As we dive into the back nine of conference play and approach the home stretch of the season, it’s time to take a look at the three postseason tournaments and where each Pac-12 team fits into the picture. I’ll make my full bracket projections each week (or two) for the NCAAs, NIT, and CBI, and then report where the Pac falls on the list.
Definitely Dancing: Arizona, Oregon, and UCLA are all locks at this point in the season. I have the Wildcats just a bit higher than most prognosticators at number four in the nation, as they have been one of the few consistently good teams that doesn’t have any bad losses (barely). In an interesting second round matchup, they square off with the best 16 seed, Charleston Southern. Of course, the two teams already met in the season opener, with CSU hanging around for a good portion of the game before fading quietly down the stretch.
Oregon is so much of a lock that it would basically have to lose each of its remaining games to miss the tournament. It may be hanging onto a four seed by a thread, but good wins over the likes of UNLV, Arizona, and UCLA give them the nod over any bubble team if it ever came down to that. I currently have the Ducks matching up against a mildly dangerous Louisiana Tech squad at 13. The Bulldogs have a nearly impeccable 20-3 record, but the schedule has been fairly soft.
UCLA’s recent two game skid has made things much more interesting for the Bruins, but this year’s bubble is so soft that they are fine for now. That’s in part due to their Top 50 RPI standing and good wins against Indiana State, Missouri, Colorado, and Arizona. However, the recent struggles don’t go unpunished. Dropping down to a low eight seed means as challenging a tournament opener as you’re going to get, and that comes in the form of a 19-4 Colorado State team.
Bubble In: Colorado and Arizona State are the other two Pac-12 teams I see making the field of 68, but both will likely be sweating bullets come Selection Sunday. The 15-7 Buffaloes are actually seeded pretty high considering their record, due in part to a Top 25 RPI that’s keeping Tad Boyle and company on the good side of the bubble. There are five remaining key games on CU’s slate (home against Arizona, Arizona State, and Oregon, at the Bay Area schools), and if the Buffs come out on the good side of three of them they should be a lock for the Big Dance.
Arizona State is on even thinner ice. The Sun Devils are the final team in my rankings before the dangerous 12′s begin, and while their record (17-5) is much better than Colorado’s, an SOS of 110 is holding them down badly. Regardless of where they land in the field, this ASU team will be a sneaky bunch come tournament time. A meeting with head coach Herb Sendek’s former school in the opener would be quite a sight, and a chance for the Pac-12 to get some major recognition on a national level.
NIT Locks: Washington is the next team up for the Pac-12, and while its recent poor play means the Huskies won’t be in any NCAA bubble discussion, an NIT lock is definite. The Huskies currently sit at an uninspiring 13-10, but they have been in most every game they’ve played (only two losses were by double digits, and the last three were all by five points or less). Combine those factors with the fact that Alaska Airlines Arena typically draws well, and the Huskies made a run to the semifinals of the same tournament last season, I like Washington right now a solid four seed. That means they would host at least a first round game, and I have them playing an interesting Xavier squad in the opener.