It’s Tournament Time! Specifically, the Pac-12 Tournament, taking place in monument to man’s hubris lovely Las Vegas, at the T-Mobile Arena. As usual, all Pac-12 teams get to participate, and all teams technically have a shot at winning the tournament, and guarantee themselves an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
This has been a weird Pac-12 regular season; Arizona, USC, and UCLA were picked to go 1-2-3 in the preseason, and that did happen, but Arizona and USC have disappointed nationally, and UCLA tied for 3rd with upstarts Utah and Washington. Arizona State entered the conference season with a top 5 ranking and ended with an under .500 record in conference play, and recent stalwart Oregon took several steps back.
But none of that matters now, as the winner of the Pac-12 Tournament gets an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament, and the middling nature of the conference means the field is wide open. In an effort to provide the best coverage of UCLA Bruins athletics that we can, Some of our basketball writers have banded together to present this Pac-12 Tournament Preview. We will break down each team, take a look at the Bruins’ chances for tournament victory, and make our predictions for tournament winner.
Arizona Wildcats (#1 Seed, 24-7, 14-4 conference) - The No.1 seeded Arizona Wildcats are vying for their seventh Pac-12 Tournament Championship and second straight. They get a first round bye and will play the winner of Colorado and Arizona State. Arizona has played both teams and split with Colorado and swept ASU. Sean Miller will have a full roster for the tournament as Ira Lee was cleared to play. Not to mention they will trot out the Pac-12 Player of the Year in Deandre Ayton and All Pac-12 First Team member, Alonzo Trier. Arizona is mad, and has two of the top three players in the Pac-12. This is their tournament to lose. - Marky B.
USC Trojans (#2 Seed, 21-10, 12-6) - Y’all remember this from the preseason?
But seriously, I’m actually not sure how anyone looks at this USC team, watches how they’ve played, and says “yeah, this team has definitely lived up to expectations”, unless your expectations were that bad coach Andy Enfield would find a way to utterly disappoint, in which case congratulations on having watched USC basketball at any point in the last, oh, 100 years or so. This team is full of athletes but managed to lose all 3 games they’ve played against conference powers Arizona and UCLA (in fact, the only team in the top 5 they’ve managed to beat was Utah twice). Still, USC has to like their draw in the tournament, since they would avoid a combination of Arizona/UCLA/Stanford/ASU until the finals, though a potential opener against Washington could loom large for USC’s NCAA Tournament chances. - Dimitri Dorlis
Utah Utes (#3 Seed, 19-10, 11-7) - The Overachievers. The Pac-12’s top defense is organized by Coach Larry Krystkowiak. The other Coach K is one of the best game and practice coaches who did the most with the least talent. Still for a team relatively lacking in talent, three wins in three days is tough, as symbolized by their frail leader, 5’8” Justin Bibbins. They may just wear out. - DCBruins
Stanford Cardinal (#5 Seed, 17-4, 11-7) - Thanks to the UCLA Bruins, the Stanford’s men’s basketball team lost their chance for a bye and get the pleasure of playing their Bay Area rival, the 12the seeded Cal Bears. The Cardinal do have wins against Arizona State, UCLA, USC, and played Arizona tough in both games. But barring any miracles, the Cardinal would have to beat Cal, UCLA, and Arizona to take the Pac-12 Tourney title, and that’s not happening for them, and no title means that there is no March Madness for the fourth straight year for the Cardinal.-Marky B
Oregon Ducks (#6 Seed, 20-11, 10-8) - The Oregon Ducks are the one team that I would not want to play, and they are set up on the easier side of the bracket in my opinion. They would only play UCLA or Arizona in the finals. Not that playing either team would exactly intimidate the Oregon Ducks, as they just recently swept the Arizona schools. The Ducks have length in Paul White and Kenny Wooten, they hit their free throws, and they have a great coach. I would not be at all shocked to see an Arizona Wildcat and Oregon Duck finals on Saturday night. -Marky B
Washington Huskies (#7 Seed, 20-11, 10-8) - The New Team. Pac-12 Coach of the year Mike Hopkins Syracuse Zone Defense helped a UW team improve from just two conference wins to 10. Led by Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year there is talent on this UW team that like UCLA has beaten the top two seeds in the tournament. However, UW’s zone may be figured out or they may be wearing out, they are 3-5 in their last 8 games. - DCBruins
Colorado Buffaloes (#8 Seed, 16-14, 8-10) - The Colorado Buffaloes and Thad Boyle are 6-0 in Pac-12 Tournament opening games since the tournament expanded to 12 teams in 2011-2012. The Buffaloes will open against the No. 9 seeded Arizona State Sun Devils, a team that they split with in the regular season. The Buffaloes’ calling card is their defense, and ASU loves to shoot the ball from behind the arc. In addition, when the Sun Devils shoot 46% or better from the field,they are 13-0. So with the Buffaloes 6-0 opening game record, it makes it a clear lock that they will lose to the No. 9 seeded Arizona State Sun Devils.-Marky B
Arizona State Sun Devils (#9 Seed, 20-10, 8-10) - Do you remember how Arizona State was ranked #3 in the AP poll at one point, and how they were getting votes for the #1 spot? And how some Bruinsnation writers WHO WILL REMAIN NAMELESS bought into the hype and had them ranked as high as #2 in the conference preseason poll? Yeah, turns out Bobby Hurley really never wants that Duke job ever, as the Sun Devils fire-bombed this season and finished a miserable 9th in a bad Pac-12. The Sun Devils don’t even have momentum going into this tournament, as they’ve lost 4 of their last 5, including a brutal road swing through Oregon that would look familiar to UCLA fans. - Dimitri Dorlis
