After an undefeated start to the NCAA Tournament, there is plenty for Pac-12 fans to look forward to this weekend.
#2 Arizona vs. #7 Saint Mary’s
Location: Salt Lake City (Vivint Smart Home Arena)
Date/Time: Saturday, 7:45pm ET
Line: Arizona (-5.5)
KenPom Projection: Saint Mary’s 64, Arizona 63
After a well-balanced, convincing 100-82 win over #15 North Dakota on Thursday, the Arizona Wildcats are back in action Saturday evening against West Coast Conference foe Saint Mary’s.
Arizona suffered one of its four losses this season to a WCC school, a 69-62 defeat at the hands of the Gonzaga Bulldogs back in December in Los Angeles. As far as tempo-free stats are concerned, ‘Zona and Saint Mary’s are very evenly matched. The Gaels have recorded better shooting marks this season (currently the second-highest effective field goal percentage in the country), but raw talent and skill sways in Arizona’s favor.
The key matchup will be Lauri Markkanen/Dusan Ristic vs. Jock Landale. The go-to player on SMC had 18 points (6-8 from the field), 11 rebounds and two blocks in the 85-77 victory over VCU Thursday. If ‘Zona can handle Landale, the Wildcats should be headed to the second weekend.
#3 Oregon vs. #11 Rhode Island
Location: Sacramento (Golden 1 Center)
Date/Time: Sunday, 7:10pm ET
KenPom Projection: Oregon 70, Rhode Island 66
Oregon handled upset-minded Iona in the round of 64 on Friday, leading by as much as 27 en route to a 93-77 blowout. Tyler Dorsey paced the Ducks with 24 points, who has now scored 20 or more in the last four games after just four 20+ point performances in the previous 31 games.
Ahead of Oregon is 11 seed Rhode Island. The Rams clinched its first tournament bid since 1999 with the Atlantic 10 conference tournament title and followed it up with an easier-than-expected 84-72 victory over Creighton in the first round. Defensive athleticism will be at the forefront in this one, as these teams are 1-2 in the country in block percentage. Rhode Island also holds the second-best opponent three-point percentage in the country, while Oregon is not far behind at 24th.
This will probably be a more competitive game than what the school names suggest, but if Oregon plays its game, the Ducks should come away with the dub. It’s not going to be easy, though. URI is led by a future pro in E.C. Matthews (14.9 PPG) and talented forward Hassan Martin (14.1 PPG, 7.0 RPG), and is playing its best basketball of the season.
#11 USC vs. #3 Baylor
Location: Tulsa (Bank of Oklahoma Center)
Date/Time: Sunday, 8:45pm ET
KenPom Projection: Baylor 72, USC 65
The only team that has won two games in this year’s tournament thus far is the USC Trojans, which used the momentum from Wednesday’s First Four defeat of Providence to scratch out a thrilling comeback victory against #6 SMU on Friday. Trailing 53-43 with 11:32 remaining, the Trojans were able to climb back into the thick of things and outscored SMU 23-13 the remainder of the game, grabbing a 66-65 win. Elijah Stewart banged in a corner three in the final seconds to hand USC the final points Friday afternoon, its first lead of the entire game.
If USC wants its first Sweet 16 appearance since the Nick Young (before he was “Swaggy P”) and Taj Gibson era, Andy Enfield and company will need to solve a freakishly talented and physical Baylor squad. The #3 seed from the Big 12 torched New Mexico State with 1.26 points per possession in a 91-73 win on Friday, and would be especially difficult to solve if Al Freeman and Terry Maston come off the BU bench to score 40 points like they did against NMSU. USC forward Chimezie Metu will have to play his heart out on Sunday against a ferocious Baylor frontcourt for USC to extend its magical run.
#3 UCLA vs. #6 Cincinnati
Location: Sacramento (Golden 1 Center)
Date/Time: Sunday, 9:40pm ET
KenPom Projection: UCLA 77, Cincinnati 76
The Bruins weren’t particularly sharp Friday night in the 97-80 win over Kent State, but the fact that UCLA can score 97 points and win by 17 and still have what most would consider a lukewarm performance is pretty remarkable. T.J. Leaf’s dominating display on Friday should calm UCLA fans that were concerned when Leaf went down in a heap just a few weeks ago against Washington, as the freshman scored 23 points in 26 minutes, going 6-9 from the floor.
The contrast in styles will be the deciding factor in Sunday’s matchup. Cincinnati plays at a snail’s pace, currently ranking 327th in the country in tempo while focusing on the defensive end, where the Bearcats are 11th in defensive efficiency and 8th in opponent effective field goal percentage. In short, Cincy likes to slow it down and defend while UCLA pushes the tempo and scores in bunches. The Bruins haven’t matched up against a team quite like Mick Cronin’s Bearcats this season, so it will be interesting how UCLA reacts to the different style. The Bruins won’t reach the second weekend if it fails to defend on Sunday, though.
What are your thoughts on this weekend’s Pac-12 games? Leave a comment below or send a tweet to @boettger_eli or @PacificTakes on Twitter.