An Early Look at Next Season’s Pac-12

Posted by Mike Lemaire on April 13th, 2016

It is never too early to predict how the Pac-12 will look heading into next season. Let’s not waste words and just get into a look at each team by projected order of finish.

1. Oregon

Assuming Brooks Returns, Oregon Will Be The Class of the PAC-12 Again. (Craig Strobeck)

Assuming Brooks Returns, Oregon Will Be The Class of the Pac-12 Again. (Craig Strobeck)

  • Who’s back: Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, Casey Benson, Chris Boucher, Jordan Bell, Dylan Ennis
  • Who’s new: M.J. Cage, Keith Smith, Payton Pritchard
  • The skinny: Assuming Brooks returns to school and Ennis is eligible and healthy enough to play a full season, the Ducks will run almost two-deep at every position. Boucher’s extra year of eligibility is also huge because it again gives Oregon two of the best rim-protectors in the country while allowing Dana Altman to space the floor. Don’t sleep on the Ducks’ recruiting class, either; there aren’t any stars here, but Cage and Pritchard will both contribute early.

2. Arizona

  • Who’s back: Allonzo Trier, Ray Smith, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Dusan Ristic, Kadeem Allen, Chance Comanche
  • Who’s new: Rawle Alkins, Kobi Simmons, Lauri Markkanen
  • The skinny: Simmons is the key here. If the point guard is as good as everyone seems to think he is, the Wildcats have the athletes elsewhere to be above-average offensively and elite defensively. Trier could be a Pac-12 Player of the Year contender and some believe that Smith, now healthy after missing all of last season, is the better player in that recruiting class. Sean Miller has reportedly been sniffing around the graduate transfer market as well — if the Wildcats can land an extra big man, that would help shore up a frontcourt that right now consists of Ristic and maybe Comanche.

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Pac-12 Postseason Odds and Ends

Posted by Mike Lemaire on April 1st, 2016

The college basketball season isn’t quite over yet but the page has already turned for the Pac-12. Once Oregon was rudely bounced from the tournament by Oklahoma last weekend, it was time for the always exciting period when coaches are hired and fired, players declare for the NBA Draft, and some others decide on a change of scenery. The Pac-12 has been full of these changes in the past two weeks — from Stanford hiring a new coach to Washington’s precocious freshmen hiring agents to a multitude of players transferring — there’s been a lot of action.

Let’s break down some of the moves that have already been announced and what they mean for their respective teams.

Jerod Haase Hired by Stanford

Jerod Haase Has Won A Lot In C-USA But Can He Do It In The PAC-12 Too?

Stanford Coach Jerod Haase Has Won A Lot In C-USA But Can He Do It In The PAC-12 Too?

Stanford isn’t the can’t-miss job that many think it is, but it still feels like the Cardinal made a reach in its replacement of Johnny Dawkins. Haase came up as an assistant to Roy Williams and made headlines when his team at UAB beat Iowa State last season, but he has only been to the NCAA Tournament once and his three seasons of 20+ wins are as much a result of Conference USA being awful as his coaching prowess. Furthermore, advanced statistics have not been impressed with the Blazers at all despite their several-year win totals. The former Cal graduate and Bay Area native will bring energy and excitement to the Stanford program, but the jury is out on whether he can coach at this level.

Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss Declare for NBA Draft

It isn’t surprising that Murray and Chriss have decided to test the waters after excellent freshman seasons at Washington. It also wouldn’t have been surprising if they had decided to stay in the draft after gathering enough information. What is surprising is that both signed with agents almost immediately, effectively ending their college careers before March was even finished. Both players have a shot at at the lottery, which will mean that their decisions are probably good ones. But Washington could have been poised for a special season next year with the duo back in Seattle. Now, Lorenzo Romar’s rebuilding project looks to be moving a bit slower now.

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From Bad to Really Bad: Assessing the Pac-12’s NCAA Tournament

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 22nd, 2016

The dust has settled on a wild first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and guess what Pac-12 fans? All that talk about the conference being overrated and its teams not showing up on the big stage in March?

It is all pretty much true!

