Previewing the Pac-12 TournamentPosted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab), Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) & Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 12th, 2014
With the Pac-12 Tournament kicking off today in Las Vegas, Adam Butler of Pachoops.com and our own Andrew Murawa and Connor Pelton weigh in on some of the big questions that will be answered this weekend in Sin City.
Outside of regular season champion Arizona, which is the most dangerous team in the tournament?
AB: The Utah Utes are one dangerous group. It’s not the sexiest argument to say they’ve “played everyone close” but the fact of the matter is they have beaten or taken every team in the conference to overtime. I’ve waited all year long for this team to break when they’ve sustained close loss after close loss but they never have. They have some great guard play in 1st teamer Delon Wright and the sweet shooting Brandon Taylor. They’ve also got a uniquely talented big in Jordan Loveridge who had 15 and 20 points, respectively, in his first two Pac-12 tournament games. The Utes are dangerous.
AM: In a tournament where there are maybe eight teams that could win this thing, I’m going to give the nod to Arizona State. Jahii Carson has started to turn things on over the last couple weeks after a very underwhelming bulk of the conference season, and he’s shown a penchant for coming up with big games in Las Vegas. In his five previous games played in Sin City, he’s scored better than 30 three times, hit 40 earlier this season against UNLV and averaged 28.8 points in those games. Throw in talented scoring wing Jermaine Marshall who is a great foil for Carson, athletic freak Shaquielle McKissic who is dangerous in transition, and dangerous shooters like Jonathan Gilling and Bo Barnes and you’ve got a recipe for an explosive offensive team. And we haven’t even talked about Jordan Bachynski, the Pac-12’s all-time leading shotblocker and the anchor of Herb Sendek’s best defensive team in the KenPom era. Look for the Sun Devils to be a tough out this weekend.
CP: When picking the winner of a conference tournament, you’d best go with the hottest team coming in. And no team out west is on a roll more than Oregon. Due to some bad luck with the league’s seeding tiebreak procedures, the Ducks not only have to play in the first round, but miss a game with USC or Washington State as well. But while winning four games in four days will be a challenge, if anyone can do it, it’s this team. They are living by the three-pointer right now, and I could easily see them taking the Pac-12 automatic bid.
What team has the most to gain this weekend?
AM: Unlike 2011-12 when Colorado needed to win the Pac-12 Tournament in order to assure themselves of an invitation to the NCAA Tournament, the Buffaloes have no such worries this year; barring a major miscarriage of justice, they’re going to make the Tournament. But, where they get seeded is still largely up for debate. Since they lost point guard Spencer Dinwiddie to injury back in mid-January, this team is just 7-7 on the season, with an overtime win over Utah, a home win over an Arizona State that hasn’t won a road game since January and a solid road win against Stanford last weekend. Along the way, they lost to UCLA by 18 and Arizona by 27. In other words, there are legitimate concerns about just how good the Buffs are. They have a chance this weekend to put those kinds of concerns to bed. Their first task will be to not do anything stupid in their opening round game against USC. Assuming they get past the worst team in the conference, they’ll have a rematch with a Cal team that they took to overtime in Berkeley last weekend. Score a win there and maybe they get another crack at their nemesis Arizona in the semifinals on Friday night with a chance to prove their legitimacy.
CP: Gotta go with Utah. If the Utes steal at least three wins in Las Vegas, that would mean victories against Arizona and either Colorado or California. They’d sit at 23-11, assuming the run ends in the title game. Doesn’t that sound like an NCAA Tournament team to you? I’m sure it does to Larry Krystkowiak, so you can bet his team will be playing the hardest this week.
AB: The Cal Bears are not in the NCAA tournament. I even went so far as to tweet that they weren’t an NCAA tournament team (can’t find the tweet but trust me). Which all adds up to the idea that they have something to gain. And what more is there ever to gain in college basketball? Their chance to improve their lot begins tomorrow when they’ll likely face Colorado in the quarterfinals. Win and they’ve got themselves an argument. Lose and they’re NIT-bound.
Who’s the player to watch?
CP: Roberto Nelson. The Senior guard still leads the conference in scoring despite slumping as of late, but I think his dagger three against Arizona State has revived his confidence. The Beavers will need him to be hot if they want to make a run, and I could see him putting together a performance like Ahmad Starks had two years ago when Oregon State made the semifinals.
AB: This time of year, I love senior guards. Or I at least am rooting for them. Guard play is integral to March and seniors are on their last hurrah. There are some great ones in the Pac (Cobbs, Nelson, Loyd, Marshall) but my eyes are on the Dawgs’ C.J. Wilcox. He of the sweet stroke has the opportunity to shoot the Huskies into the second round or beyond. It’s unlikely but maybe that’s why I want to see him perform. Washington is unlikely to play in the NCAA tournament and doesn’t project to much of an NIT team. But Wilcox is a senior, a talented one at that. I’m watching.
AM: For most of the season, Mike Moser has been up and down: two points and a single rebound one night, 24 and 10 the next. A one-for-eight Pac-12 opener against Utah where he mostly floated around the perimeter, followed by a dominant 24/7 night the next time out against Colorado. Hell, this is a guy who posted a single-game KenPom offensive rating of 0 in a nightmare performance at UCLA at the end of January. But things are beginning to click. He’s posted four straight double-doubles. He’s scored ten or more in eight straight games. And since that 0 rating against UCLA, he’s been over 100 in eight of the last ten games and is displaying the type of confidence that we haven’t seen since the first half of his breakout sophomore season at UNLV. If the good Mike Moser continues to show up, not only are the Ducks likely to go deep in the Pac-12 tournament, they’ve got a puncher’s chance to see the second weekend in the NCAA Tournament.
What is the best potential match-up in the tournament?
AM: I could get eclectic here and tell you about how much I’m looking forward to Stanford/Arizona State or Utah/Arizona (both of which I am), but I’m a traditionalist. In a season where the two big dogs in the conference played just once – back on January 9th – I’m pining for a renewal of the Arizona/UCLA rivalry. If this is going to happen, it will have to be in the Pac-12 title game. In the 16 seasons there has been a conference tournament in the Pac-something, only once have the two bluebloods in the league played in the title game, back in 1990 when Jud Buechler, Sean Rooks and Brian (don’t call me Bison Dele) Williams and the Wildcats knocked off Don MacLean, Trevor Wilson, Tracy Murray and the Bruins in front of conference tournament-low attendance numbers in Tempe. This time around, the Wildcats supremacy in the conference would be challenged by a Bruin team that played them tough for 40 minutes a couple months back. And, just as importantly, the Wildcats would get a chance at revenge for last year’s “He Touched The Ball” epic in the conference semis.
AB: The match ups are the only reason to watch the conference tournaments. I’m not the biggest fan of what they stand for but when the ball is tipped I’m all eyes and ears and eagerness. I love this stuff. The best potential matchup, however, that I see is the one that could potentially turn into a golden goal-type contest for a chance to dance. Oh, this one of course is referring to the possible quarterfinal game featuring California and Colorado. These two played to the tune of overtime and a one point Cal victory last weekend. Next time they meet could be for a spot in the NCAA tournament.
CP: Arizona-Arizona State. I’ve been hoping for a rematch since the Sun Devils upset the Wildcats on Valentine’s Day, and we could very well see one on Saturday in the final. Outside of Oregon, I think ASU is the most dangerous team in this field with a chance to knock off the top seed. Herb Sendek came into the year on the hot seat and has delivered, now the question is, can he go above and beyond and take two of three from their archrival?