Pac-12 Basketball: Predictions for the Pac-12, NCAA and NIT Tournaments
Welcome to March—may the madness be with you.
After Saturday's epic meltdown of top-ranked teams, including five of the Top 10 and 10 of the Top 25, will Sunday's top teams fare any better?
The No. 3 Arizona Wildcats host the Stanford Cardinal, while five more ranked teams look to avoid the upset bug.
Arizona had earned the No. 1 seed heading into the Pac-12 tournament, and barring an unforeseen late-season meltdown, the Wildcats will win their 13th regular-season conference championship since joining the Pac-10/12 Conference in 1978.
How many Pac-12 teams will punch their dance ticket, and where will they be seeded?
Here are my predictions.
No. 1 Seed Arizona Wildcats
This is a no-brainer.
The No. 3 Wildcats (26-2, 13-2 Pac-12) have three games remaining and are favored in all three games. Arizona will host Stanford for a Sunday evening nightcap on ESPNU for those not interested in watching the Academy Awards.
After suffering a heart-wrenching, double-overtime loss to in-state rival Arizona State, the Wildcats have rebounded nicely with three straight victories. The 'Cats swept the Rocky Mountain schools and exacted sweet revenge on Cal with a convincing 87-59 victory.
The Wildcats end the regular season on the road facing the Oregon schools. The Ducks (20-8, 8-8 Pac-12) will look to extend their five-game win streak and possibly revive their tournament hopes. The Beavers (15-12, 7-8 Pac-12) are just hoping to avoid an embarrassing loss.
I predict the Wildcats will finish their season 16-2 in conference and also win the conference tournament.
No. 6 Seed UCLA Bruins
What has happened to UCLA?
Two straight losses to Stanford and Oregon have dropped the Bruins further in several pundits' predictions, but a favorable season-ending schedule could stop the bleeding.
The Bruins started conference play a little shaky, losing two of their first five games, including a five-point loss to Utah (No. 78 RPI). Another bad loss was waiting for the Bruins in Corvallis, where Oregon State (No. 98 RPI) handed them a 71-67 loss.
UCLA hosts Oregon State on Sunday and will look to celebrate senior night with a revenge win over the Beavers before embarking on its road trip at the Washington schools.
The Bruins still have a mathematical chance at sharing the 2013-14 Pac-12 regular-season title—but it would require Arizona losing its next three games. I like my chances at winning Powerball over that happening.
I see the Bruins finishing second in the Pac-12 with a 13-5 conference record and garnering a No. 2 seed in the Pac-12 tournament. It would be neat to see an NCAA tournament first-round matchup with former UCLA head coach Steve Lavin, who is now head coach at St. John's.
No. 8 Seed Arizona State Sun Devils
The Sun Devils (21-8, 10-6) had a horrific road trip in the Rocky Mountain region and were written off by several pollsters as not ready. Arizona State posted its lowest offensive output of the season, scoring only 52 points at Colorado, and followed that up with a 23-point shellacking at Utah.
The Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City is a tough place to pull out a win; the Utes finished the season 18-2 there with the only losses coming to then-No. 10 Oregon and then-No. 1 Arizona.
Herb Sendek's squad saved its season and Sendek's job for the foreseeable future with a convincing home stand against the Bay Area schools by 12 and 18 points over Stanford and Cal, respectively.
The Sun Devils have a quirky schedule to end the season, with a Tuesday-Saturday road trip to the Oregon schools. Arizona State team spokesman Doug Tammaro said the Sun Devils will return to Tempe after the Tuesday night game at Oregon and return on Friday to prepare for the Saturday game at Oregon State.
I predict that Arizona State will split the road trip with a loss to Oregon, finish 11-7 in conference and earn a No. 3 seed in the Pac-12 tournament.
