Behind the Pac-12 Basketball Breakout of USC, Oregon, UCLA & Oregon State
Justin Casterline/Getty Images. Pictured: Johnny Juzang.
The Pac-12 has been the butt of all jokes throughout both the college football and college basketball seasons.
From mismanaging the start of the football season to having very few relevant teams during the regular season for basketball, the conference has shown out during the NCAA Tournament.
Bill Walton’s Final Four: USC, Colorado, Oregon State, Oregon (despite being in USC’s region), UCLA (despite that you can only have 4 teams in the final four).
— Dave Pasch (@DavePasch) March 14, 2021
It turns out Bill Walton was right.
So, this breakdown of all four remaining Pac-12 teams is for Bill. After all, he may also have no idea who these teams are after a long season of covering them.
Pac-12 Sweet 16 Matchups
|Oregon State vs. Loyola Chicago||Loyola -7||2:40 p.m. ET on Sat.|
|UCLA vs. Alabama||Alabama -6.5||7:15 p.m. ET on Sun.|
|Oregon vs. USC||USC -2||9:45 p.m. ET on Sun.|
|Odds as of Thursday and via DraftKings.|
Known for his Dunk City Florida Gulf Coast team in 2013, head coach Andy Enfield has had a breakthrough at USC thanks to Evan Mobley. The freshman is scoring 16.1 with 8.6 rebounds per game while blocking 2.9 shots and shooting 58.2% from the field.
Having finished in a virtual tie atop the Pac-12 in the regular season, USC will go as far as Mobley takes it in March Madness.
USC still boasts one of the best big men in the Pac-12 in Mobley, but the Trojans have also gotten some high-level guard play from Tahj Eaddy — he even showed off some clutch shooting ability with his last-second 3-pointer to help the Trojans sneak past UCLA, 64-63, on March 6.
Throw in Mobley's brother, Isaiah — who went for 17 points on 4-of-5 shooting from 3 and pulled down eight boards in their Round of 32 win over the 3-seeded Kansas Jayhawks — and it's clear that the Trojans have the star power to make a run even further in the tournament.
This team has elite size, which enables it to dominate on the offensive boards and in defense at the rim. However, its free-throw shooting is very troublesome at 64.7% (327th).
Prior to their loss to rival Oregon State in the Pac -12 Tournament, the Ducks were playing outstanding basketball. Some of their season-long metrics are a bit depressed as a result of injuries, but the on-court product once they got all of their pieces back looked very promising.
That’s especially true on the offensive end, where Oregon ranks in the 88th percentile nationally in terms of points per possession, per Synergy.
The Ducks start five upperclassmen who are all efficient on that end of the floor. That said, the defense is nowhere close to the level of the offense, especially in the interior, where they really miss the length of N’Faly Dante (out for the year).
The Ducks are very vulnerable against elite post players. But this is still a Dana Altman-led team. That means they will be tough to prepare for in a tournament setting. Altman will press a bunch and switch between man and zone looks in the half-court.
Given the right draw, Oregon has the offensive firepower to make a run even with some of its defensive deficiencies.
That's exactly what happened against Iowa in the Round of 32, as the Ducks scored 56 first-half points en route to a 95-80 victory over the No. 2 seed in the West Region.
UCLA earned an impressive overtime win over a physical Michigan State team, 86-80, to advance beyond the First Four.
The undersized Bruins matched the Spartans on the boards with 33 total rebounds, and their defense forced Michigan State into four more turnovers (12 total). UCLA can get hot from deep, having shot a blistering 50% (9-of-18) from beyond the arc led by sophomores Jaime Jaquez and Johnny Juzang against Sparty.
Then, the Bruins took it to BYU for a 73-62 win to move to the Sweet 16.
With guards like Jacquez and point guard Tyger Campbell combining for 2.5 steals per game, the Bruins should be able to slow down most backcourts.
BYU also used 7-foot-4 center Matt Haarms (11.3 points, 54.8% 2-point shooting), but UCLA has experience defending USC big man Evan Mobley, and the Bruins were successful against a much more intimidating frontline in Michigan State.
UCLA snuck into the NCAA Tournament on the back of a very efficient offense that ranks 24th in the country, according to KenPom.
The Bruins slow the game down and look for the best shot, as evidenced by their 335th-ranked tempo. They rank inside the top 50 in 3-point shooting percentage this season, a rate that would be even better if guard Chris Smith didn’t tear his ACL in a New Year’s Eve game against Utah.
The Bruins are fortunate to have gotten into the tournament after losing their final four games of the season, but if the matchup is right, they've shown they can make a run.
Oregon State Beavers
No one outside the state of Oregon had the Beavers making it this far.
First, they stole a bid by winning the Pac-12 Tournament, then they smacked Tennessee in a 5-12 upset and proceeded to dominate Oklahoma State and potential future No. 1 NBA Draft pick Cade Cunningham.
Head coach Wayne Tinkle’s team has found success through three areas: A slow pace of play, 3-point defensive efficiency and a vastly-improved offense. Oregon State plays at one of the slowest paces in college basketball, ranking 313th in adjusted tempo, per KenPom.
The Beavers were the second-slowest team in the Pac-12 but balanced that pace of play with a stifling perimeter defense.
Tinkle mixes up defenses, and his players have responded with remarkable flexibility. They have no trouble transitioning from man-to-man to an aggressive zone defense that allows fewer 3-point attempts than you would expect.
Oregon State's conference tournament run was predicated on one of the great equalizers an underdog college team can have. The Beavers’ tournament run has been from shooting an impressive percentage from 3-point range.
Guards Jarod Lucas and Ethan Thompson have been leading the charge in that category. Against UCLA, Lucas was 5-of-10 from deep, and Thompson got the hot hand against the Ducks to hit five of his eight long-range shots.
Oregon State was decent from 2-point range in its win over Tennessee (48.6%), but it was lethal from beyond the arc (47.6%). The Cowboys were the best team in the Big 12 at limiting their opponents from deep, allowing only 32%.
Oregon State has size on the interior with 6-foot-7 Nicholls State transfer Warith Alatishe, 7-foot-1 center Roman Silva and 6-foot-10 Maurice Calloo.
That’s balanced with a great senior leader in Thompson, who leads the team with 15.3 points per game, and Lucas (12.9 PPG), who has been scalding. Lucas has scored double-digits in 11 of the last 12 games and is one of the best free-throw shooters in the country at 88.9%
The Beavers are tall across the board, ranking 23rd in the country in average height. The size of their guards on the perimeter is particularly problematic for opposing perimeter players. That will be an essential advantage at limiting star guards from finding consistent offense.
Oregon State’s offense is on a roll, and its defense is playing its best of the season. Wayne Tinkle is a brilliant game strategist, as evidenced by the Pac-12 Tournament win over Oregon.
Stuckey, Mike Randle, Matthew Trebby, Hasani Grayson, and Pete Ruden contributed to this story.