Thursday’s are always fun!
Stanford Cardinal (8-3) Utah Utes (4-5)
I see this being a huge game for Stanford and the PAC-12 as a conference. You need Stanford to make the Big Dance, and this is a step towards that.
The Cardinal has been an enigma this season. Jerod Haase’s team is one of the top defensive units in the nation but struggle on offense at times, limiting the team’s overall ceiling. The past three games, given it, were against the three worst teams in the champions conference; Stanford’s scored 80+ in each of those contests. What’s changed? Ziaire Williams is turning the corner after a rough start to his lone season in Palo Alto, and the star Freshman had a triple-double against UW with 12 points then followed that up with 16 against Wazzu. Stanford’s ceiling coincides with Williams’s production. Both Daejon Davis and Bryce Wills have missed time with leg injuries, and I don’t think they play in this on either.
Two other players that recently have had an uptick in their play is Spencer Jones; the talented 6’7 forward is shooting far better than he did earlier this season. Then you have Jaiden Delaire, a player that nobody expected to average double figures at this point in the season. With all the attention given to the likely P12 POTY, Oscar Da Silva, that makes Delaire dangerous with his ability to score inside. If you key-in on Da Silva, that means Delaire likely gets a good look at the rack. Freshman Michael O’Connell’s started the past three games with the ravaged back-court for Jerod Haase, and the former Lacrosse star is playing about as well as you could ask. O’Connell adds defensive and can score when asked to, a sneaky player that will be on Rylan Jones in this one.
Stanford needs to shoot the ball more consistently from deep in this one, and their team average 28% won’t get the job done on the road.
I’m not sure you could find a better matchup than Timmy Allen on Oscar Da Silva if you tried… The Utes star will be paired on Da Silva, and Allen’s recent stretch has been immense. In a game against Oregon, Allen dropped 23, then against Colorado, he had 19. Allen is an interesting player, and he’s adamant to stop inside. He can hit the mid-range but isn’t a three-point shooter with struggles at the line. The Utes struggle with floor spacing at times because Allen isn’t a shooter, Carlson isn’t a shooter, and Battin isn’t shooting well at all this season. When the offensive gets congested, it limits the upside of this team. I noticed the spacing looked vastly better against Colorado, with Allen running the point and Jones on the bench. When Allen was on the ball, Utah went on an 11-0 run, with Alphonso Plummer, Pelle Larsson, Ian Martinez, and Branden Carlson on the floor. I’m not sure if we see that often, but it would benefit Utah.
The Utes force a lot of turnovers. I would put a ton of defensive pressure on Stanford with the main two ball-handlers not playing in this one.
Keys to the game:
Stanford needs to shoot the ball far better from deep, shoot at least 40% from three in this one, and Stanford wins.
Utah needs to get Alphonso Plummer’s confidence rolling. When Plummer is going, coming-off a ball-screen, he is tough to stop. Utah needs Plummer to score big in this one.
Players to watch:
Stanford: Ziaire Williams
Utah: Alphonso Plummer
Michigan State Spartans (8-4) Iowa Hawkeyes (11-2)
The Spartans have been one of the biggest disappointments in 2020-21. You have to trust Izzo will figure it out, but they have a tall task in this one.
The Spartans have a revolving door at the five and don’t have a point guard. The Rocket Watts point guard experiment did not work, and now it’s the A.J. Hoggard and Foster Loyer show. Loyer struggles defensively, and Hoggard struggles on offense, but his defensive ability has been impressive. MSU needs to focus on stopping Luka Garza, the presumptive National Player of the Year has scored 20+ points in all but one game this season. It’s imperative for MSU to double Garza, but it’s a tough matchup here that will leave someone else open. We saw the way Trevion Williams carved up the MSU post defense; Luka Garza will have a field day with that weak defense. If MSU can win, Aaron Henry needs to perform the way he did against Rutgers. Aaron Henry needs to takeover along with Joey Hauser to carry the Spartans.
Iowa’s been a pleasure to watch on offense this season, and the Hawkeyes are a well-oiled machine. We know what the offense is. It’s elite, they can shoot with Fredrick, Wieskamp, and Bohannon along with Garza, but I think their defense can improve. Why, may you ask? Keegan Murray makes the Hawkeyes defensive vastly better. Murray is an elite level athlete that is by far the best defender on the roster, Murray will defend Aaron Henry likely in this one, but he’s up to the task. Murray isn’t only a defender though, Murray can score from anywhere on the floor, for now; he’s a top-tier glue-guy, but Keegan Murray is Iowa’s next star. Jordan Bohannon’s bounce-back stretch recently makes Iowa so dangerous. Bohannon’s recent stretch is similar to what he did in the 2018-19 season prior to his hip surgery. With the Spartans’ post issues, Iowa needs to feed Garza, Jack Nunge, and Keegan Murray.
Keys to the game:
MSU needs to find a way to stop the post-play for the Spartans, all kinds of different post players have decimated Michigan State this season, and Garza is the best one in the country.
Iowa needs to play Keegan Murray for their defense to have a big game.
Players to watch:
MSU: Marcus Bingham Jr
Iowa: Keegan Murray
BYU Cougars (9-3) Saint Mary’s (9-3)
The two top Non-Gonzaga teams in the WCC face off in this one, BYU off of a loss to Gonzaga, and SMC off of a failure to Santa Clara.
The Cougs have been an interesting team this season. At times Alex Barcello, one of the top shooters in College Hoops, is the only consistent scoring player. BYU needs more production for guys like Brandon Averette, Spencer Johnson, and Matt Haarms. Averette’s had games this season where he’s scored, but a 2nd guard that can score next to Barcello is definitely needed. Barcello also needs to shoot the ball more from three in this contest, only 45 attempts, but Barcello is shooting 60% on those attempts. Matt Haarms is tough to stop when using his size to score. Rather than shooting from outside, Haarms is a crafty player at 7’3 with a soft touch at the basket. He needs to use it to his advantage. BYU’s struggled with turnover issues this season. SMC will beat you if you beat yourself. Not many teams play smarter than the Gaels.
Before we get into the Gaels, Alex Ducas & Leemet Bockler, the team’s two best shooters, have missed time with injuries and look to be out for this one. Without their two shooters, we saw significant struggles from the Gaels against Herb Sendek’s Santa Clara Broncos. SMC went 5-17 without their shooters, with Quinn Clinton being the lone reliable shooter on the roster. Tommy Kuhse’s been tremendous this season, but he doesn’t shoot the ball often from deep. Kuhse is an elite facilitator who defends and has an innate ability to get players to bite on fakes in the paint for a not tall guy, and he isn’t overly athletic but crafty. Kuhse needs to have a big game for the Gaels to win. The Gaels play deliberately like every other SMC squad, but play smart, well-coached, and beat anybody despite this not being the most talented team.
Keys to the game:
SMC needs to shoot the ball well from deep. With it not looking like Ducas & Bockler play, Clinton, Kuhse, and Fotu need to shoot the ball consistently from three.
BYU needs to find a way to limit the turnovers, SMC won’t force a ton of them, but they’ll bait you into making low IQ plays.
Players to watch:
BYU: Spencer Johnson
SMC: Quinn Clinton