Pac-12 Bubble Watch Heading Into the Final WeekendPosted by Andrew Murawa on March 6th, 2014
There are 10 days until Selection Sunday and no fewer than nine Pac-12 teams have designs on crashing March Madness over the next couple of weeks. Let’s take a look at where each stands heading into the final weekend of regular season play.
- Arizona – Right now they’re an obvious #1 seed. A loss at Oregon and a loss in their opening round Pac-12 Tournament game (to Utah or another team like Cal, Stanford, Utah or Washington) and they drop to a #2 seed; otherwise, the Wildcats have earned the #1 seed in the West, with a San Diego/Anaheim route to Dallas. Heck, even if they do find a way to drop to a #2 seed, they’re still in all likelihood bound for San Diego and Anaheim.
- UCLA – Let’s not pretend the Bruins have finished strongly, with two losses in their last three games. They finish up with two on the road (tonight at Washington and Saturday at Washington State), but the Bruins are in the NCAA Tournament. Finish with a good run and they wind up around a #5 seed (a #4 isn’t out of the question, but unlikely); finish with a 1-1 trip to Washington and an early exit in the Pac-12 Tourney and they’re more apt to be in the #8/#9 game.
- Arizona State – Ten conference wins, RPI in the low 30s, a win over Arizona, a win over Oregon. The Sun Devils and Herb Sendek are golden. A high seed is out of the question (they’re in the #7-#9 range), but with Jahii Carson starting to turn it on, this is a dangerous team.
- Colorado – A win at Stanford Wednesday night clinched it. Minus Spencer Dinwiddie, maybe they get slotted a line lower than their resume would suggest (and maybe a strong finish earns them a #7 seed, but more likely we’re talking #8-#10 range), but even with a loss at Cal and a loss in the Pac-12 opener, there is no way this team isn’t dancing.
Good Side of the Bubble
- Oregon – A month ago, this team was in the midst of losing eight of 10 games. Since then, Dana Altman has turned things around in Eugene with six straight wins, and it would take a barrage of bad luck, involving bid-stealers in big-time conferences, for the Ducks to be left out. This squad is really only on the bubble in name only. They’ll be in and have a chance at something like an #8/#9 seed if they continue their streak but wind up short of last year’s Pac-12 Tournament title. The over/under on a Duck seed is about 9.5.
- Stanford – Nothing can be easy for Johnny Dawkins and company. A pair of losses on the Arizona road swing is one thing; conference road wins are tough to come by anywhere, and the Arizona trip is the toughest in the conference. But they had the chance to finish up their conference schedule at home and score some solid wins over the Mountain schools, and they started off that chance with a home loss to a Colorado team that had won just one of its six previous true road games in conference play. Not a good look, Cardinal. They’ve got Utah on Saturday and if they win that one, they’re probably going to get an invitation (an RPI of #43 isn’t all that great, but those wins at Connecticut and Oregon, and a home win over UCLA are going to be big). Lose that game and the Cardinal probably need to not only win their opening round game in the Pac-12 Tourney but spring an upset in the quarterfinals to really sleep even halfway comfortably on Selection Sunday Eve.
Bad Side of the Bubble
- California – There was a time when the Golden Bears were the consensus pick as the second-best team in the conference. Suffice it to say, that time was almost two months ago. Since then, the Bears have lost seven of their last 11 games. The good news is that one of those four wins was over Arizona, giving them a big-time win on the resume. Another win over Oregon is solid. Beyond that, we’re looking at a reeling team with a crappy RPI and sub-100 losses to UC Santa Barbara and USC. A home win against Utah on Saturday leaves them with 10 conference wins, which is fine, but they’ll need to avoid a first-round Pac-12 Tourney loss, which would put them right back on the wrong side of the bubble. And then they’d be wise to earn a quarterfinal win to really feel comfortable with their status.
- Utah – Their RPI is creeping up into the 70s. They’ve now won six of their last eight (which isn’t supposed to count, but should), but their best win of over UCLA and they’ve got a terrible loss to Washington State. Their non-conference schedule strength is a major strike against them, what with seven non-conference wins over sub-200 RPI teams. Still, maybe there’s a chance that Utah could earn an at-large bid. It starts with beating Stanford on Saturday, bringing them – somewhat improbably – to 10-8 in conference play and let’s say a #6 seed in the conference tourney. Win an opening round Pac-12 Tourney game over a tean like Washington State or Oregon State. Knock off somebody like Arizona State or Colorado in the quarterfinals. Then handle UCLA in the semifinals, only to lose to top-seed Arizona in the final in a tight game. If that very prescribed situation plays out, maybe the Utes get invited to Dayton to play into the field of 68. Maybe.
- Washington – Husky fans don’t want to hear this, but Utah is a significant longhot to make the NCAA Tournament. And Washington is a good ways behind them, with a similar best win (at home vs. Oregon) and too many bad losses (home vs. UC Irvine, neutral vs. Boston College, at Washington State). No need to go into much detail, since the most realistic opportunity for the Huskies to earn an NCAA invitation is to simply crash the party. Whether they beat UCLA tonight or USC on Saturday is largely irrelevant. The path to the Tournament for Lorenzo Romar and company (just like the other three conference teams we’re not going to mention here) is to win every game they play in Las Vegas next week. Otherwise, we’ll see you next year.