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Pac-12 Tournament Preview: High Stakes in Vegas

Take 3 of the best teams in CBB, add a few bubble teams in need of key wins, and you end up with one of the most important Pac-12 Tourneys in years.

NCAA Basketball: Oregon at UCLA
Ideally, the championship game will end like this.
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe it’s appropriate that the Pac-12 Tournament was moved to Las Vegas.

Normally, the Pac-12 Tournament would be a fun epilogue for the regular season; most teams would have an idea of whether they would be in the tournament or not by this point. A win in the tournament wasn’t even a guarantee for better seeding, as UCLA learned when they got punished for losing Jordan Adams to injury in a victory over Arizona.

Yet this year’s tourney could be one for the history books.

Consider this: 3 teams are ranked in the top 7(!) of the AP and Coaches poll, and have created a situation where the tournament winner has the inside track on a protected seed out west. 3 more teams (USC, Cal, and Utah), sit on the bubble and need wins to bolster their weak tournament resumes. And a few more teams (hey Stanford) have come on strong in recent weeks, to the point that you can’t overlook them.

In short, the Pac-12 Tournament has become destination viewing.

The clear headliners in the tournament are UCLA, Oregon, and Arizona. All three teams can make a case for the the protected seed out west, and all three have cons they need to overcome. Consider:

  • UCLA - Best two road victories (@ Kentucky, @ Arizona), win over Oregon, hottest of three teams, poor non-conference SoS, third place finish in conference.
  • Oregon - Won conference outright, victories over UCLA and Arizona, no good road victories (best is @ Cal), worst loss of three (@ Colorado).
  • Arizona - Wins @ UCLA and neutral court vs Michigan State, all losses to teams with RPI ranking of 15 or higher, Alonzo Trier’s return a factor, 1-4 vs top 15 RPI.

Bracketologists have graded the race for the protected seed in the West at a dead heat, which is great news for the Bruins; win the tournament, and UCLA should be the #2 (or possibly #1) team in the West region, which would set the team up for a deep run.

There’s intrigue in the next level as well. Heading in to February, USC appeared to be a virtual lock for an at-large bid. Except a run of 4 straight losses, in which the Trojans looked uncompetitive against the top teams in the conference, along with a bad loss to Arizona State, have put the Trojans into Joe Lunardi’s Last Four In. California, meanwhile, sits in Lunardi’s Next Four Out, and Golden Bears, who have consistently come up short in big spots, could use a big win or two (or three) could push them into the Big Dance. And Utah, which sits on the outside of the bubble, holds the last 1st round bye and could conceivably make a run.

Here’s a bracket for your viewing pleasure:

The tournament kicks off on Wednesday with 4 first round games, starting with Stanford and Arizona State at 12:00 PM. The Bruins will first play on Thursday in the nightcap against the winner of USC versus Washington. The scheduled tip is 8:30 PM, but that can be pushed back depending on the previous games.

By the way, if you’re paying attention at home, you’ll notice that if UCLA is going to win the tournament, their likely opponents will be USC, Arizona, and Oregon. One last #RevengeTour before the NCAA Tournament.

Go Bruins!