Viewer's Guide: Statements to be made in Pac-12 action
After Arizona, the Pac-12 is wide-open. Two games on Thursday could help determine the pecking order.
Wednesday was the Big Ten’s turn, as Michigan and Minnesota picked up résumé-building wins. And now Thursday could be the Pac-12's night. Outside of Arizona and maybe California, the league has questions and a tight pecking order. A couple of games on Thursday could help solve things.
Note: All times are Eastern, and the rankings are according to the AP Poll.
Best game: Stanford Cardinal at UCLA Bruins (11 p.m., Pac-12 Network). This could be another opportunity for Stanford to make a statement. The Cardinal are on a three-game winning streak since dropping to 9-5 overall, and now their Los Angeles road swing begins. They won't be afraid of the road, either, as they already own away wins at Connecticut and Oregon. On the other side, UCLA has been relatively up and down this season, but the Bruins have the pieces to win games in March. Both teams have plenty of size, although UCLA likes to spread the floor with perimeter players and Stanford utilizes a three-big frontcourt. Keep an eye on Dwight Powell. While UCLA's Kyle Anderson gets attention as a point-forward, Powell has emerged as a playmaker at the forward position as well. He has at least three assists in 11 straight games.
Second-best game: Utah Utes at Arizona State Sun Devils (9 p.m., Pac-12 Network). The Pac-12 has eight teams in the top 53 at KenPom.com, and these two are among the clubs hoping to stay in the bubble mix come March. Utah had a huge home swing last weekend, taking down both Southern California and UCLA to move to .500 in the league. Meanwhile, Arizona State needs to go on a run after getting blown out in road games against UCLA and Arizona. Two of the best players in the conference will battle, as Utah's Delon Wright has emerged as a potential pro, and now gets to go against Jahii Carson. One side note: There will be a meeting of brothers, with Arizona State's Jordan Bachynski and Utah's Dallin Bachynski.
Another one to watch: Illinois Fighting Illini at No. 17 Ohio State Buckeyes (7 p.m., ESPN). This is basically a must-win for both teams, as each team enters Thursday on a four-game losing streak. Illinois was off to a 13-2 start before the skid -- a slide that includes losses to Northwestern and Purdue. Ohio State was 15-0 before its bad run; and the Buckeyes have essentially fallen out of the conference title hunt. Both teams are struggling mightily on the offensive end, with Ohio State essentially incapable of creating offense with its guards and Illinois getting inconsistent production from its role players and inside players. Going against the Buckeyes' lockdown backcourt won't help matters.
Guaranteed win: San Diego Toreros at Gonzaga Bulldogs (10 p.m., ESPNU). The Bulldogs haven't exactly been hitting on all cylinders this season, but they are still the WCC favorite -- and by some margin. They are 6-1 in the league and should move to 7-1 with a home tilt against San Diego. The Toreros have won one road game since mid-November, and I don't think that becomes two on Thursday. Maybe it's a chance for Kevin Pangos to snap out of his slump; he's averaging just 9.7 points in his past three games, shooting 4 for 17 from 3-point range.
Potential upset: Brigham Young Cougars at Portland Pilots (10 p.m., ROOT). BYU had bounced back from its four-game losing streak to win five in a row, putting itself back into the WCC hunt. But Thursday brings a road trip to Portland, against a team that just beat Gonzaga by nine two weeks ago. The Pilots have also taken down Pacific and Columbia at home. BYU could be another victim of the Earle A. Chiles Center.
Three other things to keep an eye on:
- If Spencer Dinwiddie were healthy, Colorado Buffaloes trip to No. 1 Arizona Wildcats would be the game of the night. Instead, the Wildcats should roll (9 p.m., ESPN2).
- Oregon Ducks has lost four in a row, and the Ducks begin their Pacific Northwest swing on Thursday at Washington Huskies (11 p.m., Fox Sports 1).
- Four key conference clashes. In the Atlantic Sun, Florida Gulf Coast Eagles is at Mercer Bears (7 p.m.). In the Southern, Elon Phoenix is at Chattanooga Mocs (7 p.m.). In the Sun Belt, Georgia State Panthers is at UL Lafayette Ragin Cajuns (8:15 p.m.). In the Big Sky, Northern Arizona Lumberjacks is at Northern Colorado Bears (9:05 p.m.).
Other games to watch:
- Seton Hall Pirates at St. John's Red Storm (7 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
- No. 6 Florida Gators at Alabama Crimson Tide (7 p.m., ESPN2)
- Charlotte 49ers at Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (7:30 p.m.)
- Houston Cougars at No. 23 Memphis Tigers (8 p.m., ESPNEWS)
- UCF Knights at No. 15 Cincinnati Bearcats (9 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
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