2013 Pac-12 Tournament Predictions: Arizona the Team to Beat

Jake WestrichSenior Writer IMarch 12, 2013

TUCSON, AZ - FEBRUARY 10:  The Arizona Wildcats mascot 'Wilbur' waves a flag before the college basketball game against the California Golden Bears at McKale Center on February 10, 2013 in Tucson, Arizona. The Golden Bears defeated the Wildcats 77-69.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The final two games of UCLA's regular season were the crystal clear definition of microcosm. The Bruins lost to Washington State at Pullman for the first time in 20 years (1993!!) only to bounce back three days later and beat the Washington Huskies, in Seattle, for the first time since 2004. Thanks to Utah's upset of Oregon in the Ducks' regular season finale, the Bruins captured the Pac-12 regular season championship in what was a season filled with adversity.

Ben Howland's job was on the line after the first six games thanks, in part, to a loss to Cal Poly at home and needing overtime to beat UC Irvine by one. Josh Smith and Tyler Lamb quitting the team only compounded Howland's problems. However, freshman sensation Shabazz Muhammed, who missed the first three games of the season due to an NCAA investigation, helped lead the Bruins out of the early-season doldrums. With Muhammed lighting up the scoreboard (18.3 PPG.), Larry Drew II did the dishes (7.7 APG.).

After a loss to San Diego State on December 1, the Bruins rattled off 10-straight wins. A win over then sixth-ranked Arizona in late-January propelled UCLA back into the national conversation.

There's no telling which UCLA team will show up following its first round, Pac-12 tournament BYE in Las Vegas. (Note: sending college "student-athletes" to Vegas shouldn't raise too many red flags.) However, our college basketball simulation engine played each Pac-12 tournament games 501 times to generate each team's chances of winning and average points per game.

Pac-12 Opening Round
Matchup Win % Avg. Score
8) Stanford Cardinal 45.1 66.9
vs. 9) Arizona State Sun Devils 54.9 67.6
5) Colorado Buffaloes 55.5 67.5
vs. 12) Oregon State Beavers 44.5 66.3
7) USC Trojans 31.7 60.0
vs. 10) Utah Runnin' Utes 68.3 64.7
6) Washington Huskies 62.1 66.6
vs. 11) Washington State Cougars 37.9 64.0

We begin our Pac-12 tournament simulation with news out of USC that the Trojans have suspended big men James Blasczyk and Dewayne Dedmon for their alleged role in a fight following a loss to Washington State last weekend. So, the 30-or-so minutes Dedmon and Blasczyk averaged for USC were redistributed to Omar Oraby, Aaron Fuller and Ronaldo Woolridge. Not that it mattered in the end, but USC's chances of winning over No. 10 seed Utah dropped eight percent, to just over 31 percent, following the suspensions.

The Colorado Buffaloes, who won this tournament as the No. 6 seed a season ago, advanced 55 percent of the time over the No. 12 seed Oregon State Beavers. The Arizona State Sun Devils, who led the conference in field goal percentage at 44.5 percent, and Washington Huskies, who beat their in-state rival Wazzu, also advanced to the quarterfinals.

Pac-12 Quarterfinals
Matchup Win % Avg. Score
9) Arizona State Sun Devils 42.5 65.7
vs. 1) UCLA Bruins 57.5 67.6
4) Arizona Wildcats 64.1 69.4
vs. 5) Colorado Buffaloes 35.9 65.4
10) Utah Runnin' Utes 43.9 61.0
vs. 2) California Golden Bears 56.1 62.1
3) Oregon Ducks 57.5 69.5
vs. 6) Washington Huskies 42.5 67.0

As was assumed, the No. 1 seed Bruins made things interesting against No. 9 Arizona State. Ben Howland's crew couldn't even muster a win two-thirds of the time against the Devils. Granted, Herb Sendek's team did upset the Bruins in late-January by 18 points. So, we shouldn't be too surprised.

The Arizona Wildcats, who started the season 14-0 behind Xavier-transfer Mark Lyons, knocked Colorado out of the tourney over 64 percent of the time.

The Utah Runnin' Utes tried their best to pull back-to-back upsets, but fell short against California. The Golden Bears won eight out of their final nine games to finish 20-10.

The Oregon Ducks opened the season 18-2 out of the gate before enduring a three-game losing streak. Phil Knight's fighting mallards took down Washington in the second-round simulation, winning over 57 percent of the time by an average score of 69-67.

Pac-12 Semifinals
Matchup Win % Avg. Score
1) UCLA Bruins 46.3 70.3
vs. 4) Arizona Wildcats 53.7 72.1
2) California Golden Bears 52.5 65.8
vs. 3) Oregon Ducks 47.5 65.3

The Bruins swept the season series against the Wildcats. True to the profound notion that it's extremely difficult to beat a team three times in one season, Arizona eked out some revenge in the Pac-12 semifinals. Sean Miller's team finished the regular season with a conference-best average margin of victory of 5.0, but needed less than two points per game to win over 53 percent of the time.

In the other semifinal, Cal knocked off Oregon over 52 percent of the time by an average margin of victory of less than a half-point. The Ducks' 14 turnovers per game may have decided their conference tournament fate.

Pac-12 Championship Game
Matchup Win % Avg. Score
4) Arizona Wildcats 57.5 69.1
vs. 2) California Golden Bears 42.5 66.1

Arizona and Cal finished the Pac-12 schedule 12-6 (as did Oregon), but the Bears worked their way up to a No. 2 seed thanks to an early-February win in Tucson. Mike Montgomery's team trailed by five after the first 20 minutes of that game, but elected to adopt a zone defense in the second half. It was a wise choice as Cal outscored the Wildcats 44-31 to steal a game on the road.

In WhatIfSports.com's Pac-12 tournament simulation title game, coach Miller's squad flipped the script and avenged that home hiccup. The computers like the Wildcats to win the Pac-12 championship game over 57 percent of the time by an average score of 69-66. Based on the statistical DNA of this Arizona roster, don't be surprised if the simulation engine shows them plenty of love in our annual NCAA Bracket Preview simulation next Monday.

WhatIfSports.com utilized its NCAA basketball simulation engine to present conference tournament previews and predictions for the Big East, Big Ten and Pac-12. We simulate each matchup 501 times to learn each team's win percentage and average score. Simulations are based on updated rosters and the statistical makeup of each team during the 2012-13 season.