It’s a Make or Break Week for the Pac-12

Posted by RJ Abeytia on November 30th, 2016

After a sizzling opening weekend followed by some Feast Week struggles, the Pac-12 finds itself facing a potential do or die week in terms of its national perception. Three teams will be front and center this week under the bright lights of ESPN and CBS, and after 71 games and even with all of December left, chances are it will be this week’s main events that set the tone for the Pac-12 come March. Part of the concentration on these games stems from factors out of the league’s control. Oregon’s injury issues have left it a shell of the team most expected it to be come March — the Ducks have already dropped games to Baylor and Georgetown without the services of Dillon Brooks (and have looked shaky even with him back). While the committee will factor Oregon’s injuries into its analysis, that doesn’t help the Pac-12’s overall profile. And that brings us to this week, starting this evening on the Peninsula.

St. Mary’s at Stanford: Wednesday 11/30 8:00 PM PT (Pac-12 Bay Area)

So far, so good for Jerod Haase and Stanford. (Tahoe Daily Tribune)

Jerod Haase and Stanford have a monster week ahead of them, including a trip to Haase’s alma mater where dreams tend to fade. (Tahoe Daily Tribune)

Not only is the Pac-12 counting on Stanford — the team picked to finish 10th in the league standings this season — but the Cardinal actually have two games with national ramifications this week. First, Randy Bennett’s St. Mary’s bunch (11th nationally, per KenPom) comes to Maples Pavilion tonight. The Gaels may not yet be a nationally-renowned name, but they drilled Stanford last season and will be a contender in a league (WCC) that has been quite the thorn in the side of the Pac-12 in recent years. This is one of two big Pac-12/WCC showdowns this week, and while it’s definitely the undercard, it’s still a big game for both teams and conferences.

UCLA at Kentucky: Saturday 12/3 9:30 AM PT (CBS)

Lonzo Ball has been everything and more for UCLA. Now comes his toughest test yet. (Fox Sports Australia)

Lonzo Ball has been everything and more for UCLA. Now comes his toughest test yet. (Fox Sports Australia)

The unquestioned headliner this week comes in Lexington, where two of the bluest bloods in the sport meet in Rupp Arena for the first time ever. UCLA is trying to follow John Calipari’s One-&-Done Program Building model with standout freshman Lonzo Ball, who has been everything Steve Alford could have hoped for so far this season. Ball has galvanized an already talented roster, most notably Bryce Alford and his scorching 134.8 Offensive Rating. The key to this battle between elite offenses is going to be which defense can get more stops, as Kentucky is a top five team at both ends whereas UCLA’s defense rates 57th nationally. The Bruins will assuredly challenge the Wildcats’ half-court defense, but can they muster up enough defensive effort on their own end to pull off the big upset?

Stanford at Kansas: Saturday 12/3 12:30 PM PT (ESPN)

Stanford travels to Lawrence to start the first of four annual meetings with the Jayhawks. The truth is that a loss here will not earn the conference a demerit considering that Kansas is the gold standard in one of the best basketball leagues in the country. However, because it’s very much a “house money” game for the Cardinal, it’s also a tremendous opportunity. A strong showing or even an unlikely win would be a huge boost to the ascent of Jerod Haase’s program in his first year on campus. That Haase is a beloved former Jayhawk certainly adds intrigue to this storyline, but for Stanford, this week is about offense. Haase has produced a rugged defensive team (92.3 Defensive Rating, 19th nationally) that is still trying to find its way offensively (103.0 Offensive Rating, 142nd). If Stanford can find some buckets this week, it has a legitimate shot at a split. If not, this week could be a long, cold shower for the upstart Cardinal.

Gonzaga vs. Arizona: Saturday 12/3 2:30 PM PT (ESPN)

Mark Few vs. Sean Miller. Talk about a big-time coaching matchup. (Getty)

Mark Few vs. Sean Miller. Talk about a big-time coaching matchup. (Getty)

These two western powerhouses meet on a neutral floor Saturday in Los Angeles’ Staples Center, which will give it a late round NCAA Tournament feel. Arizona just fell to surging Butler in Las Vegas and that loss won’t stay in Sin City. The Wildcats — which incidentally hold the conference’s best win (over Michigan State) — are going to be looking for some redemption this weekend. The Zags come in having just won the Advocare Invitational in Orlando, which included victories over Florida and Iowa State. The key for the Wildcats here will be endgame execution. Arizona struggled mightily down the stretch against Butler, settling for far too much isolation basketball against a coordinated and disciplined defense.

So what’s a Pac-12 “win” for the week?  Considering that all three teams will be underdogs in all four of these games, any combination of two wins would be a good showing. Three or more would put Larry Scott over the moon. Stanford gets the only true home game but it is by far the least heralded team of the group. Arizona and UCLA have enough talent to win their games, but each has question marks. One thing is certain for Pac-12 fans: When everything shakes out on Selection Sunday, this week’s results will receive a long look from the committee, one way or the other.

Richard Abeytia (41 Posts)

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