The Pac-12 truly embodied the craziness that was the 2019-20 College Basketball season. Their best team has looked as good as anyone at times, but also had some questionable losses. Traditional blue bloods have talented players, but are struggling to put together a consistent 40 minutes of basketball. The middle of the pack teams are all solid, so there’s certainly potential for chaos in Las Vegas.
Could it be anyone else? Led by the conference player of the year Payton Pritchard, the Ducks established themselves as the clear class of the Pac-12 this year. Their high flying offense currently sits at 6th in the KenPom rankings, driven by their terrific 3 point shooting (39.6%, second in the nation). They’re a good offensive rebounding team, which only leads to more open looks from deep. In Pritchard they have a player that can take over late in games, as he’s done countless times throughout the season (and his career). And let’s not forget Dana Altman, one of the best coaches in the country, who always has his squad well prepared this time of year.
I do have some concerns about this team on the defensive side. They’re solid at forcing turnovers, but they don’t really have any lock down defenders. This has led to some puzzling losses against Washington St, Oregon St, and Stanford. When you consider that the Ducks needed two epic collapses by Arizona to sweep that series, you get the sense that this team is vulnerable. This could lead to an upset in Vegas, but given the weak Pac-12 competition, I think we’re more likely to see those weaknesses show themselves in the Big Dance.
After a hot start to the conference season, the Sun Devils have started to show their true selves over the last two weeks. Bobby Hurley’s team found themselves sitting atop the Pac-12 standings in late February, after an 11-4 start to the conference. Since then Sparky has lost 3 of 4, finding themselves back on the bubble.
Remy Martin and Alonzo Verge are capable of going off at any time, but they’re also just as capable of forcing bad shots and turning the ball over. This could be a major problem if they face Colorado’s stout D in the quarterfinals, but even if they escape that I can’t seem them getting to the finals. Any early exit could mean an NIT bid for Arizona St, and possibly the end of the Bobby Hurley era in Tempe.
Mick Cronin has done a phenomenal job turning this team around over the last month. After a .500 start to the season, the Bruins went on a 9-2 run to earn the second seed in the Pac-12 tournament. The highlight of the UCLA turnaround was their home win over Arizona, but that felt more like another collapse by Spittin’ Sean Miller’s team.
The Bruins offense ranks 51st in the country, which is fine on the surface. But there are some major concerns about their ability to score. UCLA ranks 213th and 228th in the country in 2pt and 3pt percentage, respectively. Their scoring is driven by their ability to get to the line (56th in FTA/FGA) and their offensive rebounding prowess (20th in OReb% overall). In a tournament format the refs are (usually) going to put the whistle away, and opponents will focus more on boxing out. Unless they face a physically inferior team, I can’t see UCLA going too far in either March tournament.
As our resident Wildcat alumni will tell you, this team has been infuriating to watch over the last few weeks. They have as much talent as anyone in freshmen Nico Mannion, Zeke Nnaji, and Josh Green. On paper their numbers look great, ranking 36th in Adj-O and 15th in Adj-D. And yet, they find themselves playing on Day 1 in Las Vegas after losing 4 of their last 5 games. The Oregon and UCLA losses were particularly frustrating for Arizona fans. In both they were the better team for 35 minutes, and then just handed the game away with missed free throws and bad turnovers.
I still believe in the talent of this team, but Sean Miller has some serious work to do. Let’s just hope he brought his antiperspirant to Vegas. The Cats could easily make me look foolish with a bad performance in round 1 against Washington, but a good one could also snap this team back into form. If they can get past a USC team that they should be favored against, you have to think they’ll relish their shot to get revenge against Oregon. The “it’s hard to beat the same team three times” can get overblown, but in this case I think Arizona is the one team Oregon does not want to see.
Add the Buffs to the list of puzzling Pac-12 teams. Early on in the year they looked like they may win the regular season title, but four straight Ls to end the season (including bad losses to Cal and Utah) quickly ended any hopes of that. Now Colorado finds themselves as the 6 seed, and having to play on Day 1. However, when you look at the draw this actually may be a good thing for Tad Boyle’s squad, as they won’t have to face Oregon, USC, or Arizona until the finals.
Colorado is a defense first team, which doesn’t always lead to success in March. But don’t sleep on their 3 point shooting. If this squad can shake off the recent slump, they match up phenomenally against Arizona St and UCLA. The Buffs may be responsible for some madness in Vegas.
USC is coming off an epic buzzer beating win against their cross-city rivals, and has been playing well of late, but I can’t see them getting past Arizona and Oregon…. speaking of playing well, Washington has looked much better in their last few games. The season ending upset of Arizona was very impressive, but beating the Cats twice in 5 days may be too much to ask of this young squad…. Utah and Oregon St both had disappointing years. I love both of these coaches, and their matchup should be competitive, but Oregon should easily handle the winner… the beauty of conference tournament week is that we get to see rivalry matchups like Cal vs Stanford. But other than the history, I don’t see much intrigue in this one. The Cardinal may give UCLA a run for their money in the quarters, in what should be a low scoring affair…. Washington St should be a one and done in a tough matchup vs Colorado.
Picks: Oregon is the most likely champion, but I don’t love them at the +160 price. Given the draw, give me Colorado +400. Will potentially look to hedge in a final against Oregon or Arizona.