Last season, Arizona dominated the Pac-12, but the Wildcats and the other two teams that made the NCAA Tournament, UCLA and Arizona State, failed to win a game during March Madness. What should we expect from the “Conference of Champions” this year?
Let’s take a look at how the Pac-12 will shake out in 2018-19.
1.) Oregon Ducks
After failing to make the “Big Dance” last season, Oregon will return to being a force in the Pac-12 with a strong incoming recruiting class. Returners Payton Pritchard and Kenny Wooten will be joined by star freshman Bol Bol, son of Manute Bol, and Louis King. Dana Altman hopes that the Pac-12 Championship will go through Eugene this year.
2.) UCLA Bruins
Although UCLA will be near the top of the conference this season, Steve Alford may be on the hot seat if he fails to generate postseason success. Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes decided to stay in school after flirting with the NBA Draft this past spring and will look to make a run through the league slate and late into March.
3.) Washington Huskies
First year coach Mike Hopkins turned a team that won nine games in 2016-17 into a 21-win NIT team in 2017-18. The Huskies will look to build on last year’s success by finishing near the top of the conference and making it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011. Hopkins will lean on the trio of Noah Dickerson, Matisse Thybulle, and Jaylen Nowell to get them there.
4.) Arizona Wildcats
After surviving a midseason scandal in which Coach Sean Miller was allegedly caught on wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to secure the commitment of big man Deandre Ayton, Arizona rallied down the stretch in 2017-18 to win both the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles. The Wildcats were unable to make a run deep into March as they were upset by Buffalo in the first round. Miller is tasked with replacing all five starters from last season’s team. Freshman guard Brandon Williams and transfers Ryan Luther (Pitt), Chase Jeter (Duke), and Justin Coleman (Samford), will hope to fill the void and keep Arizona among the class of the league.
5.) USC Trojans
USC was one of the first four teams out of the “Big Dance” a year ago. Bennie Boatwright is one of the best frontcourt players in the Pac-12. If freshman guards Kevin Porter and Elijah Weaver can develop as go-to guys for the Trojans, they may find themselves sniffing an NCAA Tournament once again.
6.) Arizona State Sun Devils
After climbing as high as number three in the polls in December, Arizona State barely cracked into the “Big Dance” as part of the last four in. The Sun Devils were promptly sent packing when they were taken down by Syracuse in the First Four. This season, Bobby Hurley will look for transfers Rob Edwards and Zylan Cheatham and freshman Luguentz Dort and Taeshon Cherry to keep the Sun Devils relevant in the Pac-12.
7.) Colorado Buffaloes
McKinley Wright IV is one of the best players in the conference, but he may not have enough of a supporting cast to help get the Buffaloes back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years.
8.) Oregon State Beavers
Oregon State will lean heavily on the duo of Tres Tinkle and Stephen Thompson Jr. if they hope to be a surprising team in the Pac-12 this season.
9.) Utah Utes
Utah will have a rebuilding year this season, but do not be surprised if the streaky three-point shooting of Sedrick Barefield helps the Utes pull off an upset or two in the league slate.
10.) Stanford Cardinal
Stanford suffered a major blow to its chance of making a run toward the top of the Pac-12 in 2018-19 when graduate student Reid Travis decided to transfer to Kentucky for his final year of college basketball eligibility. Without Travis, Daejon Davis and the Cardinal will probably fall to the bottom third of conference this year.
11.) Washington State Cougars
Washington State will live and die by the three which will definitely make Klay Thompson, their notable basketball alumni and current Golden State Warriors star, proud. The Cougars are led by Robert Franks, but are not likely to be a factor in the league.
12.) California Golden Bears
Cal was specifically bad on the defensive end a season ago. The Bears lost their top rebounder and shot blocker and had a poor showing on the recruiting trail in 2018. Cal should find themselves in the basement of the Pac-12 yet again in 2018-19.
It is the first week of fall. The leaves are beginning to change and its getting cooler outside across the country. Yesterday, college teams reported for their first official practice day of the 2018-19 season. Over the summer the NCAA made feeble efforts to address the issues responsible for the ongoing FBI investigation, but alas they seem like they will do little to change the overall state of college basketball. Although there is still over a month to go before the season starts, it is time to take a look at who will be the major players in the college basketball scene this season. For the most part, we’ll see the usual suspects, but it is always fun to look forward to the coming season.
