Five Storylines for the Pac-12 TournamentPosted by Mike Lemaire on March 8th, 2017
The regular season is over, which means the real fun is about to begin. The Pac-12 Tournament tips off in Las Vegas today and there is plenty to look forward to. Although Oregon — the league’s prohibitive favorite at the start of the season — is still the best bet to take home the tournament title, there are several teams with plenty on the line this week and a few more hoping to play spoiler. Here are five things to watch for in Sin City this week.
Who gets to stay on the West Coast? Now that Gonzaga has officially run roughshod over the rest of the WCC, the fourth No. 1 seed is likely North Carolina’s to lose. But even if Oregon, Arizona or UCLA can’t earn a No. 1 seed by winning the Pac-12 Tournament, there is still plenty of incentive beyond that. The winner will likely be in position to either get the fourth No. 1 seed if the Tar Heels stumble early, or they will earn the top No. 2 seed, presumably in the West Region. Location and comfortability will not be the determining factor for which Pac-12 teams make a run to the Final Four, but don’t discount the luxury of staying close to home. Even if the players don’t seem to mind the travel, the coaches know the benefits. This means that there is very little chance that any of the Big Three will rest on their laurels this week.
If California wins twice, will that be enough to get the Bears into the NCAA Tournament? The Golden Bears are the bubbliest of the Pac-12 bubble teams. They appeared in good shape a month ago but their ugly skid to end the season has put them in a precarious position approaching Selection Sunday. Beating an already defeated Oregon State club is an obvious must but isn’t enough by itself — they will probably also need to beat a Utah team that skunked the Golden Bears by 30 points just last week. Even then, the Utes are not an NCAA Tournament team and therefore the Selection Committee may not be swayed. Of course, Cuonzo Martin shouldn’t worry about anything beyond that just yet. He should be much more concerned with his team’s 8-of-46 (17.4%) three-point shooting slump over the last three games, and getting Jabari Bird (1-of-13 from deep over the same span) back on track.
Can USC upset UCLA? The short answer is probably not. The Trojans are not a good defensive team and will have trouble handling UCLA’s prodigious firepower. But if they did manage to pull off the upset, it would provide a major boon to their chances for an NCAA Tournament bid. As it stands today, most bracketologists list USC as a No. 12 seed in one of the two play-in games. Considering what was expected from Andy Enfield’s Trojans this season, this is an accomplishment to be proud of but not one that supports much staying power in this year’s tournament. Now, if they can knock off the Bruins after handling Washington, that will undoubtedly move the needle enough to keep them out of Dayton. The Trojans are still incredibly young and are likely a year or two away from reaching their potential, but if they want to start building some long-term momentum right now, a win over their crosstown rival would be an excellent start.
Don’t blink or else you will miss Markelle Fultz. If you want to get one last glimpse of the presumed No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft in a college uniform, tune in tonight for what will likely be Washington’s last game of the season. It is difficult in the modern environment of 24/7 media and coast-to-coast scrutiny for such an incredible talent to go completely unnoticed, but Washington was so bad this season that Fultz was stuck playing excellent basketball in meaningless games that nobody saw. There will be time later to lament how brief and uneventful Fultz’s college career turned out, but tonight is not that time. Tonight instead is the last time that a television audience will can watch Fultz ply his trade in Husky purple. Hopefully he has enough left in the tank to put on a last show to reward those who stayed up this winter to watch him play.
Who is the best dark horse candidate? Here is a surprising pick out of left field: Colorado. The Buffaloes are a flawed team that struggles mightily on defense and isn’t exactly an offensive powerhouse, but they are also better than their record indicates. A terrible start to conference play ended their NCAA Tournament aspirations but this is a senior-laden team with as much talent in the Pac-12 as any team outside of Eugene, Tucson and Westwood. Although they haven’t shot the ball very well this season, there are a handful of guys who can fill it up from deep on this roster. If Colorado can get hot, Arizona will have its hands full in the second round.