A lot of bubble teams will be keeping an eye on the Pac-12 tournament because it is probably the most wide-open of the major conference tournaments this week.
After 11 years at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the Pac-12 tournament moves to Las Vegas for the first time in the history of the conference. It will be interesting to see what kind of environment that provides for several teams that have plenty to prove.
There aren’t many teams on the bubble. Most teams like UCLA, Arizona and Oregon are playing to improve their seeding for next week’s NCAA tournament. That will be key because with the right matchups, a few of these Pac-12 teams could do some damage in the national tournament.
Here are the five teams with the most to prove in this week’s Pac-12 tournament.
California has been the hottest team in the league, winning seven of its last eight games. As the No. 2 seed in this week’s tournament, the Golden Bears are positioned well to make a run at a title in Las Vegas, which would further validate Cal's play lately.
If that happens, Cal could be the hottest team heading into the NCAA tournament and would be one of the last teams a top-four seed wants to see in the Round of 32.
If Cal plays well, it will improve its seed in the NCAA tournament and make it possible for the Golden Bears to make a deep run into March Madness.
UCLA is the top seed in this week’s Pac-12 tournament, and the Bruins are probably the favorites to cut down the nets in Las Vegas.
There were high expectations this season because of an extremely talented freshman class, and a tournament title could give the team momentum heading into the NCAA tournament, proving the Bruins are a team to be taken seriously.
UCLA is a lock to make the field of 68. The Bruins swept Arizona and are 5-3 against the RPI top 50. If they play well this week, that would improve the Bruins’ seed next week and make a serious run in the NCAA tournament more of a possibility.
The Pac-12 tournament feels like one that could see a team come somewhat out of nowhere to win it. The most likely candidate is Stanford. The Cardinal won the NIT a season ago but have failed to build on that momentum this year.
Stanford has had some nice moments, namely sweeping Cal. The Cardinal are the only team to beat the Golden Bears over the last month, including an 83-70 win on the road last week.
If Stanford is going to make it to the NCAA tournament, it will need to win the Pac-12 tournament. That is well within the realm of possibility, and it would be huge moving forward for Johnny Dawkins’ program.
Arizona had a fantastic start to the year. The Wildcats were 14-0 with nonconference wins over Florida and Miami. However, Arizona faltered once conference play started, and it has lost four of its last eight games.
Now, Arizona is the No. 4 seed in this week’s Pac-12 tournament. The Wildcats went from possibly being a top seed in the NCAA tournament to maybe falling into the dangerous No. 4- or No. 5-seed line.
If Arizona wins the Pac-12 tournament, it will definitely be a top-three seed when the field of 68 is announced on Sunday and can prove it is capable of making a deep run.
If the Wildcats bow out early, their seed won’t be nearly as favorable, and an early exit in the NCAA tournament would be a real possibility.
Dana Altman’s club had some bad luck when freshman point guard Dominic Artis went down with a foot injury, forcing him to miss nine games. To that point, Oregon was 17-2 and 7-0 in conference play. In the nine games Artis missed, the Ducks went 5-4.
Since Artis has returned, Oregon has yet to revert back to its early-season form. The Ducks have lost their last two games at Colorado and Utah by a combined 33 points.
If Oregon loses early in the Pac-12 tournament, it will have no momentum and receive an unfavorable bid in the NCAA tournament.
On the other side, if the Ducks play well and make a deep run in Las Vegas, that will show they are a team that could be dangerous well into March Madness.