1.) Kentucky Wildcats
John Calipari brings in another top recruiting class to Lexington this season. The difference between last year’s team, which struggled to gel as a unit, and this group of young stars is that this year the Wildcats will have a nucleus of veterans to build around. PJ Washington returns after testing the NBA Draft waters and will look to contend for SEC Player of the Year. Additionally, Calipari landed Reid Travis, the most coveted graduate transfer in this year’s class from Stanford where he was a First-Team Pac-12 performer. Washington and Travis will be joined by the freshman class of EJ Montgomery, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, Immanuel Quickly, and Ashton Hagans. The best Kentucky teams in years past have had a lethal combination of youth and experience. Expect this team to follow suit and have a chance to cut down the nets in April.
2.) Kansas Jayhawks
Bill Self’s group will have a chance to win its 15th consecutive Big 12 regular season title this year. Kansas will have one of the most talented teams in the country. Udoka Azubuike and Lagerald Vick are two key returning players from last year’s team that made a run to the Final Four. Freshman Quentin Grimes will take the reins at point guard and will be joined by Memphis transfers Dedric and KJ Lawson. This could be the Jayhawks best team since the squad that won it all in 2008.
3.) Duke Blue Devils
The Duke Blue Devils will struggle to replace its entire starting lineup from a year ago. Yeah right. Coach K reloads his roster with the top three recruits in the Class of 2018: RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Zion Williamson, and Tyus Jones’ brother, Tre, who will man the point. It may take some time for the Blue Devils to find some chemistry, but this team feels eerily similar to the 2015 National Championship team.
4.) Gonzaga Bulldogs
Last year, the Gonzaga Bulldogs looked well on their way to a second straight Final Four appearance until Killian Tillie sustained a hip injury and they were bounced by Florida State in the Sweet Sixteen. A healthy Tillie and an All-American/potential NBA First Round Draft pick in Rui Hachimura will make Gonzaga the class of the WCC yet again and have them in position for a one seed and a chance at a second trip to the Final Four in three years.
5.) Nevada Wolfpack
After back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances and a run to the Sweet Sixteen last season, Eric Musselman’s team will not be flying under the radar this year. Nevada will be one of the best teams in the country this season as the Martin twins (Caleb and Cody) decided to return for their senior season after testing the NBA Draft process in the spring. In addition, Jordan Caroline returns and the Wolfpack will have the services of Jordan Brown, a McDonald’s All-American from the Class of 2018. The next step in their rise to prominence will be a trip to Minneapolis.
6.) Tennessee Volunteers
After a surprising season in which Tennessee was picked to finished last in the SEC, the Volunteers won the SEC regular season championship. SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield will look to avenge a loss to Loyola-Chicago in the Round of 32 and get Rick Barnes to the Final Four.
7.) Virginia Cavaliers
The 2017-18 season for the Virginia Cavaliers came to a screeching halt when they became the first one seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament to a sixteen seed when they lost to UMBC in March. Tony Bennett will look to turn the tide against his woeful NCAA Tournament performances in the past and lead his team to success in the “Big Dance” in 2019. The Cavaliers return Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and the ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year, De’Andre Hunter, a likely first round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft who was sorely missed in their excruciating loss to the Retrievers.
8.) North Carolina Tar Heels
After losing in the second round to Texas A&M in the NCAA Tournament and losing the veteran backcourt of Joel Berry and Theo Pinson, Roy Williams will look to bounce back with a combination of youth, experience and aim for Tournament success in 2019. Nassir Little and Coby White join the Tar Heels as highly touted recruits, while Cameron Johnson and potential National Player of the Year candidate Luke Maye will return to Chapel Hill and look to get back to the Final Four for the third time in four years.
9.) Michigan State Spartans
Amid scandal, Tom Izzo led Michigan State to a 30-5 record in 2017-18 before being stunned by Syracuse in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Cassius Winston and Nick Ward will look to step up and fill the void left by the departures of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. to the NBA.
