NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Pac-12Posted by Adam Butler on March 14th, 2016
Your favorite Pac-12 school is seeded right about where it should be. The Conference of Champions got what it deserved, which was thorough representation in the NCAA Tournament, decent regionalization, and Sir Charles’ annual homerism. Consider that seven bids is historic for this conference and there really isn’t much to be bugged about here. That’s an accomplishment. Consider further that the torchbearer is neither Arizona nor (definitively) UCLA and it’s a considerable accomplishment. Helluva 2016, Pac. But it’s not over yet (I unfortunately don’t think we’re very far from the end, however) and we’ve got a bracket to digest. Let’s walk through the Pac’s seeding and tourney prospects:
#1 Oregon, West Region: Don’t let Dana Altman’s ho-hum personality and deflection of his team’s success fool you: The guy knows what he’s doing. On multiple occasions to this point he’s noted that he hasn’t been in this #1 seed scenario before. You know what he has been to? The NCAA Tournament. He’s also done some winning in it, and while this is the highest seed he’s ever attained, he has a basketball team with a fantastic draw. And it’s not the matchups that matter as much when you see the way Oregon is playing right now. Any of Elgin Cook (won it), Dillon Brooks, or Tyler Dorsey could have been awarded the Pac-12 tournament MOP and you would have agreed. The scoring threat of Dorsey is probably what sets them apart as we head into the most guard-critical time of the season. If forced to look at their possible matchups, however, do you expect a fast paced Saint Joseph’s to make the Ducks uncomfortable? Conversely – and naturally, because this is the NCAA Tournament – Cincinnati offers the stark contrast in style: slower and great defensively. I’d ask how that worked out for Utah. More broadly than the first weekend, Oregon and Baylor remains a fun matchup and any possible NCAA opportunity to play/beat Duke is welcomed (something Oregon would be very poised to do). Ultimately I think Oklahoma offers the greatest threat to eliminating the Ducks. Oregon finished ninth in 3FG% defense in the Pac and ranks 264th nationally. The Sooners? Making a casual 43 percent of its threes on the season. Of course both teams would have to get there for any shots to be taken and it is worth noting that the Ducks have the lowest KenPom rating of any of the top seeds and three of the twos.
#3 Utah, Midwest Region: I like this draw for Utah. Their first weekend pod seems to be rightfully challenging but by no means insurmountable (they are the #3 seed afterall). Fresno State is a nice story but it should prove to be a relatively easy First Round opponent. They rate 105th in KenPom and Utah has lost just two KenPom 100+ games the last two seasons. I’ll take the Utes. Of course looming large here is Michigan State. They’re really good and will be in my Final Four. So let’s back up to a possible Utah-Gonzaga game. This would be a really nice matchup, again, for the Utes. Beyond the fact that Gonzaga just isn’t that great this year, I like the number of long bodies they can throw at Kyle Wiltjer and think Sabonis-Poeltl would be fantastic foreign-born TV. Utah would ultimately have the advantage at the guard spot where the Zags really, really struggle. And yes, I’ll admit that I’ve completely dismissed Seton Hall which is very irresponsible considering they’ve beaten Xavier twice and Villanova once in the last three weeks. Utah, one could argue, has struggled with scoring guards (see: Trier, Allonzo; Dorsey, Tyler; Jacobs, Julian) of which Seton Hall has one of the best in Isaiah Whitehead.
#4 California, South Region: America loves Cal. They don’t know Cal but they seem to know that they love them and I can see the appeal: NBA Draft board names; a young coach who has had March success; a senior guard. But beyond the surfacey stuff, do we really like their situation? There’s currently the requisite rebuttals and hype for Hawaii as everyone tries to be the smartest person in the room. The way California defends, however, and Ty Wallace’s propensity to beat up lesser opponents, should be enough to prevail. So Maryland. For me I love the storyline of this matchup in that it’s two teams that are riddled with talent that haven’t necessarily come together as harmoniously as we might have expected. The commonality in it all is talent which should make this a fascinating ball game. It’s ultimately, however, just a means to lose to Kansas. Or will it be Colorado (note: of course it won’t be Colorado because Kevin Ollie is 214-0 in tournaments)?
