Could this be the year that the Pac-12 makes a major comeback and regains lost luster in college basketball circles?
No team from the Pac-12 has made it to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament since UCLA made it in 2008, but that could change this season as the conference has three teams that project to be No. 2 seeds in The Big Dance, per CBS Sports.
Arizona, Oregon and UCLA all appear to have the special qualities needed that could take them a long way in the tournament. If one or more of them can make it to the national semifinals, that would help put the conference back in the consciousness of many basketball fans who have not given it much thought in recent seasons.
Arizona, which picked up a 73-60 victory over Arizona State in Saturday's regular-season finale, has quite a bit of talent. Head coach Sean Miller has built a team that has plenty of size and an outstanding perimeter game, and that could help take them a long way in both the Pac-12 and the NCAA tournament.
The Wildcats will be the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament behind the Oregon Ducks. Oregon defeated in-state rival Oregon State Saturday to clinch the No. 1 seed in the tournament.
The Bruins (28-3, 15-3) took a huge step in returning to glory this season, and UCLA appears to have a dynamic team that should be able to stand up to the best teams in the nation. Head coach Steve Alford has a trio of stars in Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf and Bryce Alford who have helped the Bruins raise their profile and become one of the most dangerous teams in the nation.
|Pac-12 Tournament Schedule|
|March 9||12 noon||Arizona State (8)||Stanford (9)||Pac-12 Network|
|March 9||2:30 p.m.||California (5)||Oregon State (12)||Pac-12 Network|
|March 9||6 p.m.||Colorado (7)||Washington State (10)||Pac-12 Network|
|March 9||8:30 p.m.||USC (6)||Washington (11)||Pac-12 Network|
|March 10||12 noon||Oregon (1)||Arizona State-Stanford winner||Pac-12 Network|
|March 10||2:30 p.m.||Utah (4)||California-Oregon State winner||Pac-12 Network|
|March 10||6 p.m.||Arizona (2)||Colorado-Washington State winner||Pac-12 Network|
|March 10||8:30 p.m.||UCLA (3)||USC-Washington winner||Pac-12 Network|
|March 11||6 p.m.||TBD||TBD||Pac-12 Network|
|March 11||8:30 p.m.||TBD||TBD||ESPN|
|March 12||8 p.m.||TBD||TBD||ESPN|
Alford is averaging 16.6 points, while Leaf is right behind at 16.3 points per night. Ball, who is averaging 15.0 points per game and connecting on 55.7 percent of his shots from the field, is one of the most exciting players in the nation.
Leaf did not play in the Bruins' season-ending win over Washington State as he was sidelined with a sprained ankle. There are no indications that his ankle problems will keep him from competing in the Pac-12 tournament.
Oregon (27-4, 16-2) goes into the Pac-12 tournament with six consecutive victories, and the Ducks are led by forward Dillon Brooks, who is averaging 15.6 points per game and connecting on 51.6 percent of his shots from the field.
The Ducks have excellent scoring depth, as they have four other players averaging in double figures besides Brooks. Guard Tyler Dorsey is averaging 12.8 points per game and forward Chris Boucher is right behind with a mark of 12.1 points per night. Boucher is also connecting on 52.4 percent of his shots from the field.
Arizona (27-4, 16-2) split two games against UCLA, but lost its only game against the Ducks. Miller has seen his team win six of its last seven games, and it has excellent scoring depth with Allonzo Trier, Lauri Markkanen, Rawle Alkins and Dusan Ristic.
Trier is averaging 16.0 points per game, but he missed much of the season with a hand injury. While he has been in the lineup through much of the last month, he did not play in the season finale against Arizona State.
It would be a surprise if Oregon, UCLA or Arizona did not win the tournament at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. However, the other team to watch is Utah (20-10, 11-7).
The Utes closed the regular season with three straight wins, and they are led by Kyle Kuzma, who is averaging 16.0 points per game and connecting on 49.8 percent of his shots. Kuzma is also collecting 9.7 rebounds per night
Junior forward David Collette has also been quite dangerous, as he is averaging 14.2 points per game and shooting 61.7 percent from the field. In addition to Collette, Lorenzo Bonam is averaging 12.3 points per game and is also shooting 57.0 percent from the floor.
The Pac-12 is a top-heavy conference, and it's going to be difficult for the middle- or lower-tier teams to take the championship away from Oregon, Arizona or UCLA.
Utah is quite solid and could get to the semifinals, but it's unlikely the Utes will get past that round.
We fully expect Oregon to get to the championship round, and UCLA to find a way to edge the Wildcats and earn a spot in the championship round.
Oregon and UCLA have split two meetings this year, but the Ducks are the more complete team and will find a way to execute better down the stretch as Oregon brings home the Pac-12 tournament.