10.) Villanova Wildcats
The defending National Champion Villanova Wildcats round out the preseason top ten. Jay Wright lost National Player of the Year Jalen Brunson, Big East Tournament MVP Mikal Bridges, Final Four Most Valuable Player Donte DiVincenzo, and Omari Spellman to the NBA Draft. The Wildcats return Eric Paschall and Phil Booth and add a recruiting class of Jahvon Quinerly, Brandon Slater, Cole Swider, and Albany transfer Joe Cremo. Villanova should still win the Big East, but has a lot of work to do if they plan to celebrate a National Championship for the third time in four years.
11.) West Virginia Mountaineers
Bob Huggins will be without the services of do-it-all guard Jevon Carter due to graduation this season, but the nation’s best shot blocker, Sagaba Konate, and Esa Ahmad will look to lead the Mountaineers as they try to dethrone Kansas for the top spot in the Big 12.
12.) Auburn Tigers
A veteran backcourt of Bryce Brown, Jared Harper, and DeSean Murray will look to follow-up last year’s surprise result and get Bruce Pearl deep into March.
13.) Kansas State Wildcats
Kansas State advanced to the Elite Eight last year with a late season surge despite playing without their best player, Dean Wade. Wade returns from injury and the Wildcats will look to contest atop the Big 12 and make another deep run through the NCAA Tournament Bracket.
14.) Virginia Tech Hokies
Despite being bounced in the first round of the “Big Dance” by Alabama, Virginia Tech returns deep core of talent from a team that raised havoc in the ACC, taking down North Carolina, Duke, and Virginia a year ago. Look for Nickeil Alexander-Walker to make a big jump from his freshman to sophomore year.
15.) Syracuse Orange
After making the NCAA Tournament as the last team in, the Orange rattled off three wins over Arizona State, TCU, and Michigan State before losing to Duke in the Sweet Sixteen. Syracuse is in a similar situation as they were entering the 2016 season, where a deep run in March fueled high expectations for the 2017 team. The Orange return all five starters, Frank Howard, Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett, Marek Dolezaj, and Paschal Chukwu. Jalen Carey, Buddy Boeheim, Robert Braswell, and East Carolina transfer Elijah Hughes have been added to the roster to bring some needed depth and shooting to Central New York.
16.) Oregon Ducks
The Oregon Ducks advanced to the Final Four for the first time in eight decades in 2017, but failed to make the “Big Dance” in 2018. Peyton Pritchard returns to Eugene to join a group of highly touted recruits, including Bol Bol, son of Manute Bol, and Louis King. The Ducks are early favorites to win the Pac-12.
17.) TCU Horned Frogs
TCU returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in two decades last season. With Victor Brodziansky and Kenrich Williams absent from this year’s roster, Desmond Bane and a healthy Jaylen Fisher will look to dance again for the second time in as many years under Jamie Dixon.
18.) Michigan Wolverines
The National Runners-up will look to continue their success under John Beilein with the return of Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole.
19.) UCLA Bruins
Steve Alford has yet to make it past the Sweet Sixteen in his tenure and after being sent out in the First Four by St. Bonaventure last year, he sits squarely on the hot seat. Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands return to campus after testing the NBA Draft waters in the spring; and along with Shareef O’Neal, Shaq’s son, the Bruins are hoping to break through in March.
20.) Washington Huskies
Coach Mike Hopkins brought the 2-3 zone from Syracuse to the Pacific Northwest and brought a team that won nine games in 2016-17 to a 21 win season and a trip to the NIT a season ago. Matisse Thybulle and Noah Dickerson will look to lead the Huskies to the top of the Pac-12 and to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.
21.) Mississippi State Bulldogs
Ben Howland will look to take his fourth program to the “Big Dance” after taking Mississippi State to the NIT semifinals a year ago. Quinndary Weatherspoon will need to be an All-SEC performer if the Bulldogs want to hear their name called on “Selection Sunday.”
22.) Loyola-Chicago Ramblers
Though Sister Jean and the Ramblers took the world by storm last March, they are no longer Cinderella. Clayton Custer returns to Porter Moser’s squad. A week non-conference schedule could keep Loyola-Chicago out of the NCAA Tournament if they were to slip up on their way to a Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title.
23.) Marquette Golden Eagles
Marquette had one of the best offenses in the country a year ago, but their defense was one of the worst. If the Golden Eagles can improve on the defensive end, Markus Howard and Sam Hauser will hope to shoot their way into March Madness.
