Pac-12 Tourney Preview: Clash of the Titanics

Tourney frame from SBNation

There was too much brag and not enough seaworthy construction.

Sir James Bisset, on Olympic and Titanic.

While the rest of the country looks forward to the ACC Tourney rematch between heavyweights Duke and UNC for a likely #1 seed, and to the Big 10 12 Tourney rematch between the Mighty Mo and #3 Kansas for a likely #1 seed, and Syracuse captains the Big East/West/SW East and 9 more invites, and the Big 12 10 beats itself to a pulp for up to 8 invites, and the mighty #1 Kentucky and a few others from the SEC cruise into the NCAA Tournament, way out west the rowboats of the Pac 12 will meet in their own tournament. Like a life preserver to the drowning man, one team will be thrown a berth to the 2012 NCAA Tournament while other 11 teams will paddle about in a last ditch effort to prove they should join in the Madness.

Meanwhile, other Pac-12 Tourney equivalents this weekend include a Midget MMA event in Toledo, Miss Teen South Carolina advising the U.N. on Iran, and Canada declaring war on Fiji. Hey, the Great White North needs some tropical beach property, too. Honestly, a Bruins Nation thread comprised solely of debate between Seth Chandler and Fox71 on almost any topic would be infinitely more compelling, though the TV ratings might leave something to be desired, explaining why Larry Scott has not made it happen already

Oh, I know, sooooo negative, gbruin. Why? Why? Well, first, it's not negative if it's true. Second, apathy never changed anything. Ask Newton.

Still, I will absolutely be cheering on my Bruins while watching the Pac 12 Tournament this week, if only to whet my appetite for the Big Dance the next week. It's like when I arrive at a concert venue at noon to ensure a front row spot on the rail, and then have to stand through an opener or two before the headliner goes on. The NCAA Tourney is my headliner. The first weekend is either my first or second favorite sporting event (versus the 3 weeks of the Tour de France), and I am set to eat 8,000 calories of junk food, on Thursday alone, while rooting like crazy for somone like UNC Asheville (after googling to learn where Asheville really is - hey, it's in North Carolina!) to pull an epic last second upset over some NCAA blueblood. And this year I won't be distracted by the constant anxiety of how my Bruins will fare in their first round matchup.

Unless....

We have discussed the difficulty of our Bruins needing to win 4 games in 4 days to get the automatic NCAA invite given to the Pac-12 Tournament winner. In a big break for our team, we will only have to win 3 1/2 games in 4 days after being given a first round matchup with *$c, who just ran the Pac-12 gauntlet with a 1-17 record.

Even though our realistic prospects are dimmer than they should ever be allowed, the final weekend of the Pac-12 regular season showed why U.C.L.A. has just as good a chance as almost anyone (or is that a least bad as mostly no one?) in our "basketball" conference to win this tournament and get invited to the only party that matters. It's not like the conference leaders, given the opportunities in front of them, proved they were able to steer around any nearly immobile mountain sized chunks of ice in their paths this weekend. Instead, they steamed blindly ahead at full speed into the most immediate roadblocks between them and their best chance to dance.

Needing a win to clinch an outright conference title and #1 Pac-12 tourney seed, Washington folded down the stretch against our Bruins who haven't exactly been closers this year. Cal typically ignored the UC solidarity and looked the gift horse in the mouth and handed it right back to UW by losing to Stanford. Arizona was maybe on the fringe of a longshot tourney berth until they somehow lost to lowly ASU. Colorado lost two on the road (sorry, redundant) to erase their shot. Wazzu beat *$C 43-38 in a game played solely to remind everyone just how bad this conference was this year. Only Oregon came strong at the end of the year, winning 6 of 7 to get to 22-8 and make any sort of argument for a 3rd Pac-12 invite, but tournament officials were previously incapacitated by a combination of vertigo from the Oregon floor and malaise from the Pac-12 as a whole and were already checking out the other regional conferences instead.

Bubble teams in the West Coast and Mountain West celebrated like mad. At this point, only Cal and UW look like they have a good shot to get in the Big Dance as an at-large, provided they don't go brain dead and tank their first game in the Pac-12 tourney. But anything is possible (how positive is that statement!) and 6 of the top 7 teams in the conference have a chance to win this tourney and steal a bid that might go somewhere else.

