NCAA Basketball: Pac-12 Teams That Will Be Dancing in March
The 2013-14 regular season is winding down, and the Pac-12 regular season title is still up for grabs. With Arizona losing two of its last five games, UCLA and Arizona State now are looking to contend for the conference title along with Cal. While the Cats, Bruins, Devils and Bears contend for the top spot at the moment, four others are hoping to hear their names called out on Selection Sunday as well.
With only three weeks remaining before the Pac-12 tournament March 13-16 in Las Vegas, here are where the eight potential NCAA tournament-bound teams are predicted to be come March Madness:
Arizona Wildcats (24-2, 11-2 in Pac-12)
Key Wins: at San Diego State, Duke, at Michigan, at UCLA, Arizona State, Colorado, at Stanford
Bad Losses: None
Arizona still sits atop the Pac-12 Conference, even though it lost two of its last five games.
The Wildcats two losses this season have been heartbreakers. The first heartbreaker came on the road at Cal on Feb. 1 when Justin Cobbs drained a jump shot with one second remaining in regulation to win 60-58, while the second came on Friday night at Arizona State when the Cats were upset by their hated rival 69-66 in double overtime.
Arizona has continued to be solid on the defensive end, but it has struggled from the free-throw line. In the past three games prior to a win over Utah on Wednesday night, coach Sean Miller’s squad has hit just 50-of-88 (56.8%) from the line. Not being able to hit key free throws down the stretch eventually could eliminate them from making a run at a second national championship.
Junior guard Nick Johnson continues to lead the Wildcats with 15.8 points per game, while freshman forward Aaron Gordon averaged 15 points and 7.5 rebounds in Arizona’s two games prior to facing Utah.
Unfortunately, Brandon Ashley, who had been averaging 11.5 points per game, injured his right foot in the loss against Cal and is out for the remainder of the season.
The Wildcats already are tournament bound and will be looking for their first Pac-12 regular-season title since 2010-11.
UCLA Bruins (21-5, 10-3 in Pac-12)
Key Wins: Arizona State, at Colorado, Stanford, Cal, Colorado, at Cal
Bad Losses: at Oregon State
Just like last season, UCLA is sitting around in second place waiting for the top team to fall. With the Bruins not getting another opportunity to seek revenge on Arizona, they'll likely need to win the final five games of the season to have a chance of earning a share of the Pac-12 regular-season title.
The Bruins, led by sophomore guard Jordan Adams, are averaging an impressive 83.2 points per game (10th in the nation) and are shooting 49.7 percent from the field (seventh in the nation). Adams is scoring 17.5 points per game, while sophomore Kyle Anderson has been on a role, by averaging 16.4 points, 6.6 assists and nine rebounds in the Bruins' last five games.
Under first-year head coach Steve Alford, UCLA has an opportunity to win its second consecutive conference title and make noise come March.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Arizona State Sun Devils (19-7, 8-5 in Pac-12)
Key Wins: Marquette, Colorado, Arizona
Bad Losses: None
We knew coach Herb Sendek may have his best team since taking the Arizona State job in 2006, but no one knew how good this team would turn out to be.
The Sun Devils pulled off their biggest win in school history by knocking off in-state rival No. 2 Arizona 69-66 in double overtime on Friday night in Tempe. A win over a ranked Arizona team for the first time since 2002 not only helped their chances of advancing to the NCAA tournament, but also put them in a position to compete for the Pac-12 regular-season title.
While sophomore guard Jahii Carson continues to lead the Sun Devils with 18.8 points per game and 4.6 assists per game, it has been senior guard Jermaine Marshall that has been the go-to guy as of late. Marshall hit two key three-pointers and scored the game-winning basket in Arizona State’s upset win over Arizona. In the past five games, he’s averaged an impressive 19 points.
Senior center Jordan Bachynski also continues to make a big impact by averaging 11.9 points per game and 9 rebounds per game.
A 61-52 loss at Colorado on Wednesday night will hurt the Sun Devils' chances of winning a Pac-12 title, but they are not out of the race yet.
A win at Utah on Sunday, along with a home win against Stanford next Wednesday, could be just what Arizona State needs to clinch a spot in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009.
Colorado Buffaloes (20-7, 9-5 in Pac-12)
Key Wins: Kansas, Arizona State
Bad Losses: None
After the loss of star junior guard Spencer Dinwiddie to a torn ACL on Jan 12, the Buffs season seemed to dwindle as they lost three of their next four games. Since February hit, however, Colorado is 5-1 and back in the hunt for another NCAA tournament bid.