24.) Nebraska Cornhuskers
Nebraska finished fourth in a down Big Ten last year, and a poor non-conference schedule kept them on the wrong side of the bubble. James Palmer Jr. will look to build on his First Team Big Ten selection a year ago and get the Cornhuskers into the Dance.
25.) Cincinnati Bearcats
After blowing a big second half lead to Nevada in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Mick Cronan will look to regroup in order to make a run in the postseason this year. The Bearcats lost Gary Clark and Kyle Washington to graduation, and Jacob Evans to the NBA Draft from last year’s squad, but Jarron Cumberland and Justin Jenifer will look to take on a larger load and keep Cincinnati atop the AAC this year.
If you’re like me, you’re probably feeling a little empty not having any college basketball to look forward to this weekend. Let’s take a step back to remember the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
This year’s “Big Dance” featured an upset for the ages, a Cinderella run that made a nun an international sensation, buzzer beaters, the agony of defeat and, most importantly, the best team won it all.
The National Champs: Villanova
Jay Wright did it. Two National Championships in three years. Villanova has become the program to beat in college basketball. The Wildcats dominated in March as they won all of their games in the NCAA Tournament by double-digits. Wright joined an exclusive club by cutting down the nets for the second time in his career as he joined Coach K and Roy Williams as the only active coaches to win multiple championships. National Player of the Year Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges will likely forego their senior seasons and enter the NBA Draft, but Coach Wright will bring back three starters, Phil Booth, Eric Paschall, and Omari Spellman, and Donte DiVincenzo, who came off the bench and scored 31 points in the title game on Monday. The Wildcats have been the most dominant program over the last five years and with Wright at the helm, there is a culture of winning in Philadelphia. Villanova will be back next year to defend their title and create a dynasty.
The Runners-Up: Michigan
Michigan was the hottest team in the country entering the NCAA Tournament and rode their streak all the way to Championship Monday where they ran into the buzz saw that was Villanova. Mo Wagner’s decision to return to Ann Arbor paid dividends as he led his squad back to the National Championship game for the first time since 2013. John Beilein had the best defensive squad of his career that gave opponents fits throughout the month of March. The run to San Antonio almost didn’t happen as the Wolverines needed a buzzer beater by freshman Jordan Poole to get past Houston in the second round and led to one of the best celebrations of the Tournament. Wagner and seniors Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson will depart, but Michigan will be back with a talented recruiting class next season.
We witnessed history in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. For the first time in history, a 16-seed upset a 1-seed in the first round. Many had hinted at the fact that an Ivy League school, Penn, presented the best chance for a 16-seed to take down a 1-seed in their match-up with Kansas. When that didn’t happen on the first Thursday of the Tournament, many thought we would have to wait at a chance for history until next year. Enter Jairius Lyles and the UMBC Retrievers. In the final set of first round contests, UMBC took the world by storm—both on the court and on Twitter. The Retrievers stayed with Virginia and did not back down when the game was tied at 21 at halftime. UMBC outscored the #1 overall seeed 53-33 in the second half, busting pretty much every bracket filled out this year as the Cavaliers were a favorite to win it all. The three point shooting and defense by the Retrievers sent Kyle Guy and the rest of the Virginia team home crying as the first #1 to lose to a 16-seed in NCAA Tournament history. Tony Bennett was without a key piece, De’Andre Hunter, that Friday night in Charlotte. Maybe this would not have happened with him in the lineup, but Bennett will have to wait another year for a chance at the Final Four.
K-State to the Elite Eight
Kansas State got past Creighton in the first round and instead of having to face Virginia, they were up against Cinderella UMBC in the second round. The Wildcats dispatched the Retrievers and then took down Kentucky in Atlanta to make the Elite Eight for the first time since 2018. More impressively, Kansas State made their run without the services of their leading scorer, Dean Wade, who suffered a foot injury in the Big 12 Tournament. Although they were unable to get past Loyola-Chicago and make the Final Four, the Wildcats may have saved Bruce Weber’s job.