Oregon is the lone remaining representative of Bill Walton’s Conference of Champions and the onus is on the Ducks to carry the rest of the conference from here on out. This is because the league didn’t just have another tough tournament; it has had a brutally bad tournament. Only Utah and Oregon made it out of the First Round and the Utes didn’t exactly do the conference proud by getting run out of the gym against Gonzaga.

In honor of all the awfulness, we ranked the performances from really bad to downright awful and went back to wishing Oregon well against Duke.

USC.

Andy Enfield's Team Choked Away A Late Lead But They Are Still Young

Andy Enfield’s Team Choked Away A Late Lead But Otherwise Actually Played Providence Team

Congratulations to the Trojans, a team that lost to Providence at the buzzer and therefore cemented its status as the Least Bad Pac-12 Tournament Team of 2016. In the interest of full disclosure, USC basically had Providence on the ropes with three minutes to play and frittered the lead away in a flurry of turnovers and missed free throws. You could therefore make an argument that thee Trjoans’ performance in this Tournament was especially bad. The team’s youth and inexperience showed through in a big way down the stretch, as it did pretty much all season long. They shot the ball well, played solid defense for the most part, and literally return everybody, so there’s no obvious reason to hang their heads. They probably would have just been blown out by North Carolina in the Second Round anyway.

Oregon State. Aside from some awful shooting from Stephen Thompson and general uselessness from Malcolm Duvivier, the Beavers actually played VCU tough. The team’s offensive struggles were expected against the Rams’ athletic defense, but Oregon State mitigated some of its shortcomings by taking care of the basketball and locking down their perimeter shooters. The moral victory, however, is limited in that the Rams shot better than 60 percent on their two-pointers and completely had their way on the offensive glass. The Beavers will miss Gary Payton II next season, but they have a solid young nucleus and should be excited about the future in Corvallis.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Gonzaga 82, #3 Utah 59

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 19th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Who Saw This Gonzaga Run Coming? (USA Today Images)

Who Saw This Gonzaga Run Coming? (USA Today Images)

  1. Domantas Sabonis/Jakob Poeltl matchup. It was a battle of true big men the likes of which college basketball rarely has these days. Both players clearly have NBA futures, but the battle was clearly won by Gonzaga’s Lithuanian big man on this night. Poeltl picked up two regrettable first half fouls and played just nine minutes in the first stanza, while Sabonis dominated regardless of whether he was in the game. Even when Poeltl returned to play big minutes in the second half, he was never a factor. In the end, Sabonis finished with 19 points (on just 12 field goal attempts), 10 boards, three dimes and even a three-pointer for good measure. Poeltl’s five points and four boards goes a long way to sum up just how effectively Sabonis dominated their matchup.
  2. Improved Guard Play. When Gonzaga was struggling to close games in the regular season against quality teams like Texas A&M, Arizona and Saint Mary’s, it was usually guard play that was the culprit. Today, the Zags’ guards were a complete strength. Redshirt freshman guard Josh Perkins was in control of the offense; Silas Melson was a terrific defender and glue guy; and Eric McClellan bounced back from a poor performance in the First Round to turn in his fourth double-figure scoring effort in March. Coupled with the group of established stars in the frontcourt, the Zags can play with anybody when the backcourt is contributing.
  3. Giving Away Extra Possessions. In their previous two games, Utah had turned the ball over 20 times each. Tonight’s total numbers weren’t so bad in that category (13), but those turnovers led to 20 Bulldog points (against just six for the Utes). Worse, the Utes compounded those struggles by allowing the Zags to outscore them 13-4 on second chance points. In a game decided by 23 points, combine the differences in points off turnovers and second chance points and you have… 23 points.

