of Champions is 2-0 after Thursday and Friday, with victories over the SEC and Big 10. UCLA’s win over Michigan State in overtime started the head-turning, and Oregon State’s dismantling of Tennessee sealed the deal.

And on Saturday, there’s little reason to doubt the Conference’s ability to continue its undefeated streak.

I preview all four of today’s games below, and my picks, along with Nick Bartlett’s, Stephen Vilardo’s, and Anthony Gharib’s appear at the bottom.

No. 12 Georgetown v. No. 5 Colorado

Round of 64
Saturday, March 20th
9:15am PT, CBS

The psychological advantage of seeing fellow Pac-12 teams win their opening games is a weapon in the mental arsenal of Tad Boyle’s squad.

But the unfathomable “Who’s that?”comment from Georgetown’s Jamorko Pickett, when he was asked about McKinley Wright IV, is arguably all the motivation CU needed to come out and make a statement.

It’s common sense not to stir the pot before a big matchup, and even if the jab wasn’t meant to be taken seriously, it figures to be an unwise decision from the Hoyas’ senior wing.

Wright IV

Wright IV has never played in the Big Dance, and his determination to play his heart out was already at full-throttle.

But now it’s personal.

And against a Buff squad that outmatches Georgetown in nearly every statistical category on paper, it’s no wonder head coach Patrick Ewing had to walk back the comment.

Other than blocked shots and rebounds, Colorado holds the edge across the board. The Hoyas are particularly susceptible to turning the ball over, and their assist-to-turnover ratio is among the worst in college basketball.

Throw in Georgetown’s relatively poor shooting from the field and the Buffs’ proficiency from the free thrown line, and it wouldn’t be a shock if CU pulled away early and never looked back.

Yet, the X-Factor could be the Hoyas’ ability to knock down threes. If Ewing’s team shoots well from beyond the arc, this game could be closer than some are expecting.

No. 11 Drake v. No. 6 USC

Round of 64
Saturday, March 20th
1:30pm PT, TNT

What’s happened before doesn’t matter.

All that maters is what happens next.

usc logoThe NCAA Tournament is finally here for the USC Trojans, and all their late-season struggles can be discarded like scrap paper.

The Missouri Valley Conference is an overlooked league that produced two bids to the Big Dance this season. But Drake isn’t the 2021 ideation of the Loyola-Chicago team that made the Final Four three years ago.

Yet, both MVC squads won their opening games, and the Bulldogs are confident after taking down Wichita State—which left the Valley unceremoniously in 2017 for the supposedly better American Athletic Conference.

The resulting confidence the victory injected into Drake’s roster can’t be discredited, but the school from Des Moines, Iowa, has yet to face a team with the size USC possesses.

E. Mobley

And the bright lights of the Pac-12 Tournament didn’t seam to phase Evan Mobley, who figures to seize the opportunity the NCAA Tournament provides. The national media continues to froth over Cade Cunningham when discussing the potential Number One pick in the upcoming draft, and the matchup with the Bulldogs gives Mobley the spotlight to make some headwind.

Set up against a team led by guards with little to no interior presence, the Trojans’ size advantage should be on full display.

It will be up to the USC guards to get Mobley going, but the Pac-12 Player of the Year should have a field day down low.

No. 11 UCLA v. No. 6 BYU

Round of 64
Saturday, March 20th
6:40pm PT, CBS

The Bruins are not a Cinderella story, and their placement in the Play-In game was a slight at the Pac-12 from the Selection Committee.

There’s little doubt Cronin’s team expected to be here, albeit not as an 11-seed already having played a game before the First Round officially began.

But what happened on Thursday must be forgotten, as BYU is playing its best basketball of the season.

Led by Arizona transfer Alex Barcello, Utah Valley transfer Brandon Averette, and Purdue transfer Matt Haarmes, Mark Pope has successfully meshed his new players with his system and returned the Cougars to the Big Dance for the first time since 2015.

Still, the Bruins finally snapped their winless streak two days ago and might have regained their confidence in the process.

Juzang

The apparent ankle injury to Johnny Juzang is concerning, but it would be a shock if he didn’t give it a go. That doesn’t mean he will be at 100%, or anywhere near, but the 23 points the Kentucky transfer scored against Michigan State would be sorely missed if he isn’t healthy enough to play.

Even if Juzang doesn’t miss a beat, Mick Cronin needs a better performance from Tyger Campbell. The sophomore guard struggled against the Spartan defense, and another poor game from him might be too much to overcome.

There’s no question UCLA has the firepower to win this game, but containing the BYU offense figures to be the deciding-factor.

No. 10 VCU v. No. 7 Oregon

Round of 64
Saturday, March 20th
6:57pm PT, TNT

The Ducks’ loss to Oregon State in the Pac-12 Tournament was an anomaly that figures to be corrected against VCU.

Dana Altman’s team has likely been replaying the defeat in the back of their minds since the buzzer sounded, itching to get back on the court to exact some revenge.

The Rams just happen to be on the receiving end.

But the two teams could not be more different. Oregon’s perimeter based offense is juxtaposed with VCU’s defensive strength in the paint. The Rams are elite at blocking shots, but it remains to be seen how that translates against an offensive attack that relies heavily on threes.

The clash of strengths when the Ducks are in their half court sets might be the matchup to watch, but the game could be won in transition.

Altman

VCU doesn’t take care of the ball, and Altman’s defensive system is designed to generate turnovers before opponents get into their offensive game plan. The more steals the Oregon guards generate near half court, the harder it will be for the Rams to play their defensive style of basketball.

The future Hall of Fame coach is famous for his ability to force teams out of their element, and this game has the potential to be Class 101 in Altman’s course on disrupting opposing systems.

And facing a VCU team that doesn’t shoot well from beyond the arc, the potential for Oregon to turn this into a double-digit victory is tangible.

 




—Recent Dane Miller Stories—

Subscribe to our newsletter and keep up on the latest.