Buffalo Beats Zona
Buffalo knocked out Arizona in the first round. The Wildcats were a favorite to make a run to the Final Four, but an impressive shooting performance and stout defense by the Bulls made for an early exit for Sean Miller’s team. With the outcome of the FBI investigation still unknown, the future of Arizona basketball is uncertain as they will lose Deandre Ayton, Allonzo Trier, and Rawle Alkins to the NBA and Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic to graduation.
Sister Jean and Loyola-Chicago
Loyola-Chicago became the fourth 11-seed to make the Final Four and in doing so, their Team Chaplain Sister Jean became an international sensation at 98 years young. Donte Ingram’s buzzer beater to beat Miami was one of the highlights of the first round, but the Ramblers proved they weren’t done yet. They took down the 3-seeed Tennessee on a jumper in the waning seconds by Clayton Custer. Marques Townes’ dagger was enough to beat Nevada and advance to the Elite Eight where they blew out Kansas State. Their run came to an end with a loss to Michigan in the Final Four, but the Missouri Valley Champs took the world by storm in the month of March.
Nevada led for only 1:56 of its first two games of the NCAA Tournament, but managed to make the Sweet Sixteen. The Wolfpack trailed Texas by 14 points in the second half, but came back to win in overtime to advance to the Round of 32. There, Nevada erased a 22 point Cincinnati lead and came back to eliminate the second seeded Bearcats from the “Big Dance.” The Wolfpack lost to Loyola-Chicago in the Sweet Sixteen, but they will return most of their core from this year’s team and could be a top ten team next season.
Florida State to the Elite Eight
Many were saying that Florida State was the worst at-large team to receive an NCAA Tournament bid this year. The Seminoles proved the haters wrong and took down Missouri in the first round before they pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the Tournament, knocking off top-seeded Xavier in the second round to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Florida State’s run would not end there, as they took down a Gonzaga team without Killian Tillie. The Seminoles ended their season just short of the Final Four as they fell 58-54 to Michigan. If nothing else, they proved they belonged.
Texas A&M Takes Down the Tar Heels
In a season filled with ups and downs, Texas A&M’s NCAA Tournament run proved to be just that. The Aggies battled through injuries and suspensions to earn a 7-seed in the “Big Dance,” but drew the 10-seed Providence, who was one of the hottest teams entering the Tournament. Texas A&M ended the Friars’ season and went on to the Round of 32 where they pummeled North Carolina. In a poetic end to their tumultuous season, the Aggies were crushed by Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen. With Tyler Davis and Robert Williams both declaring for the NBA Draft, it will be interesting to see what the future looks like in College Station.
Marshall Shocks Wichita State
In a year where there were no 12-5 upsets, the 13-seeds stole the show. Buffalo beat Arizona and Marshall knocked off Wichita State. Jon Elmore’s sharp-shooting led the Thundering Herd past the Shockers and into the second round where they were ousted by in-state rival West Virginia, but an upset win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament is definitely something that Marshall, who finished fourth in Conference USA, should be proud of.
The 2-3 Zone Did it Again
Syracuse snuck into the NCAA Tournament as the last team to make the field, but the Orange were not satisfied with only receiving a bid. Jim Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone puzzled opponents as Syracuse defeated Arizona State, TCU, and Michigan State, three teams averaging over 80 points a game to less than 60 on their way to the Sweet Sixteen. Their run was cut short as they fell 69-65 to Duke, but the NCAA Tournament run put a positive ending on a season where the Orange remained on the Bubble to the very end. If leading scorer Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett return, Syracuse could be poised to make another run in next year’s Tournament. Darius Bazley’s decision to decommit from the Orange and enter the G-League was unfortunate and leaves the team’s status for next season more uncertain, but Jalen Carey, Buddy Boeheim, and East Carolina-transfer Elijah Hughes will provide more depth at he guard position for next year’s team.