Star of the GameEric McClellan, Gonzaga. Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis were as good as they normally are, but when Eric McClellan plays like tonight, Gonzaga improves to a different level. McClellan did everything — attacking the rim and finishing in the paint; filling the lanes on the break; even knocking in some jumpers, including a couple threes. He wound up with 22 points on 12 field goal attempts and was a confident veteran presence in the half-court.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Utah 80, #14 Fresno State 69

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 17th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Utah Wasn't Impressive, But Survive and Advance (USA Today Images)

Utah Wasn’t Impressive, But Survive and Advance (USA Today Images)

  1. Utes Close Strong. After a first half that Utah dominated but only led at the break by 11, the Utes were flat of the locker room. It wasn’t pretty, but Fresno State climbed back into the game little by little, taking a 48-47 lead about midway through the second half on a Julien Lewis three.. From that point forward, though, it was all Utah. The Utes responded with a 7-0 run that turned into a 19-2 run, with all the starters getting in on the action. All told, the Bulldogs led for just 33 seconds between the Lewis three and Lorenzo Bonam putting in an end-of-shot-clock jumper to reestablish the lead. Maybe that woke them up.
  2. Not Every Game Can be a Work of Art. The two teams combined for 34 turnovers. Fresno State had at least three first half airballs. There were missed dunks, sloppy passes and just a heap of all-around ugly play. For Fresno State, these mishaps will haunt them in the future. For Utah, the general aesthetics of this game will be forgotten in the overall celebration of an NCAA win and a chance to play again this weekend.
  3. Rebounding Domination. Utah doesn’t have a ton of great athletes on this team — Jakob Poeltl can be slow and a little awkward; Jordan Loveridge is earthbound; Brandon Taylor is a 5’9” mighty-mite. But what this team has going for it is size and strength, something Fresno State learned firsthand on the glass tonight. Over the course of the game, the Bulldogs managed just 15 total rebounds. Utah grabbed 15 offensive rebounds. Poeltl had 18 rebounds all by himself. There are plenty of ways to win basketball games, and Utah just happened to pick a grinding, unlovable way to do it tonight.

Star of the GameJakob Poeltl. Poeltl was by no means dominant offensively, going for just 16 points on 11 field goal attempts. And Fresno State was able to force him into mistakes (four turnovers) when the Bulldogs doubled him in the post. Still, the Austrian big man utterly dominated the glass (those 18 boards, nine on each end of the court) and dissuaded the Bulldogs from poking around in the lane very often. Though Poeltl didn’t block any shots, he changed plenty of others and generally kept Fresno from even trying.

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Bracket Prep: Midwest Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 15th, 2016

bracketprep22

On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@rtcMWregion).

Midwest Region

Favorite: #2 Michigan State (30-5, 13-5 Big Ten). They aren’t the top seed in the region (more on that later), but the Spartans are as hot as any team in the nation entering the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State’s only blemish over its last 13 games is a one-point loss in overtime at Purdue, a surge that may not have earned them appropriate respect in the RPI (#11) but has done so in advanced rating systems (KenPom #3, Sagarin #2). Any Tom Izzo team is scary in March, but one led by a potential National Player of the Year (Denzel Valentine) evolves into an even more frightening tier of “opponent no team wants to face.” Oh, and their most likely challenger for the title of Midwest favorite knows this reality all too well – top-seeded Virginia has been bounced from each of the last two Tournaments by the Spartans. Michigan State is #2 in seed only in this Midwest Region.

Fresh off a Big Ten tournament title, Michigan State is as hot as any team in the field of 68. (Photo: AP)

Fresh off a Big Ten tournament title, Michigan State is as hot as any team in the field of 68. (Photo: AP)

Should They Falter: #1 Virginia (26-7, 13-5 ACC). Michigan State’s anointment as region favorite has little to do with any deficiencies exhibited by Virginia. Aside from a two-week stretch in early January in which the Cavaliers lost three of four, Tony Bennett’s team has been stellar from November to March. Like the Spartans, they too are in the top four in both the Sagarin and Pomeroy rating systems; unlike the Spartans, they have repeatedly proven capable of beating some of the nation’s best teams: Virginia owns five victories over teams that earned a #3 seed or better – four more than the Spartans. Making the Final Four could well require an exorcism of recent March demons by defeating Michigan State in the Elite Eight, but ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes, and Anthony Gill form a leading trio capable of guiding the Cavaliers past any team in the field. Believe it.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Pac-12

Posted 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.

