Miller: Sunday Pac-12 NCAA Tournament Previews

Posted on March 28, 2021


  By Dane Miller, SportsPac12

Another tournament game, another win for the Pac-12.

At this point, the Conference of Champions’ success in the Big Dance has arguably become the story of the season—and not just on the West Coast. Wayne Tinkle guided Oregon State to the Elite Eight, and two more tickets could be punched today.

But the Selection Committee’s criminal decision to seed USC and Oregon in the same half of the West Bracket means at least one of the league’s teams will head home after today. The conference-on-conference crime is an unfortunate result of the Committee’s bias toward the Pac-12.

Both the Trojans and Ducks are worthy of the Elite Eight, yet only one of them will have a shot at the Final Four.

Before that travesty happens, UCLA looks to continue its run with a test against Nate Oats and Alabama.

I preview both of those games here, and my picks, along with Nick Bartlett’s, Stephen Vilardo’s, and Anthony Gharib’s appear at the bottom.


No. 11 UCLA v. No. 2 Alabama

Sweet 16
Sunday, March 28th
4:15 pm PT, TBS

The first thing that comes to mind when discussing Alabama is Nick Saban and the football team, but Nate Oats has guided the Tide to an SEC Regular Season and Tournament Championship.

With one of the nation’s highest-scoring offenses, the 2-seed goes eight deep and has ten players averaging nine minutes or more. Led in points by Jaden Schackelford, Alabama has three starters averaging in double-figures, and its top seven players by minutes played each shoot better than 40% from the field.

Jahvon Quinerly and Herbert Jones combine for over six assists per game, but the Tide aren’t careful with the ball.

Oats

Oats’ roster makes up for their miscues with elite rebounding and shot-blocking, yet they are by no means a perfect team. And earlier in the year, Stanford embarrassed the unit by 18 at the Maui Invitational.

But since the Tide’s defeat to Western Kentucky in mid-December, the team has been almost unstoppable, going 23-3—with each loss coming to an opponent that was ranked at the time.

Still, the name on the front of the jersey isn’t going to give the UCLA roster cause for concern. And with the the history of Bruin basketball on their side, Mick Cronin and his players have already won the pre-game psychological warfare.

Once again considered the underdog by the so-called “experts,” UCLA holds the advantage in field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and turnovers committed per game.

On paper, that should be enough to make the Bruins the favorite, yet the oddsmakers still haven’t figured out the Pac-12.

Cronin

Facing an SEC program that might be more bark than bite, the deciding-factor could come down to taking care of the ball and hitting open looks.

If Cronin and his team play their style of basketball without getting flustered by Alabama’s defense, UCLA could very well advance to its first Elite Eight since 2008.


No. 7 Oregon v. No. 6 USC

Sweet 16
Sunday, March 28th
6:45 pm PT, TBS

The lack of foresight by the Selection Committee is arguably going to knock one of the best Pac-12 teams out of the Dance.

No rational or objective seeding should have placed the first and second-place regular season finishers from the Conference of Champions on a collision course before the Elite Eight.

At the very worst, this should have been a matchup to make the Final Four. And a competent and unbiased Selection Committee would have put the programs on opposite ends of the brackets.

Instead, the Conference is going to lose one of its premier teams.

usc logoOregon’s press-zone and deadly shooting from three is a Final Four-caliber combination, while USC’s length and mobility is nearly unguardable through 40 minutes.

The first matchup between the two resulted in a 14-point victory for the Trojans, as the Ducks couldn’t contain the length Andy Enfield puts on the court. The height advantage hasn’t changed and Dana Altman must figure out a way to turn the tables, but the comments from Isaiah Mobley might help.

Mobley

Earlier in the week, the sophomore big-man said that Oregon “stole” the Pac-12 Championship from the Trojans, undoubtedly riling up the Ducks and their coaching staff, who have enjoyed substantially more Tournament success during the Pac-12 Era.

It’s a no-brainer to avoid stirring the pot before a big game, and those comments could come back to haunt the Men of Troy.

But on the court, Evan Mobley remains the biggest conundrum the Ducks must solve. Yet, even if Altman were to scheme up a way to slow him down, Isaiah Mobley, Isaiah White, and Chavez Goodwin are just as capable of eating up UO down low.

As Altman—a future Hall of Famer—knows, when it comes to slowing down bigs, disrupting the guards is the key to victory. In the matchup in February, Tahj Eaddy went off for 24 points and Drew Peterson tacked on 15. The duo made 14 of their 27 attempts from the field, while snagging a combined 15 rebounds and six assists.

Altman

When it comes down to it, the Oregon defense must do a better job against the two lead Trojan guards, while not forgetting about Ethan Anderson. Altman might try something unpredictable to get it done, potentially going man for a majority of the game and assigning Chris Duarte to Eaddy from the tip.

That might be the curveball that wins the game, but whichever coach makes the proper halftime adjustments and counter-adjustments could find himself advancing to the Elite Eight.

 




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