Game of the Tournament: Duke vs. Kansas—Elite Eight
The line in “One Shining Moment”—In the blinking of an eye that moment’s gone, couldn’t be more of a reality for the Duke Blue Devils as Grayson Allen’s potential game-winning rolled off the rim and out at the end of regulation. Kansas’ Malik Newman scored all 13 of the Jayhawks’ points in the overtime period to punch their ticket to San Antonio where they lost to eventual champion Villanova in the Final Four. Both Duke and Kansas will be title favorites heading into next season. Coach K and the Blue Devils have adopted the one-and-done strategy. The 2018-19 roster will look completely different for Duke. All five are their starters from this season’s team will be first round draft picks. Duke has the top recruiting class in the country next season as they welcome four of the top fifteen recruits in the country, including all of the top three recruits, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Cam Reddish, to Durham next fall. Tre Jones, the 12th ranked recruit and younger brother of 2015 Final four Most Outstanding Player, Tyus Jones, who also played at Duke, will also join the squad. Kansas is the way-too-early preseason #1 with Udoka Azubuike and Lagerald Vick returning. The Jayhawks have a pair of five-star guards coming to Lawrence in the fall: Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes. Bill Self will also add Memphis-transfers K.J. Lawson and Dedric Lawson and Cal-transfer Charlie Moore, all of which will be eligible to play next season.
The Road Begins Now
The 2017-18 season has come and gone and it was surely a wild one. Congratulations to the Villanova Wildcats who reign superior this year. The Road to the 2019 Final Four in Minneapolis begins now.
The NCAA Tournament is upon us. Let’s take a look at the East Region. The one seed in the East, Villanova, will look to cut down the nets in Boston on their way to the Final Four in San Antonio. However, there are 17 other teams looking to do the same thing. Here’s what to watch for.
Upset Pick: #13 Marshall over #4 Wichita State
Marshall enters the NCAA Tournament winners of their last four games, including Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky, and champions of C-USA. Dan D’Antoni, brother of Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni, has his team ready to pull off an upset over Wichita State, who, once upon a time, played Cinderella in their own right. The Thundering Herd has two players, Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks, who are averaging more than 20 points per game and average 84.3 total points per game. Wichita State was once one of my picks for the Final Four, but the Shockers enter the “Big Dance” having lost two of their last three games to Cincinnati and Houston—the only other teams in the American Athletic Conference to make the Tournament. Wichita State has not been the defensive team it has been in recent years. The Shockers give up 71.3 points per game. If they cannot stop Elmore and Burks, they will be in trouble in San Diego.
Sleeper: Alabama Crimson Tide
As a nine seed in the East, Alabama is my pick to be a sleeper in this region. Collin Sexton is the type of player that could be this year’s Kemba Walker. Sexton dropped 27 points, including a buzzer beater in their second round win over Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament and 31 points on Auburn in the quarterfinals before the Crimson Tide fell in the semifinals to Kentucky. If Alabama can get past Virginia Tech in the first round, the Crimson Tide, led by Sexton, will present a tough test for Villanova on their path to the Final Four in the second round.
Pick to Win the East Region: Villanova Wildcats
I expect chalk to prevail in the East Region and the one seed Villanova to defeat the two seed Purdue in the Elite Eight, allowing them to advance to the Final Four in San Antonio. Villanova has two of the best players in college basketball this season—Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, who combine for 37.4 points per game. Specifically, Bridges is on a tear, and averaging 22.7 points and 5 rebounds per game at Madison Square Garden where he won the Big East Tournament MVP. The supporting cast of Donte DiVincenzo, Phil Booth, Omari Spellman, and Eric Paschall combines for 45 points per contest. Villanova, who ranks first in the nation in offensive efficiency, is my pick to win the East Region.
Pac-12 Tournament: March 7-March 10, T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, NV
The Pac-12 will host their 2018 men’s basketball conference tournament at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The Tourney will feature six teams destined for a run in the NCAA Tournament and three teams fighting to build their resume for an at-large bid or to secure an automatic bid.
NCAA Tournament Locks: Arizona, Arizona State
Arizona has battled through a tumultuous couple of weeks at the end of the regular season in which their coach, Sean Miller, was reported to have been caught on FBI wiretap discussing a pay-for-play scheme to entice their best player, Deandre Ayton, to sign his letter of intent and join the Wildcats. These reports were found to be false as there has been no FBI wiretap released and Miller returned to coach the team last Thursday. Additionally, Ayton, who was named the Pac-12 Player and Rookie of the Year, did not miss any time. On top of that, Allonzo Trier, an All-Pac-12 First Teamer in his own right, failed a test for PED’s and missed two games, but after an appeal to the NCAA, it was found that it was a trace of a prescription drug that was in his system and that the amount in his sample would have no impact on his performance. Therefore, he was also reinstated. Arizona (24-7, 14-4) has not lost a game since Miller returned and are playing with a chip on their shoulder and as Regular Season Champions will be a though team to beat in Las Vegas and in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats will open against the winner of the eight seed Colorado and the nine seed Arizona State on Thursday at 3pm.
