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Pac-12 Tournament Preview

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A look at the wild week ahead

NCAA Basketball: Pac-12 Conference Tournament - Stanford vs UCLA Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Pac-12 tournament opens on Wednesday in Las Vegas. This year has been arguably the worst in conference history, and as a result, somewhere between 1 and 3 teams will be going dancing. The bracket has officially been set after last night’s results.

Let’s take a look at what we can expect this week. After all, someone has to win!

1. Washington (24-7, 15-3)

Odds: 26.8%

Why they’ll win

The Huskies are the lone team from the Pac that’s more than likely in the field of 68. They won their first 10 games of conference play, and probably won’t face a team they’ve lost to unless they reach the finals. They feature 4 1,000 point scorers, including likely Pac-12 POTY Jaylen Nowell. They’re by far the most senior-laden team in the conference, with one of those seniors being potential National Defensive POTY Matisse Thybulle. Head coach Mike Hopkins makes it all work.

Why they’ll lose

They won just 2 of their last 4, and it was ugly. Their loss to Cal was the Bears’ first of the conference season, and is the only reason the Huskies’ tourney hopes are in question. They followed that up winning by 1 against a Stanford team playing without Daejon Davis. Then they returned home and won in OT over Oregon State and lost to Oregon.

This team is offensively inept at times, plain and simple. They don’t have a lot of guys who can get a bucket, so all it will take is a couple key guys to be off or in foul trouble, and the Huskies will be sent packing early.

2. Arizona State (21-9, 12-6)

Odds: 15.7%

Why they’ll win

ASU still has bubble hopes, but it might be contingent on making a run in Vegas. They’ve shown they can beat anyone this year, including wins over Kansas and Washington. Zylan Cheatham led the conference in rebounding, and is a great secondary creator. He has one triple-double this season, and narrowly missed another. Remy Martin had a good sophomore campaign, and is as quick as anyone in the league. Lu Dort is a bowling ball who might hear his name called in June.

Why they’ll lose

They’ve also shown they can lose to anyone, including home losses to Princeton and Washington State. Dort was up-and-down in Pac-12 play; he can be a bit streaky and doesn’t always make the best decisions. Remy Martin can be still streakier. Both of these guards shoot just 31% from deep. Teams hoist a lot of threes against the Devils, too. The three point line was a major factor in most of their losses, on both sides of the court.

3. Utah (17-13, 11-7)

Odds: 7.9%

Why they’ll win

No one expected the Utes to be on this seed line, but coach Larry Krystkowiak guided them to their 6th straight season of .500 or better in conference play. It’s hard picking against him.

Sedrick Barefield is as good as anyone in the conference. The senior guard is averaging 17 points and nearly 4 assists per game, including two outings of 30+. He leads what might be the best offense in the league. They shoot nearly 38% from three and nearly 55% from two point range. Timmy Allen, Donnie Tillman, Parker Van Dyke, and Both Gach have all gone for 20+ this year.

Why they’ll lose

They’re not a great defensive team. In fact, they’re in the bottom 10 teams in the country in forcing turnovers. They allow teams to get the shots they want, and as a result have poor defensive field goal numbers. They also have poor rim protection.

While their offense was great this year, they put up two absolute clunkers against the UW zone. They might have to get through those Huskies if they want to cut down the nets.

4. Oregon State (18-12, 10-8)

Odds: 8.5%

Why they’ll win

Tres Tinkle has a real argument for Pac-12 POTY. The crafty junior finished second in the conference in scoring, and does just about everything well. He went for 20+ in each of the last four games. He leads a Beaver attack that is one of the conference’s best.

Ethan and Stephen Thompson are a terrific backcourt duo. They can both get their own shot, create for others, and play off-ball. Kylor Kelley ranks second in the nation in blocks per game and second in the conference in field goal percentage. He’s a great story, coming to Corvallis after stops at the DII and JuCo levels.

Why they’ll lose

This was supposed to be the team that got OSU back to the tournament, but it didn’t really pan out that way. They come into Las Vegas having lost 3 of their last 4. It’s not that they’re playing terrible basketball, but more that they’re not finding ways to win. They hold a 2-7 record in games decided by 4 points or fewer. Opponents are shooting nearly 5% better from three than the Beavers. They’re also not particularly deep, so they often can’t handle off days by one of their three stars.

5. Colorado (19-11, 10-8)

Odds: 10.6%

Why they’ll win

I’m not sure anyone’s hotter than the Buffaloes. They enter the tournament having won 8 of their last 10 to turn around what looked to be a disappointing year. They sustained a number of injuries this season, but somehow Tad Boyle kept them afloat and nearly led them to a first-round bye.

McKinley Wright IV is a terrific point guard, finishing third in the conference in assists and getting the ball in the cup efficiently. Tyler Bey, Evan Battey, and Lucas Siewert make up a really solid front court. Bey is second in the Pac in rebounding and can go for 20+ any night. The Buffs defense can be stingy, and they’re one of the best there is at limiting opponents to one shot.

Why they’ll lose

Their offense is inconsistent. Only one player in their rotation makes more than a third of his threes, which can be a real problem against some of the zones they’ll see. They can also be a bit turnover prone, which has been a factor in most of their losses. The biggest question is if they have the firepower to get four wins in four days.

