NCAA Bracket 2011 Predictions: Will Tough Conference Play Help Pac-10 Teams?

Mark MillerCorrespondent IMarch 15, 2011

NCAA Bracket 2011 Predictions: Will Tough Conference Play Help Pac-10 Teams?

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    As the Pac-10 Conference prepares to send four teams to the 2011 NCAA Tournament, you have to wonder how prepared they'll be to face the best that college basketball has to offer.

    In a way, each Pac-10 team that will be represented in the tournament has played a part in getting the other to where they are right now.

    A strong conference season is an important part of building a tournament resume, as is the case with the Pac-10 where each team represented has won at least 10 games in the conference.

    The Arizona Wildcats lead the way as the fifth seed in the West Region, but they're not alone as the UCLA Bruins, Washington Huskies and USC Trojans have also punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

    Now that they've made it this far, just how good are their chances of making it even farther?

Southwest Region: No. 11 USC Trojans

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    Behind the leadership of junior forward Nikola Vucevic the USC Trojans have performed beyond the expectations of critics and returned to the tournament after a 2010 absence.

    An impressive non-conference schedule included wins against No. 18 Tennessee and No. 20 Texas. The Trojans also traveled to Kansas and nearly pulled off the upset against the No. 3 Jayhawks.

    Despite five players averaging 10 points or more per game, the team lacks depth from the bench and is 230th in the nation in scoring (66.8 ppg).

    They'll need to improve on their offensive output if they plan on keeping up with the competition down the road.

Outlook for the Trojans

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    The Trojans will be one of the first teams to take part in the "First Four" round of the NCAA Tournament as they battle Virginia-Commonwealth for the chance to earn the No. 11 Seed in the Southwest Region.

    If they're able to knock off the Rams and earn a trip to the next round, they'll face a tough test in the No. 6 seeded Georgetown Hoyas.

    The Hoyas have strung together a very impressive season as they battled the way through a historically strong Big East Conference. At the same time, the Hoyas are currently riding a four game losing streak and may be vulnerable to a hot team.

    Even on a good night, it's not likely that the Trojans would be able to keep up with the offense of the Hoyas.

Southeast Region: No. 7 UCLA Bruins

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    Thanks in part to 14 points and nine rebounds per game from sophomore Reeves Nelson, the UCLA Bruins find themselves making their 42nd NCAA Tournament appearance.

    The Bruins weathered the storm of a four game losing streak during their non-conference season and managed to finish the season with a 13-5 mark in Pac-10 play.

    Much of the team's success can be attributed to their well balanced attack. The Bruins pass the ball effectively as they dish out just shy of 15 assists per game while shooting 46 percent.

    A 17 point loss at the hands of the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-10 Tournament may be a concern for the UCLA faithful, but the team has the leadership to turn it into a learning experience as they prepare to face a tough test in No. 10 Michigan State in their opening round.

Outlook for the Bruins

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    As mentioned, the Bruins get a tough opening test when they face the No. 10 Michigan State Spartans on Thursday.

    The Spartans have fallen off significantly since ranking in the top five in the country earlier this season. But head coach Tom Izzo always seems to have his teams ready when the Big Dance rolls around.

    If they're able to overcome the onslaught of Kalin Lucas and the Spartans', the Bruins' schedule will get much tougher as they'd more than likely face the No. 2 seeded Florida Gators.

    Throughout the season the Bruins have proven that they can hold their own against some of the best teams in the country, but they'd run into many issues against the strong shooting and rebounding that the Gators bring to the table.

East Region: No. 7 Washington Huskies

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    There was a point this season when it appeared that all was lost for the Washington Huskies.

    The team was in the midst of a three game conference losing streak in which they were defeated by teams holding down the bottom of the Pac-10.

    The Huskies wouldn't be deterred, as they turned their program around and won nine of their next 11 games en route to a Pac-10 Tournament championship.

    The team takes their balanced attack to the NCAA Tournament in hopes of building on their 2010 Sweet Sixteen run.

    The Huskies certainly have reason to be confident. They rank in the top 25 in the nation in all four major team statistics (points, rebounding, assists and Field Goal Percentage) and will certainly use those qualities to their advantage as they progress in the Big Dance.

Outlook for the Huskies

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    The Huskies match up well against the No. 10 seeded Georgia Bulldogs. The Huskies rank third in the nation in scoring and with some strong rebounding will likely prove to be too much for their SEC opponent.

    It would be in the next round that the Huskies would have to make their strongest statement yet this season.

    The resurgent North Carolina Tar Heels have made their way back into the tournament this year after a disappointing campaign in 2010.

    Roy Williams has his team playing as effectively as just about any team in the country and will come to the court ready to play.

    If the Huskies plan on advancing to the Sweet Sixteen they'll need to find a way to chip away at the rebounding of the Tar Heels that is tops in the nation if they hope to advance.

West Region: No. 5 Arizona Wildcats

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    After getting off to an 11-2 start to the season the Arizona Wildcats set their sights on a Pac-10 Conference that promised to be highly contested.

    In scoring 77 points per game and shooting better than 47 percent from the field, the Wildcats proved to be too much for their opponents nightly.

    The team lost only four Pac-10 games, all against NCAA Tournament teams (lost twice to Washington).

    Sophomore forward Derrick Williams is the clear leader of the team, contributing 19 points and eight rebounds per game.

Outlook for the Wildcats

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    The Wildcats find themselves in an unenviable position. Despite earning the No. 5 seed in the West Region, they'll face a tough Memphis team in the opening round.

    The Tigers have long been known as a team to fear as the Big Dance rolls around, continually mounting a run that sees top talent making early exits.

    This season however the team failed to beat a top 25 team all season long and showed little signs of life when staring down the top teams in the country.

    The Wildcats certainly won't overlook the Tigers and should be able to use their defensive skills and offensive ability to come out ahead in the end.

    If they're able to reach the second round, they could have a good shot at putting away the Texas Longhorns who at No. 4 appears to be seeded higher than many experts projected.