Dillon Brooks and the Ducks are heading to the NCAA Tournament as a #1 seed. (Photo: Cole Elsasser/Emerald)

Dillon Brooks and the Ducks are heading to the NCAA Tournament as a #1 seed. (Photo: Cole Elsasser/Emerald)

#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.

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Best and Worst Case Scenarios For the Pac-12’s Top Four

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 13th, 2016

If you’re a Pac-12 fan feeling nervous about Selection Sunday, here are two words of advice: don’t fret! We’re here to tell you that everything is going to work out: Seven conference teams (Oregon, Utah, California, Arizona, Colorado, USC and Oregon State) will get invitations to the Big Dance. Those first four will likely be placed among the top six seed lines, while the last three should be assigned to tougher sledding somewhere in the #7-#11 range. Washington fans? Sorry, but hopefully you’ll be able to enjoy a home NIT game. Colorado, USC, Oregon State: Be happy that you’re dancing and your teams should believe they can at least win that opener, but anything beyond that will be pure gravy. Those first four teams (Oregon, Utah, California, Arizona), however, should have higher expectations. While there are plenty of fans all over the country with unreasonably lofty hopes at this time of year, none of those four teams are insane to think about a Final Four appearance so long as everything breaks just right. What is “everything” for this quartet? And what are the scenarios that could trip them up prematurely? Let’s dig into best and worst case scenarios for each of the Pac-12’s top four teams.

Oregon

The Ducks Are The Pac-12's Most Final Four-Ready Team (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

The Ducks Are The Pac-12’s Most Final Four-Ready Team (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Final Four Team If: Hey, getting to the Final Four is a ridiculously difficult task (just ask Arizona fans about Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker) even if you have a once-in-a-generation team like these Ducks have. But Oregon is the perfect example of modern-day position-less basketball. In a seven-man rotation, they havve one true point guard type, one true big-man type, then five versatile guys who are just, you know, basketball players. They can guard almost any position, share the ball, hit jumpers, and attack the rim off the bounce. They’re also so well coached that if an opponent has a defensive weakness, you can bet the Ducks will exploit it. Offensively, they’re elite. Defensively, they’re just now rounding into a form that belies their season-long numbers. The sky is the limit here. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Bubble Watch and Semifinals Preview

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 11th, 2016

Eight games are in the books at the Pac-12 Tournament and the higher seeds have advanced in each one, setting up a terrific set of semifinals tonight. Before we preview those games, let’s break down postseason expectations for the four teams that were eliminated from the Pac-12 Tournament on Thursday.

Colorado

The Buffaloes are going dancing. Their RPI is a sparkling #30 and they own home wins over Oregon, California, Arizona and Oregon State. In a year such as this one, that should be enough to put them safely above the cut line. With very little else on their resume, though, don’t expect a great seed for the Buffs. Somewhere in the #8-#10 range sounds about right, which means Colorado’s stay in the NCAA Tournament is unlikely to extend beyond next weekend.

Despite A Quarterfinal Loss, Tad Boyle And The Buffs Should Be Comfortably In On Selection Sunday

Despite A Quarterfinal Loss, Tad Boyle And The Buffs Should Be Comfortably In On Selection Sunday

Oregon State

Coming into the weekend, the popular wisdom put Oregon State squarely on the bubble with USC appearing safe. Upon closer review, however, the Beavers may have the superior resume. They have the higher RPI, three wins over top 25 RPI teams (Oregon, California, Utah) and three more victories over teams in the RPI #26-#50 range (Tulsa, Colorado, USC). With no bad losses, that’s a terrific resume, even if all of those quality wins came at home. An argument could even be made that Oregon State’s resume is every bit as good as that of Colorado. This team should definitely be dancing for the first time since 1990.

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Pac-12 Tournament Preview

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 9th, 2016

We’ve spent the last several months marching to Vegas, so let’s tip things off a bit later today with our Pac-12 Tournament preview.

Bracket

p12bracket

Favorite: Oregon

This may not be the very best version of the Pac-12 Conference in its illustrious history, but it is a certainty that this has been a strong and deep conference. For Oregon to win 14 games this year against an unbalanced in-conference schedule tougher than that of either Utah or Arizona is impressive. While the Ducks’ lack of depth (310th in the nation in bench minutes) is concerning in a three-game/three-night scenario, they’ve done enough to prove that they’re the best team in this conference until proven otherwise.

