Pac-12 NCAA Tournament Regional ProspectusPosted by RJ Abeytia on March 23rd, 2017
And then there were three. USC did the Pac-12 no shame in winning two games during the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend, but the Trojans were felled by the neon shine of Baylor on Sunday, leaving the Conference of Champions with three teams in the Sweet Sixteen (as most had predicted). Oregon, Arizona and UCLA begin their second weekend of NCAA Tournament work this evening, so it’s time to check in with each and focus on a key issue to resolve if they are to rendezvous in Glendale.
- #3 Oregon: #TeamTyler or #TeamDillon? Postseason play has brought this particular debate to the fore in ways many may have not anticipated. After Oregon’s semifinal win over Cal in the Pac-12 Tournament, Dana Altman pulled no punches in critiquing what had been an uneven performance from Pac-12 Player of the Year Dillon Brooks, going so far as to suggest that Brooks had taken the Ducks out of their offense. The senior is a fantastic player, but Oregon’s offense has at times sputtered on Brooks possessions, allowing for Tyler Dorsey to emerge as an effective alternative for the Ducks in crunch time. Consider: In postseason play, Brooks is shooting 42.0 percent whereas Dorsey is converting a red-hot 67.0 percent. Brooks has outshot his teammate at the foul line, but not by nearly enough to eclipse Dorsey’s phenomenal streak of productivity. It’s always good to have multiple closers on the same team, and this isn’t necessarily about a fatal choice for Altman in the endgame. The big issue is that Dorsey is playing within the flow of the offense and outproducing Brooks at the same time. To win two more games this weekend, Oregon may have to either re-incorporate Brooks into the natural ebb and flow of its offense or elevate Dorsey to a more featured status.
- #3 UCLA: Defend and Force the Three. UCLA’s defense gets a huge referendum this week in Memphis. Job one is stopping Kentucky, whose offensive M.O. is fairly transparent at this point. If it wasn’t the CBS cameras that caught John Calipari mouthing with profane emphasis what he wanted his team to do during Sunday’s Wichita State game, a review of game tape settles all debate. The Wildcats are not a bad three-pointing team, but that doesn’t mean that they want to shoot three-pointers. Kentucky is shooting 34 percent from long-range this postseason (D-I average is 35 percent), but only 29 percent of the Wildcats’ shots have come from distance (D-I: 36%). More compellingly, only 22 percent of Kentucky’s points have come from three-pointers. UCLA simply surprised and outscored Kentucky in their December meeting in Lexington, but you’d have to think the Bruins are going to need stops at some point on Beale Street, and taking teams out of their comfort zone is a solid first step. UCLA’s 3-2 zone would seemingly allow it to chase Kentucky’s wing players off of threes, so it’ll be interesting to see whether Steve Alford uses this strategy again or adapts it to induce the three-point shots that Kentucky clearly does not want to take.
- #2 Arizona: Win the free throw game. Sean Miller was pleased with a number of outcomes from Arizona’s weekend in Salt Lake City, including his team’s ability to get to the free throw line. Arizona outshot North Dakota and Saint Mary’s by 27 attempts from the foul line and outscored them by 30 points while there. Looking ahead to San Jose starting tonight, Xavier is a team that gets to the line at a proficient clip (42% FTA Rate, 30th in the nation) but they are average in terms of free throws allowed. The Wildcats should be able to get to the line against Miller’s previous school, but the issue then becomes whether they can defend the Musketeers as cleanly as they did in their first two NCAA Tournament games. Looking ahead, both West Virginia and Gonzaga are proficient at getting to the line, but the Zags shoot it from there better than the Mountaineers. The Wildcats have been living right from the foul line so far, and that’s a trend that will need to continue if they are to live the dream of an in-state Final Four appearance a little over a week from now.