No. 9 Seed Stanford Cardinal
The Cardinal, who had won four of six before embarking on their Arizona road trip, knew they had a tough end to their schedule. It started with a 12-point loss in Tempe to Arizona State and continues with a Sunday matchup in Tucson—where no visiting team has won this season.
Stanford has the luxury of hosting the final two regular-season games at home, but when the visiting teams are Colorado and Utah, the term "luxury" is far from Johnny Dawkins' mind.
Colorado is most likely making a return trip to the Big Dance, while Utah is a team that is dangerous at home and atrocious on the road.
I predict the Cardinal will finish the season 10-7 in conference and gain a No. 5 seed in the Pac-12 tournament, which is as good as a bye in many minds.
No. 10 Seed Colorado Buffaloes
The Buffaloes were 14-2 overall, 3-0 in conference and ranked No. 15 in the country when they traveled to Seattle on Jan. 12 to take on the Washington Huskies.
In an instant, the Buffaloes' season, it would seem, would go up in smoke when point guard Spencer Dinwiddie fell to the floor, clutching his left knee.
It was later revealed that Dinwiddie tore his ACL and would be lost for the season. A heartbreaking loss for a player who was weighing his NBA options, he told Brian Howell of BuffZone.com (h/t Stu White of FanSided) he is now considering the 2014 draft, although his injury won't be healed prior to the April 27 deadline.
Including the loss at Washington, the Buffs would go on to lose four of the next five games before winning three straight at home. Colorado's final two games are on the road against the Bay Area schools.
I predict the Buffaloes will win out on the road and finish 11-7 in conference, securing the No. 4 seed in the Pac-12 tournament.
No. 10 Seed California Golden Bears
Much like the aforementioned Buffaloes, the Cal Bears started the season like a team on fire. The Bears, however, didn't lose a player in mid-January; they just lost their way.
Cal has the distinction of being the only team in the Pac-12 to lose this year to Southern California, but at least it was on the road. The loss at USC was the first of three consecutive losses and four of the next five.
The season seemed to turn around when it knocked off the No. 1 team in the country, Arizona, 60-58 on Justin Cobbs' last-second shot. Since the victory, the Bears have settled back into mediocrity, going 3-3 and coming back empty-handed from their Arizona road trip.
The Bears welcome the Rocky Mountain schools for the regular-season finale, and I predict California will split the pair, finishing the year at 10-8 in conference and gain the No. 6 seed in the Pac-12 tournament.
NIT No. 1 Seed Oregon Ducks
The Oregon Ducks made quick work of their nonconference opponents, winning 12 straight and reaching as high as No. 10 in the rankings. Overtime was needed twice in the early going for the Ducks to dispatch of Ole Miss and BYU, but conference play was looming.
Oregon traveled to Utah to start conference play and needed overtime—once again—to sneak out of Huntsman Center with a win. The Ducks would then hit the skids, losing five straight and seven of the next nine.
A resurgence has returned to Dana Altman's squad, having won its past five, including a stunning double-overtime thriller at UCLA.
If the Ducks can sweep the Arizona schools at home, they might return to bubble talk, but as of now, it is safe to say the bubble has burst despite their best efforts.
I predict Oregon will finish 9-9 in conference and will nab the No. 7 seed in the Pac-12 tournament.
NIT No. 3 Seed Utah Utes
There's no place like home for the Utah Runnin' Utes.
Playing in arguably one of the most difficult arenas in the conference and the country, the Huntsman Center has become synonymous with a Ute victory. On the road, however, is a completely different story.
The Utes are an amazing 18-2 at home but an alarming 1-7 on the road. Among their home victories are over then-No. 10 Oregon and then-No. 25 UCLA, but in between those big wins, the Utes lost 49-46 to Washington State.
The final two games for Utah are on the road against NCAA tournament-bound teams, and I don't see a break from the norm, with the Utes getting swept in the Bay Area.
I predict Utah will finish the season 8-10 in conference play and will be seeded No. 8 in the Pac-12 tournament.