Pac-12 Burning Questions: Odds of Stealing A Bid?Posted by AMurawa on March 6th, 2012
Each week through conference play, we will offer up a couple of different takes on the biggest question of the week in the Pac-12. This week:
“Which team that did not earn an opening round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament has the best chance at winning four games in four days to earn the conference’s automatic bid?”
Andrew Murawa: After consecutive impressive wins to end the regular season, and with the team seemingly rallying around head coach Ben Howland, things set up pretty nicely for UCLA to defy the odds and find its way into the NCAA Tournament by winning the conference tourney. With a couple of senior guards in Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson to go with an imposing front line, the Bruins have the horses to make a run, especially considering that they are probably playing their best basketball of the season right now. They open the tournament with cross-town rival USC in a game that is really just a half-step tougher than an opening round bye (and it is tougher, only because of the potential for someone getting hurt) before digging into the meat of the matter. Arizona would be up next, setting up a season tiebreaker between the two Pac-12 powers ; UCLA won by seven in Anaheim back in January before dropping a tight two-point affair at the McKale Center two weeks ago. Washington would be the best bet to be waiting in the semis, and UCLA just showed this past weekend that they can hang with the Huskies.
Certainly, as is the case for any of the bottom eight teams in the conference, the margin for error is slim, but throw in the fact that all year long the Bruins have been playing their “home games” a bit further down the 110 in front of relatively tepid crowds, and UCLA should feel right comfortable playing in the Staples Center this week. And if the Bruins actually seem to be getting things together, maybe the atmosphere at Staples this week will rise above lukewarm.
Connor Pelton: My pick is Colorado. This may not be the sexiest pick after the Buffs have dropped three of their last four, but they are the only team talented enough to get past the quarterfinals. Their first round pairing is rival-by-default Utah, who they should handle without a problem, especially after the performances the Utes gave last week in Oregon. Then things get interesting as they would face third-seeded Oregon, a team they just lost to by nine on Thursday. In that game, both teams thoroughly outplayed each other in each half, with Colorado leading by five (it should have been more) after the first half, and Oregon outscoring the Buffaloes by 14 in the second. I think Colorado is going to come into this game angry and with nothing to lose and upset Oregon to clinch a spot in the semifinals. Those two wins are the reason I’m going with Colorado, as I don’t see any other first round team defeating their quarterfinal opponent.
The Buffaloes’ semifinal game would be really interesting. It is all but a certainty that they would face one of the Bay Area schools. The favorite would be California, a team that the Buffs stayed with in Berkeley and blew out in Boulder. On the other side is Stanford, a team that causes a multitude of matchup problems for the Buffs. If Tad Boyle had his choice, it would be a Bears-Buffs semifinal, making for must-see television down the west coast and into the Rockies.