The first round of the Pac-12 tournament begins Wednesday with the #5 through #12 teams playing for the right to take on Washington, California, Oregon, and Arizona in the 2nd round. For these 8 teams, winning 4 games in 4 days to win the tournament and get the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament is exceedingly unlikely. If any of them can do it, I think the most probable one would be Stanford, as they are playing much better lately. Also, one needs to keep an eye out for a suddenly motivated UCLA who has gobs of talent and might just be putting it together at the most opportune time. One thing is for certain with these 8 teams…if they want to make the Big Dance, winning this tournament will be their only hope.
But, it isn’t as if some of these teams have nothing to play for. In addition to an automatic bid on the table, there are also NIT berths to play for, particularly for Colorado, Stanford, and UCLA. A strong performance might even help them earn the right to host a game or two in the NIT or CBI, which means a little extra revenue.
But, for the top four seeds in the tournament, their NCAA tournament hopes are truly on the line. One would have to think that California and Washington have at-large berths sewn up regardless of what happens in the second round. But, they can not take that for granted. For Oregon and Arizona, a second round victory is an absolute must and they might need to win a semi-final game to make the conference final as well!
Game 1: #8 Washington State vs. #9 Oregon State
Here is a match-up of two of the least exciting teams in the Pac-12. Except that it contains two of the best players in the entire conference in Jared Cunningham and Brock Motum. I give the edge to Oregon State 57-55.
Game 5: #8-9 winner plays #1 seed Washington
Washington knows that just winning the regular season title is not enough if they can not beat a team with an 100+ RPI in their opening game of the conference tournament. They simply can not give the NCAA tournament selection committee an excuse to leave them out of the field. UW has to be smarting from that UCLA loss and they should be plenty motivated to win this game. I give UW the edge against either of these opponents. Washington 83 Oregon State 71
Game 2: #7 Stanford vs. #10 Arizona State
Stanford ended the season hot and sport an impressive 20-10 record. They should rake the coals of the Sun Devils in this one. However, ASU just beat Arizona, so you never know. Stanford is a team that had its chances to make the NCAA tournament if they could have had a bit more consistency. But, the NIT seems like a likely destination for them. They have talent and balance…something Arizona State does not. Stanford 72 Arizona State 58.
Game 6: #7-10 winner plays #2 seed California
California ended the season with its only 2-game losing streak of the season. They had the conference title in their hands and let it slip through. If Stanford advances, California will want some big time revenge for Sunday, especially given that suddenly they are sitting on the edge of the bubble. I have got to think Cal will win and advance to the semi-finals. California 77 Stanford 70
Game 3: #6 Colorado vs. #11 Utah
Colorado will get a chance to see if they can win some games at sea level. Their remote chances at the NCAA tournament have gone up in smoke. But, if they can get some home games in the NIT they might be able to go far with the mile high elevation. Colorado 70 Utah 54
Game 7: #6-11 winner plays #3 seed Oregon
Assuming Colorado gets past Utah, then comes a rematch with Oregon. These are two pretty evenly matched teams and it will be interesting to see what will happen at a neutral site. I think Oregon knows they have to win this game to make the NCAA tournament. If they are going to make a statement that they deserve to make the Big Dance, then a team like Colorado is one they should beat and I think they will. Oregon 78 Colorado 71
Game 4: #5 UCLA vs. #12 USC
UCLA seems to have had a fire lit into them following the SI article. They are probably the most dangerous team in the Pac-12 tournament of the bottom 8. Don’t be shocked if they rattle off 4 wins in 4 games in their home city to steal a bid. Game one should be no problem. UCLA 75 USC 59
Game 8: #5-12 winner plays #4 Arizona
If UCLA wins Game 4, then Arizona will have its hands full. That being said, Arizona realizes that if they want a bid to the NCAA tournament, then they HAVE to win this game and even then it might not be enough. But, if they think they deserve to make the Big Dance, then shouldn’t they win this anyways? It’ll be a close game, but I think the Wildcats will pull it out. But, I would not be shocked to see UCLA beat them and make the semi-finals or even tournament title game. Arizona 73 UCLA 70.