March Madness: Pac 12 Tournament Preview
When: Wednesday (first round); Thursday (quarterfinals); Friday (semifinals); Saturday (championship)
Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas
Storylines: This may be the most wide open conference tournament out of any in the entire country. Are the top teams some of the best teams in the country? Probably not, but there are at least nine teams that can go on a run and come away with the Pac 12 tournament championship. It has been a hard year to predict games in the Pac 12 with no clear dominant favorite so the tournament figures to have the same type of unpredictability. Not many other tournaments can boast that sort of depth so it should be a very entertaining weekend in the first year in Las Vegas.
Tournament Favorite: There is not really a clear favorite heading into the weekend based on the up and down regular season. If there is a favorite it should be the team that was the hottest to finish the regular season and that’s Cal. The Bears were one of the hottest teams in the country down the stretch winning seven straight before falling in their season finale to Stanford. What favors them the most in this tournament setting is the fact that they boast the Pac 12 POY in Allen Crabbe and he’s someone that can take over. I would say that Cal has a favorable draw to reach the championship game as the potential opponents between them and Saturday are USC (minus two key players due to suspension) and Oregon (losers of three of five to finish the season).
Main Challengers: Like previously mentioned, there are practically nine teams that could make a run and claim the Pac 12 title but in reality only three or four have a serious chance. UCLA is the trendy pick and the Bruins will be hard to argue with. They have been one of the most inconsistent teams through the Pac 12 season but they certainly boast the talent to win it all and make some serious noise deep into March. Arizona will be in the mix despite a rough finish to the year but they were the conference’s highest ranked team all season for a reason. Oregon is up there with a healthy, productive Dominic Artis but their finish to the season is worrisome.
Team With Most at Stake: Arizona State has the most to gain from this weekend. They are on the very fringe of the bubble but if they can get past Stanford in their opener and then somehow knock off No. 1 seed UCLA in the quarterfinals they could be in the discussion to steal an a-large bid on Selection Sunday. There are five Pac 12 teams projected to make the tournament but if the Sun Devils can pull off some upsets it could be the sixth team to represent the conference in March Madness.
Sleeper Pick: Colorado, with a healthy Andre Roberson, will be a tough out. They had a strong overall finish to the season and they embrace the tournament setting. Last year they won four games in four days in Los Angeles to claim their first ever conference tournament championship and earlier this year they swept the Charleston Classic. A guy like Askia Booker, who has been a dreadful shooting slump, plays his best in a tournament like this and he can be an x-factor for Colorado. The Buffs did it last year so there’s no reason to think they don’t have the potential to do it again.
My Pick: Making a single pick for this tournament is basically a crap shoot, which is fitting with the tournament being in Vegas. Plenty of teams have a good shot to get hot and win it but if there’s one team who I think will seize the opportunity it’s Arizona. I think they will get their act together and prove why they were the highest ranked team in the conference all season.
David LaRose is a College Basketball writer for Rant Sports covering the Pac 12 and the University of Colorado. He’s also a member of the USBWA. You can follow him on Twitter or check out his Facebook page.