Oregon State Beavers (#10 Seed, 15-15, 7-11) - Oregon State is….not that good. They’re certainly not as bad as the last two teams in the conference, but it’s fairly clear they lack the level of athlete and coaching that most of the other teams in conference possess. They’ve been able to surprise some teams at home this year, with wins over UCLA, ASU, Washington, and Oregon all coming at home, but 4 games in 4 days may be too big of a hill to climb. But don’t sleep on the Beavers when it comes to a first-round upset, as they’ve already beaten Washington this year, and lost a return meeting by 2 points. - Dimitri Dorlis
Washington State Cougars (#11 Seed, 12-18, 4-14) - If Berkeley hadn’t pulled such a dumb move this offseason, I’d have stated that the Cougs possess the worst coach in the conference in Ernie Kent (and this conference has some bad coaches, y’all). Washington State is a real bad team in a bad conference, which says a lot…..except….they have won 2 of their last 4 games, and one of those wins came against their first round opponent, Oregon. A 25-point loss to Oregon State in the final game of the regular season isn’t going to do a ton as far as building momentum, but this is March, and stranger things have happened. - Dimitri Dorlis
California Golden Bears (#12 Seed, 8-23, 2-16) - They need to be demoted to D-II. I like UCLA’s odds of winning the NCAA Tournament more than Berkeley’s odds in the Pac-12. They are ranked 209 in RPI behind such powerhouses as Sam Houston State, Elon (?!?) and just in front of Liberty. In the Pac-12 they rank dead last in three point shooting (offense and defense), field goal percentage (offense and defense), steals, turnovers, assists, etc. The most telling number may be rebounding. They rank first in offensive rebounds (all those misses) and last in defensive rebounds (their opponents don’t miss.) - DCBruins
How will the Bruins do in the tournament?
DCBruins: 120. That’s how many minutes Aaron Holiday needs to play in three days for UCLA to win the Pac-12 tournament. Seems tough. Holiday has to get gassed at some point. If UCLA does not want to sweat selection Sunday they need to win their first game over Stanford. Losing to Arizona in the second game won’t hurt UCLA but it would be interesting if Colorado beats Arizona. If Colorado could beat UCLA for a third time that would likely knock UCLA out of the NCAA and Pac-12 tournament. I will predict they lose the second game.
Dimitri Dorlis: I think the Bruins have to like their draw, to a certain extent. Getting the first-round bye is a huge deal since, as DC points out, they’ll need Aaron Holiday to play as many minutes as possible to have a shot at winning. Plus, their path to the finals would potentially go through Stanford and Arizona, both teams UCLA beat handily in their last meetings (and Stanford needed an amazing collapse from the Bruins to win at Maples). But, then again, UCLA’s tournament hopes probably don’t ride on winning this tournament. If they even make it to the finals, I think they’re in, and a win in the second round would give them some potential breathing room.
Marky B: Take away that mountain trip, and the Bruins have been playing some pretty good basketball. Winners of seven of their last 10 games and coming off the heels of beating that other team from Southern California, the Bruins need some wins to cement their tournament chances. In order to win some games in Vegas, the Bruins are going to have to figure out how to get Thomas Welsh playing better. I have been tough on Welsh the last few weeks, because I expect so much from him. Holiday and his production are pretty much a given, the same cannot be said for Welsh recently on either side of the ball. In order for the Bruins to win three games this week, Welsh is the key, especially against the bigs of Stanford, assuming Stanford wins.
DCBruins: The best team money can buy Arizona. I don’t like this pick but they are playing with a chip on their shoulder, have the best player, and I think Trier stops his pouting and listens to Sean Miller for the Pac-12 tournament.
Dimitri Dorlis: The problem with this tournament is there are no obvious front-runners. USC probably has the easiest path, but they haven’t been good against the other decent teams in the conference. UCLA has a potentially good path, but they need Aaron Holiday not to break down over 120 minutes to pull it off. Utah….well, I just don’t think they have the talent level to go 3 games in 3 days. So for now, give me Arizona by default, riding a “Screw the NCAA and FBI” mentality to a win in this tournament and eventual Sweet 16 loss.
Marky B: I have to go with DC and Dimitri, I think Arizona will win this year, and look to rebuild for the 18-19 year by signing LeBron James, Paul George, and Jabari Parker in the offseason.
Wild-Card Tournament Winner?
DCBruins: Colorado. Colorado has beat UCLA (twice) and Arizona. They have the sixth man of the year. Coach Tad Boyle has done this before and knows how to win the Pac-12 tournament.
Dimitri Dorlis: Dang, Colorado is a good pick. If I’m going real wild-card, Washington’s defense is perhaps the best in the conference, and if they can get past Oregon State and then a USC team they’ve already beaten once this year, that defense might be able to take advantage of tired teams to keep things close. Plus, they are one of the teams that beat Arizona this year, and they’re playing for their NCAA tournament lives as they sit on the outside of the bubble at the moment.
Marky B: My wildcard was already let out of the bag, Oregon. Oregon is just one of those teams that seems to play better when the lights get brighter. Defense, coaching, and often times free throws are huge factors in these games, and Oregon is good in all of those areas.