Mike Hopkins previews Pac-12 tournament
The men’s Pac-12 Basketball Tournament begins Wednesday in wonderful Las Vegas; whether it feels like that for the teams involved might come down to what happens over the course of the next four days.
While the Washington Huskies all ready feel like winners after taking the regular season crown, traditional powers UCLA and Arizona will likely need to win this tournament to make it into the NCAA Tournament. And if UW wins it and takes the conference’s automatic bid, there’s a chance no other Pac-12 team will be playing in the Big Dance.
A closer look at the tournament:
Washington and Arizona State: Fighting for NCAA Tourney lives
Conventional wisdom tells you that both Washington and Arizona State will (should?) find their way into the field of 68 on Selection Sunday. When it comes to the Pac-12 this season, Washington and Arizona State haven’t meshed well with conventional wisdom.
The Huskies began 10-0 in conference play before losing two of its last four games. In that span, the Huskies handed Cal their first conference win of the season and barely survived at Stanford a few days later to win, 62-61. After taking down Oregon State in overtime, the Huskies lost at home, 55-47 to Oregon, on senior night.
Despite that finish, Washington’s metrics look pretty good. They sit in the top 40 of the NCAA’s NET rankings eventhough they have a 2-4 record vs. “quality opponents.” Their best non-conference win is Texas A&M, which slumped to a 13-17 finish in 2019.
Arizona State may be in as well but it wouldn’t hurt their case if they have a good tournament. The Sun Devils are 21-9 and and while that is usually enough to get you in, they find themselves in a 11-12 seed logjam according to BracketMatrix. The projected 11-12 seed teams are a large group of 15-20 teams in, around and on the bubble.
UCLA: New coaching coming soon
The Bruins added to the conference craziness on New Year’s Eve when they fired Steve Alford. Under interim head coach Murry Bartow, they went 9-9 and are 16-15 entering the conference tournament. That probably isn’t enough to get Bartow the full-time gig, unless they do something crazy over the next week.
Most likely, they’ll have a new coach next season with names like Lakers head coach Luke Walton, Virginia’s Tony Bennett and ex-Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg allegedly on UCLA’s radar.
USC, Arizona and Washington State: New coach too?
Could there be more head coach turnover in the conference. If so, where?
USC: All indications seem to be that USC head coach Andy Enfield is coming back but a 15-16 mark paired with an 8-10 conference record means he doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room.
Arizona: Sean Miller had a tough season, for sure. And while Miller’s job was never in question, it was what he said following the Wildcats 72-64 loss to Arizona State that grabbed headlines.
He has clarified those remarks and has said he’s not saying goodbye but it was still somewhat alarming. If Miller does return, which all indications seem the Wildcats have a top five recruiting class, according to Rivals
Washington State: Seems like it’s only a matter of time before Washington State ends the Ernie Kent era. The Cougars finished just ahead of pathetic Cal at the bottom of the league with a 4-14 conference record. There’s been radio silence in reference to Kent’s future, but after five years and a 58-97 record, it seems like the writing’s on the wall.
Utah, Colorado, Oregon, and Oregon State: Good enough to cause chaos.
A team willl represent the Pac-12 in the NCAA Tournament. Whether it’s more than one, or which school, we do not know.
On the surface, Utah, Colorado, and both Oregon schools have records that would usually make them a contender for the NCAA Tournament. All are multiple games above .500 in conference and finished in the top half of the league. Maybe the most impressive thing about all four of these schools is that they are all riding a winning streak into the conference tournament.
Oregon has a conference leading four-game winning streak, Colorado has won three straight. Utah finished the regular season with back-to-back wins and Oregon State wrapped up conference play with a win over Washington State.
When looking at the Pac-12 Tourney bracket, both Oregon State and Utah have first round byes but could run into both Oregon and Colorado in the conference quarterfinals.
From there, we have the possibility of an Oregon State/Colorado vs. Washington matchup in the semis and Arizona State vs. Utah/Oregon in the other semifinal.
Washington had competitive and close games with both Oregon State and Colorado, even going to OT with the Beavers just a few days ago. Meanwhile, Arizona State split with both Oregon and Utah. So fully prepare yourselves for the possibility of an Oregon State vs. Utah Pac-12 Tournament final.
Cal and Stanford: Streaking and sliding into Vegas
Up until the last week and a half of the season, the Cal Golden Bears were circling the bottom of the drain in the Pac-12 but things are starting to look up. Cal beat Washington and actually turned that into three-game winning streak to end the season. Good on you, Golden Bears.
Meanwhile, we’ve got Stanford sitting at 15-15 after losing two straight to end the season. Not exactly on the bubble for the NCAA’s or the NIT. Maybe the Stanford Tree can give us some excitement the basketball team may lack in Las Vegas.