6. Oregon (19-12, 10-8)

Odds: 18.2%

Why they’ll win

It’s been an up-and-down year from the Ducks, but they have as much talent on their roster as anyone. Payton Pritchard is a dynamic three year starter, and has been playing more consistently as of late. He’s surrounded by heralded freshmen, including Louis King and Will Richardson. Kenny Wooten is a force down low, blocking 3 or more shots on 9 occasions.

Defense has been the calling card for the Ducks. They’re the second best in the league after Washington, and are good at both forcing tough shots and turnovers. They’re top 20 in the nation in both three point defense and block rate. Transfer Ehab Amin led the country in steals at his old school, and he comes off the bench.

Why they’ll lose

They can struggle to knock down shots, and have had some really cold nights. To make matters worse, they’re not great at getting to the line and getting the easy points. Pritchard is the only player who is very consistent, so winning four games in four days might be a tall ask for this young squad. There are a lot of what-ifs with this team.

7. UCLA (16-15, 9-9)

Odds: 3.5%

Why they’ll win

Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes make up a dynamic backcourt duo. Hands leads the league in assists, and has seemingly unlimited range. Wilkes can score the ball at every level. Moses Brown is bigger than the 7’1” he’s listed, and is capable of changing games. They’re one of the best in America at keeping opponents off the foul line.

Why they’ll lose

They only have one 4 game winning streak this year, and those were all quadrant IV home games. The Bruins’ roster is depleted from injuries, and head coach Murray Bartow seems unlikely to be anything more than an interim solution. They’re one of the worst in the country at forcing turnovers. They just don’t seem locked in on defense in general, and allowed 80+ in their last 4 games, including 90+ in their final 2.

8. USC (15-16, 8-10)

Odds: 3.8%

Why they’ll win

Bennie Boatwright and Nick Rakocevic are probably the best frontcourt pairing in the conference. Boatwright was finally healthy for most of a season, and all he did was average 18 points on 60% true shooting, including 43% from three. Rakocevic was good for 15 and 9 himself. The Trojans take good care of the ball, and shoot better than 37% from deep, including knockdown shooter Jonah Mathews.

Why they’ll lose

They seldom get to the line, and when they do, they shoot an anemic 64%. Like UCLA, they only have one 4 game winning streak this year, and three of the four were quadrant IV home games. They’ve dealt with a number of injuries, suspensions, and departures, and it’s derailed them. They enter the tournament having dropped their last 4, and 7 of their last 9.

9. Arizona (17-14, 8-10)

Odds: 3%

Why they’ll win

The T Mobile Arena has become a second home for the Wildcats, and they’ll no doubt be well represented again this year. Their backcourt trio of Brandon Randolph, Brandon Williams, and Justin Coleman can all score and create. They’re good at taking care of the ball. Up front they have Duke transfer Chase Jeter, who is a double-double threat. Ryan Luther can hit the three.

Why they’ll lose

They were extremely disappointing in the second half of the season. They ripped off 7 straight conference losses, their worst stretch since before Lute Olson arrived. Randolph led them in scoring for much of the year, but disappeared in most of their games over the last couple of months. Chase Jeter pulled off plenty of disappearing acts of his own. He also provided very little rim protection.

10. Stanford (15-15, 8-10)

Odds: 1.9%

Why they’ll win

KZ Okpala is among the best NBA talents in the league, and can go for 20 on any night. Keeping him out of the lane takes a team effort. Josh Sharma came on strong in the second half of the season, winning two Player of the Week awards and leading the league in FG% by a mile. If Daejon Davis is in the lineup, he gives Stanford another elite creator who can hang with any guard in the league. The Cardinal are 4th best in the country at defensive assist rate, and tops at running opponents off the three point line. They’re 6-1 in conference when Bryce Wills goes for 10+.

Why they’ll lose

Daejon Davis might not play, which would make things extremely difficult for the young squad. They lost 4 of their last 5, in part thanks to his absence, including a home loss to Cal. Wills has also faded as of late. They don’t have a single 4 game winning streak this season. They also lead the conference in turnovers, and shoot worse than 32% from three.

11. Washington State (11-20, 4-14)

Odds: 0.1%

Why they’ll win

Robert Franks is the conference’s leading scorer at better than 22 per game. He’s gone for 30+ on five occasions. They feature 3 40+% three point marksmen, all of whom do it on volume. They can flat out shoot the ball, from top to bottom. Freshman CJ Elleby has been a pleasant surprise on the Palouse, as he’s averaging 15-7-3. They swept their Arizona road trip in February.

Why they’ll lose

They’re a porous defense, and allow opponents to shoot efficiently at all levels. They’ve won 4 games in their last 21 tries, and lost their last 5. To make matters worse, they’ve been dealing with injuries to key bench players in recent games. Even if they’re able to advance, will they have enough in the tank to play better-rested teams?

11. California (8-22, 3-15)

Odds: 0.1%

Why they’ll win

Cal shocked everyone by ending the regular season with a 3 game winning streak. Justice Sueing had a strong sophomore season, and is a threat to go for 20. Matt Bradley has been a spark in the backcourt, shooting better than 48% from three, one of the top rates in America. The 7’3” Connor Vanover came on late, averaging 17.3 on their winning streak, highlighted by his 24 points, 5 threes, and 6 blocks against Stanford.

Why they’ll lose

This is an 8 win team, and advanced stats hate them. They may have won their last 3 games, but 2 of those wins were over teams missing key players. They also lost 16 straight running up to that. They allow an eFG% of 57%, which simply won’t get it done.