Sophomore forward Josh Scott leads the Buffs with 14.4 points per game and 8.7 rebounds per game. With Scott dominating in both the scoring and rebounding game, Askia Booker and Xavier Johnson have been playmakers as well. In Colorado’s past five games, Booker has averaged 19.6 points and 6.6 assists, while Johnson has averaged 18.4 points and recorded 7.6 rebounds.
The Buffs hosted and won against a surging Arizona State team on Wednesday night and then get No. 4 Arizona, who it has not lost to at home since joining the Pac-12 Conference, on Saturday night in a prime-time game on ESPN.
A sweep over the Arizona schools this week would do more than solidify its chances of advancing to a third straight NCAA tournament.
California Golden Bears
California Golden Bears (17-9, 8-5 in Pac-12)
Key Wins: at Stanford, Arizona
Bad Losses: at USC
In early January, Cal appeared to be a conference contender when it opened with five straight conference wins. When the Bears lost to a subpar USC team though, things began to go downhill. They went on a three-game losing streak, before upsetting No.1 Arizona at home 60-58 on Feb. 1.
Cal is loaded with the talent of Justin Cobbs, Tyrone Wallace and Richard Solomon. Cobbs is averaging 15.7 points per game and is always cool in the clutch when his team needs him most. Wallace is scoring 11.8 points per game, while Solomon is racking up an impressive 11.5 points per game and 10.2 rebounds per game.
Despite an 86-66 loss at home to No. 23 UCLA Wednesday, the Bears are still in a position to win their second regular season title in five years. Expect head coach Mike Montgomery’s squad to be tournament bound for a third straight year.
Stanford Cardinal (16-8, 7-5 in Pac-12)
Key Wins: at UConn, Arizona State, at Cal
Bad Losses: at Oregon State
Stanford is in the field of 68 right now, but this team lacks consistency. The Cardinal did give a then-undefeated Arizona team a run for its money on Jan. 29 and knocked off Arizona State and Cal. It then lost at Washington 64-60 on Feb. 12, though.
Junior guard Chasson Randle and senior forward Dwight Powell lead a Stanford squad averaging 75.2 points per game (79th in the nation). Randle is scoring 18.5 points per game, while Powell is averaging 15.1 points per game and 7.8 rebounds per game. Junior Anthony Brown continues to be a playmaker from beyond the arc with a 49.4 three-point field-goal percentage.
Head coach Johnny Dawkins is looking to take his team to its first NCAA tournament since 2008, but there is work to be done down the stretch against the top teams in the Pac-12. If they lose three of their final six games and fail to add one or two more wins in the Pac-12 tournament, the Cardinal could be in for a stressful Selection Sunday.
Oregon Ducks (17-8, 5-8 in Pac-12)
Key Wins: Georgetown, Illinois
Bad Losses: at Oregon State
Oregon has the talent and ability to be a tournament team, but it has been unclutch in conference play.
The Ducks have lost four important conference games by two points and likely will need to win at least five of their last six games to even have a chance of being considered for the NCAA tournament. The two two-point losses in the desert during the first week of February were a tough pill to swallow for Dana Altman’s squad.
Junior guard Joseph Young has been the Ducks main scorer with 18.7 points per game. Senior forward Mike Moser (12.7 points per game) and senior guard Jason Calliste (12.5 points per game) have chipped in on the scoring attack as well.
While Oregon is ninth in the nation in scoring (83.5 points per game) and shooting 38.3 percent from beyond the arc, its decision-making at the end of games and defense has been a weakness.
Oregon was 26-8 and only received a 12 seed last season, meaning a bid to the tournament at this point of the season could be out of reach. If it can get key wins down the stretch, however, the NIT tournament could be avoided.
Utah Utes (17-9, 6-8 in Pac-12)
Key Wins: UCLA
Bad Losses: at Washington State
Don’t count the Utes out quite yet, but it’s fair to say they are about a year away from being an NCAA tournament team. If this team can pull off a three or four quality wins before the end of the regular season, the dream could come true in Salt Lake City.
Junior guard Delon Wright (16 points per game) leads a Utah squad averaging 78.1 points per game (38th in the nation) and shooting an astounding 49.7 percent from the field (eighth in the nation). Jordan Loveridge (15.2 points per game) and Brandon Taylor (10.8 points per game) also are making noise in the scoring game as well.
Utah hosted No. 4 Arizona on Wednesday night, but the Utes lost 67-63 in overtime, just missing the opportunity for an upset.
Note: Washington, Oregon State, Washington State and USC only will advance to the NCAA tournament with a Pac-12 tournament title.