The PAC-12 Tournament starts this afternoon at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. According to the official PAC-12.com release and bracket, the first game, 9th Seed WSU vs. 8th Seed Cal, tips off at Noon PT. The game we'll be looking at most closely is 12th Seed vs. 5th Seed ASU. UCLA takes on the winner on Thursday at 2:30 PM PT.
The Vegas odds don't exactly match up with the seeding. The Bruins are third despite being seeded fourth and in the same bracket with Arizona.
Arizona - 1/2
Utah - 5/2
UCLA - 10/1
Oregon - 12/1
ASU - 33/1
Oregon State 200/1
Washington State 500/1
The tournament looks straightforward to me. I'm not predicting massive upsets, but I do have themes:
1) Neutral Site. We all noticed how poor PAC-12 teams were on the road this year. The home team went 73-35, or 68%. This including shocking wins like Washington over Utah, Oregon State over Arizona, Arizona State over Arizona, UCLA over Utah and Oregon over Utah.
Was it because of the exodus to the Pros last year, the dismissals at Oregon, the nervous freshmen or the stunning lack of D1 talent at Oregon State? All of the above -- the lesser talent the harder the road. But what explains Arizona?
The Wildcats travel very well, but as Don MacLean said, the Bruins should have confidence because they were leading in the second half at McKale.
2) Streaks. Oregon and Arizona are the two hottest teams in the Tournament, both going 8-1 in the second half of the season. The Ducks have won five in a row.
UCLA and ASU both went 6-3 in the second half of the season.
Utah also went 6-3, but has lost three of their last five.
3) The Big Men. Call me old school -- you can't teach height. That's why I like Arizona, Utah and UCLA.
The PAC-12 is overwhelmingly a guard's league. Eight of ten of the All-Conference First Team were guards including Player of the Year Joseph Young -- listed at a very exaggerated 6'2" (he's got to be 5'10").
This is mainly why I pick Utah over Oregon and UCLA over ASU.
4) Motivation. UCLA is playing for its life to stay in NCAA bid contention. Arizona wants to be the one seed in the West. No one else is close. Too bad they have to play each other.
5) Depth. Arizona and Utah have it. UCLA doesn't. Other teams "go deep" in that they might play nine or ten guys, and not fall off the cliff compared to the starters (Stanford come to mind), but no team approaches the bench quality of Arizona and Utah.
With that, here's my bracket -- no big surprises. Is Colorado over Oregon State or Utah over Oregon and upset? Only mild ones at best. I just don't see upsets that matter. The teams with big men will rule.
Arizona is the overwhelming favorite, but the Bruins are the reigning tournament champs, and seem to have had the Wildcats number these past three seasons, so I'm far from counting them out.
I previewed Arizona's offense, and BN will have a follow-up Friday morning, but first the Bruins have to take care of business tomorrow afternoon.