#6 Arizona, South Region: Was Arizona dealt the toughest hand by the committee among all Pac-12 schools? Oregon and Cal are in Spokane; Utah is in Denver; Colorado is in Iowa; USC is in North Carolina (tough); and Oregon State is in Oklahoma City (also tough). The Wildcats, however, are traveling to Providence, Rhode Island, won’t know their first round opponent until late Tuesday night, and that opponent will be a KenPom top 30 team. How many KenPom top 30 teams did Arizona beat this year? One. They played five. And that’s why the Wildcats didn’t get jobbed by the committee (although that’s a damn tough draw). It’s just really tough to validate any part of Arizona’s seeding with its resume. An eye test might reveal otherwise. The ‘Cats could be a really good team! They’ve got great rebounding, a shooter, an NBA-caliber wing, and a coach who’s won a lot of NCAA Tournament games. The Wildcats are a tough out. But in qualifying their situation, it’s tough to give them much better than an opener against Wichita State or Vanderbilt on the other side of the country. Here’s the if-you-don’t-know part: Wichita State is the most efficient defense in the country and Vanderbilt is no slouch itself with a lot of the nice pieces (like Arizona) that never came together as was expected in October. Nevertheless, Sean Miller’s team has the region’s third highest odds of making the Elite Eight and yet just a 51 percent chance of getting out of the First Round (according to FIveThirtyEight). What a world we live in.
#7 Oregon State, West Region: What a job Wayne Tinkle has done in his two seasons at Oregon State! Think about where you were in 1990 and the list of “the last time Oregon State was in the NCAA Tournament…” things for you to contextualize that amount of time (hint: you weren’t reading an article like this on a phone or computer). Alas, this seed feels really high. More than that, it is an overseeding. They’re the lowest KenPom rated single-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament and they won’t have Tres Tinkle (as far as I know) for their First Round game. Is Derrick Bruce going to be raining buckets? I’m not convinced of it. But at least the country will get an afternoon with GP2. That’s worth it.
#8 Colorado, South Region: In scanning through this tournament it doesn’t feel like there are as many of those hidden-in-plain-sight storylines this year. You know the ones the committee vehemently claims they don’t bake into bracketing. I never buy that; they totally do. This bracket feels somewhat devoid of it although you could make a case for conference champion and #4 seed Kentucky playing conference champion and #5 seed Indiana as the trump card to all committee snickering matchups. Colorado, however, could be facing its one time conference-mate, Kansas, in the Second Round. It would be a matchup against its head coach’s alma mater and the first meeting since Askia Booker buried the Jayhawks from right about where Steph Curry pulls up for game winners. The kicker, however, is two-fold: 1) UConn doesn’t lose games in the NCAA Tournament anymore, and 2) Winning an NCAA Tournament game is something Colorado has only done twice since its expansion and the Buffs really don’t match up very well with a Connecticut team that can really defend the paint.
#8 USC, East Region: I like and dislike so many things about the USC Trojans. What I like about them are the pieces that they have. This is a team that is young, athletic, can make shots, and that used to know how to defend. What I dislike about them is basically an extrapolation of that final point (re: defense). The last 10-or-so-games have been a really bad look for Andy Enfield’s best basketball team, ever. Can the Trojans recapture their defensive abilities promptly enough to win an NCAA Tournament game (for the first time since 2009)? Seriously – the Trojans at one point had a top-30 defense and playing UCLA shouldn’t count. Last week Utah made 21-of-29 shots inside the arc, scored 80 points and shot only 12 free throws. USC lost and committed only five turnovers and allowed only five offensive rebounds. That’s crazy! They simply could not stop the Utes in their standard offense, Nothing fancy from Utah. Kyle Kuzma was 10-of-11 in that game. What’s it going to be like when that 6’9” guy is Ben Bentil (not to mention Kris Dunn)?