Next Best Chance: Utah

The Utes opened conference play by getting swept at the Bay Area schools followed shortly thereafter by an 18-point loss to Oregon at the Huntsman Center. Since that loss, the Utes have won 12 of 14 games (with another loss to Oregon among those two) and the issues that were apparent in January — Brandon Taylor struggling; Lorenzo Bonam learning; a soft front line; chemistry questions — have all been addressed. The Utes still need to prove that they can play with Oregon, but they are rolling right now and could use a strong Pac-12 Tournament performance as a springboard into next week.

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Arizona State’s Future is Bright

Posted by Connor Pelton on March 4th, 2016

Connor Pelton covers Arizona State sports for HouseofSparky.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @ConnorPelton28

When is Bobby Hurley going to call a timeout? That was the thought shared among Arizona State fans during the opening minutes of last Thursday’s game at Utah. Little did they know that no timeout was forthcoming. Not when Brandon Taylor drained a three-pointer to put the Utes up 9-0. Not when Jordan Loveridge dropped in another three to extend the lead to 12-0. Not even when Taylor buried another triple on the next possession to make the score 15-0. The game’s first break didn’t arrive until the under-16 media timeout with the Sun Devils trailing 15-2 and a comeback looking increasingly unlikely. It’s important to remember that Hurley is still learning on the job. After spending the previous two seasons at Buffalo, this is just his third campaign as a head coach. He is young and still evolving, picking up valuable experience every night out.

Hurley's High Energy On The Sidelines Has Gotten Him Into Some Trouble With Officials This Season (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star)

Hurley’s High Energy On The Sidelines Has Gotten Him Into Some Trouble With Officials This Season (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star)

So, why was there no timeout when already trailing by 15 in one of the conference’s toughest venues? First, the end of a long season is winding down – a season that is unlikely to result in a trip to the NCAA Tournament. There isn’t much to lose in this scenario, so why not experiment with letting the players work through their problems without assistance from the sideline? This wasn’t the only learning experience, as this season has been chalk full of them — beginning with a disheartening home opener loss to Sacramento State. Along the way Hurley has suspended three players for multiple team violations, been thrown out of a rivalry game against Arizona, dropped four conference games by seven points or fewer, lost a player to transfer just days removed from a career performance, and watched an assistant coach get arrested on suspicion of DUI. Read the rest of this entry »

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Assessing The Pac-12 With One Week Left

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 1st, 2016

Way back in early November, when Pac-12 prognosticators were looking ahead to the season, there were four teams almost universally considered as contenders to win the regular season title – Arizona, California, Oregon and Utah. We’ve had all sorts of twists and turns over the past four months: USC and Washington emerging earlier than expected; California and Utah taking some time to find their stride; and of course, the assorted injuries, hot streaks, cold patches and upsets that change expectations along the way. But here we are, heading into the final week of the regular season, and those four preseason contenders are still exactly that. There’s a lot still left to be decided in the final week and into the conference tournament, so let’s go team by team and break down what’s to play for on the way in.

Dillon Brooks And The Ducks Are One Win Away From Clinching At Least Part Of A Pac-12 Title (John Locher, USA Today)

Dillon Brooks And The Ducks Are One Win Away From Clinching At Least Part Of A Pac-12 Title. (John Locher, USA Today)

Oregon – For at least a month now, anyone with a Pac-12 schedule could look at Oregon’s road trip to Los Angeles in the final week of the regular season and know it would have major ramifications on the regular season title. What nobody could really see at the start of February was both of the Los Angeles schools falling off a cliff. More on them later, but the situation is simple for the Ducks. Win one in LA and earn at least a share of the conference title. Win them both (now, suddenly possible, if not even likely) and they’ve got their first regular season title since 2002 (and only the program’s second since World War II ended). They are likely to be favored in both games — because the season is trending in the wrong direction for both opponents — and a couple of wins could see the Ducks break into two-seed territory come Selection Sunday.

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