All is right with the college basketball world, as the UCLA Bruins ascended to the top of the Pac-12, winning the regular-season conference title.
Ben Howland and UCLA had a season to forget in 2012.
First, there was the Sports Illustrated article by George Dohrmann that chronicled how recent recruits—Reeves Nelson especially—had possibly led to the recent decline of Bruins basketball. If that wasn't bad enough, UCLA only managed to finish 19-14 and failed to play in any postseason tournament.
Things have really turned around this year for Howland, as he has the Bruins ranked No. 23 going into the Pac-12 tournament. A win over the Arizona Wildcats back on March 2 has to make UCLA the favorites to win.
Despite being only the fourth seed, the Arizona Wildcats are another team some would consider to be likely title contenders. Arizona had strong nonconference wins over the San Diego State Aztecs, Miami Hurricanes and Florida Gators en route to starting the season 14-0.
The California Golden Bears and Oregon Ducks both finished with the same 12-6 conference record that Arizona did but are coming into the tournament off rather heavy losses.
Cal lost 83-70 to the Stanford Cardinal, while Oregon was defeated 76-53 by the Colorado Buffaloes and followed that up with a 72-62 loss to the Utah Utes.
With no team really distancing itself from the rest, there should be plenty of great basketball next week in the Pac-12 tournament. Here's everything you need to know going in and one sleeper team that should grab your attention.
When: Wednesday, March 13 through Saturday, March 16
Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
Watch: Pac-12 Network, ESPNU and ESPN
|1. UCLA||7. USC|
|2. California||8. Stanford|
|3. Oregon||9. Arizona State|
|4. Arizona||10. Utah|
|5. Colorado||11. Washington State|
|6. Washington||12. Oregon State|
Schedule and TV Information
*All times are PT
Wednesday, March 13 (First Round)
Game 1: Stanford vs. Arizona State, 12 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
Game 2: Colorado vs. Oregon State, 2:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
Game 3: USC vs. Utah, 6 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
Game 4: Washington vs. Washington State, 8:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
Thursday, March 14 (Quarterfinal)
Game 5: UCLA vs. Game 1 Winner, 12 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
Game 6: Arizona vs. Game 2 Winner, 2:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
Game 7: California vs. Game 3 Winner, 6 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
Game 8: Oregon vs. Game 4 Winner, 8:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Friday, March 15 (Semifinal)
Game 9: Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner, 6 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
Game 10: Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Saturday, March 16 (Final)
Game 11: Game 9 Winner vs. Game 10 Winner, 8 p.m. (ESPN)
Sleeper Team to Watch: Washington Huskies (17-14, 9-9 in Pac-12)
It's extremely difficult to gauge which team could possibly overtake the top four seeds and win the tournament title.
Stanford and the Arizona State Sun Devils have looked good. It's a bit of a shame they face off against each other in the first round.
To make things worse, the winner meets UCLA in the quarterfinals and then possibly Arizona in the semifinal. Cal could be vulnerable in the quarterfinal, but Utah and the USC Trojans both have a losing record overall.
The team with the combination of both an above-average regular season and easier road to the final is the Washington Huskies.
It's a bit worrying that the Huskies failed to pick up a win over the trio of Oregon, UCLA and Arizona in six games during the regular season.
Still, Washington comes into the tournament on a relatively strong run, winning four of its last six games. The two losses came away to the Wildcats and at home to the Bruins, so those aren't terrible defeats.
The Huskies have a ton to play for. Unlike Colorado, Cal and Arizona State, Washington doesn't have any way into the NCAA tournament short of winning the Pac-12 tourney. With an RPI of 88, the Huskies absolutely must win the whole shebang next week.
If Lorenzo Romar is to make it four NCAA tournament appearances in five years, he'll need Aziz N'Diaye and C.J. Wilcox to continue their strong play.
N'Diaye is second in the Pac-12 in rebounds, averaging 9.3 boards a game.
He's also shooting 57.1 percent from the field, good for third in the conference. Wilcox, meanwhile, is the Huskies' go-to scorer, leading the team in scoring at 16.8 points a game. His 66 made three-pointers are also first on the team.
Washington only finished ninth in the Pac-12 in scoring and fifth in rebounding. Having either Wilcox or N'Diaye struggle would doom the Huskies to an early exit and postseason basketball in the National Invitation Tournament or College Basketball Invitational.