That's not negative. That's just insane. It's March Madness, Lite, but we still shouldn't overlook this weekend's warmup. Over the years I've discoverered some really awesome bands like Halestorm (love Lzzy), Opeth, Symphony X, and Like A Storm for the first time by seeing them while standing through those opening acts.

But I digress. Gratuitous band links done. My point is, don't ignore the openers. Sometimes there are some real gems there, which brings me back to the Pac-12 Tournament and some of my predictions.

Appropriately enough for me, geography eliminates Colorado. Now if the tourney were in Boulder, we could literally cancel it now and just go hit the microbrews in Ft Collins. Unfortunately for CU, they will have to cross a state line to get to play. Sorry Buffs.

That leaves UW, Cal, Oregon, Arizona, Stanford, and the U.C.L.A. Bruins as teams that have an arguable chance to win the Pac-12 tourney. Each of them gets to the NCAA's by winning this weekend. But none of them is guaranteed a spot, as a bad early loss might eliminate even Cal or UW at this point. And that's what makes this weekend interesting.

#1 seed UW has already proven its ability to lose to U.C.L.A., its certain second round opponent, when it counts. One win this weekend should get UW an at-large berth. A first round loss to either a weak WSU or a weaker OSU will be scary for the Huskies, but not really that surprising for a Romar coached team.

#2 seed Cal has already proven its ability to lose to Stanford, its likely first round opponent, when it counts. They still have the best RPI of any Pac-12 team and should get in to the NCAA's, even with a choke against a cinderella ASU. Of course, that wont happen. There are no Cinderella's at ASU. Well, unless you count stripper names, in which case there are a couple hundred. But none of them play basketball.

#3 Oregon is quietly on a roll, but its last loss was to Cal, its likely semi-final matchup. They probably have the most to gain by a deep run as 2-1 gets them on the bubble and gives them a chance, and thus they have the most to lose with an early loss.

#4 Arizona just tanked to ASU. Evidently the Standard prepared for the tourney by resting all basketball skills last weekend. That killed any remote chance for an at-large berth with a deep run. They need to win out to get to the tourney which is very substandard for Arizona.

#7 Stanford just beat Cal. I don't know why that matters. It's Cal. Who is more Jeckyl and Hyde than the Bears? But I'll include Stanford even though they managed to lose to Utah right before that.

Which leaves our #5 U.C.L.A. Bruins, who won only two real road games this year. Lucky for us, google maps shows that Staples is closer to Westwood (14.5 miles) than our "home" games at the Sports Arena (15.1 miles) were this year. Of course, google maps also says travel time for those 15 miles across town is only 21 minutes - hahahahaha! So take these "road" games this weekend with a grain of salt, but this a huge opportunity for Howland and his team. I think our best IM team can beat *$c, and it will be crucial for Howland to rest his starters every possible second he can. The local angle plays in our favor against Arizona, (we won by 10 in LA, and lost by 2 in the desert, and should have won that one, too).

Unfortunately, I don't think we are deep enough to last beyond 2 games in 2 days, let alone 3 1/2 in 4. We did win 5 games in a row earlier this year (bonus if you can tell me who those 5 teams were, and bigger bonus if that inspires you in any way) but that was over a 13 day stretch. I just don't think we will have use the depth necessary to play 160 minutes of solid basketball in 4 days. I don't trust Howland to go deep into his bench against *$c and rest up our core for the next 3 games (though I do expect him to mention in his post season presser that he wishes he did). Still after the SI article shined the spotlight of ignominy on our program, our players have shown better effort at both ends of the court. Whether that was overblown by the mediocrity of our opponents or whether that was actually a giant wake up call, and whether they can then manage that for 3+ full games, will be revealed this weekend.

Based on nothing rational, since rationality has no predictive value in our conference this year, I think the semis see U.C.L.A. meet Washington, and Cal meet Oregon. i'm afraid that getting past *$c and Arizona in consecutive days will be too much for our Bruins by Friday, so the finals will pit Washington and Oregon. And I think Oregon wins, striking dread into the hearts of a bubble mid major somewhere, and setting Cal and UW up for a very very nervous Selection Sunday show.

And on Monday, the roadies hit the stage, strike the drum kit, change the rigs and back line, hang new scrims, growl "Check, one, two, Hey!" into the mikes, and we start chanting for the headliners.

What do you think? Will the Bruins hit the stage when the house lights go back down?

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