Arizona State was one of college basketball’s greatest surprises in the non-conference portion of the schedule, but have come down to Earth since. The Sun Devils are 20-10 overall, 8-10 in the Pac-12 and slid to the nine seed in the conference tournament. All-Pac-12 First Team selection Tra Holder will look to cement Arizona State’s claim to a spot in the “Big Dance.” Even with a loss to Colorado on Wednesday at 3pm., the Sun Devils should be in.
On the Bubble: USC, UCLA, Washington
USC was expected to be a top ten team and a lock for the NCAA Tournament prior to the season. The Trojans can ill afford to lose their first game of the Pac-12 Tournament. One win should be enough to get USC to the NCAA Tournament. Jordan McLaughlin and Chimezie Metu were both named to the All-Pac-12 First Team this week. The Trojans will open against the winner of the 10-seed Oregon State and the 7-seed Washington on Thursday at 9pm.
UCLA has overcome the adversity they faced off the court earlier this season and have landed on the bubble. Similar to their cross-town rivals, the Bruins need to win a game at T-Mobile Arena to feel comfortable about their chances of receiving an at-large bid. All-Pac-12 First Team pick, Aaron Holiday, and All-Pac-12 Second Team member Thomas Welsh will look to lead UCLA to a victory over the winner of the 12-seed Cal and the 5-seed Stanford on Thursday at 5:30pm.
Washington, led by Pac-12 Coach of the Year and former Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins, will look to make a run in the conference tournament and play their way into the field of 68. The Huskies have the most work to do of the three bubble teams in the Pac-12 and may even need to cut down the nets in Vegas to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament. It will be a tall task, but All-Pac-12 First Team honoree Noah Dickerson will look to lead his team to the top of the conference when they begin play against Oregon State on Wednesday at 9pm.
Here’s a look at the 2018 Pac-12 Tournament Bracket:
Semis: Arizona def. UCLA, Washington def. Oregon
Final: Arizona defeats Washington in the title game.
This weekend features the CBSSports Classic in New Orleans where Ohio State takes on North Carolina and Kentucky faces UCLA. Each team has something to prove.
#5 North Carolina vs. Ohio State 1:30pm CBS
North Carolina looks to bounce back from a bad loss to Wofford at home on Wednesday. The Tar Heels suffered from an abysmal shooting performance against Wofford and will look to rebound against the Buckeyes before heading into conference play. North Carolina should look to work the ball inside, rather than settling for jump shots. A win against the Buckeyes would prove that the Tar Heels are in good shape heading into the ACC portion of their schedule. If Joel Berry and Luke Maye have a slow night again, someone else will need to step up.
Ohio State enters the duel with North Carolina at 10-3, but the Buckeyes are tested, and are in the midst of a five-game win streak in which they picked up wins over Big Ten foes Wisconsin and Michigan. The Buckeyes, led by first-year head coach Chris Holtmann are hungry for a trip to the NCAA Tournament and a win over the Tar Heels on a neutral site would go a long way to help their chances of getting in. Look for junior forward Keita Bates-Diop to have a big game if the Buckeyes pull off the upset. Bates-Diop is shooting 60% from the field and has only missed one free throw in the month of December.
North Carolina 76 Ohio State 69
#7 Kentucky vs. UCLA 4pm CBS
Kentucky looks to prove that they are National Championship contenders, despite having the youngest team in the country. The Wildcats are coming off their best performance to date, a victory over Virginia Tech at home last Saturday. Hamidou Diallo has scored at least 19 points in each of the last four games and the Wildcats are beginning to shoot it well from behind the arc. Improved three point shooting could lift Kentucky over UCLA and into the National Championship conversation.
After the embarrassing trip to China in which LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley, and Jalen Hill shoplifted from a store in Hangzhou and LaVar Ball pulled his son from the University for a chance at a pro career, the Bruins season on the court has been an after-thought. UCLA is 8-3 with wins over Georgia Tech and Wisconsin, and is coming off a scare from South Dakota earlier this week. The Bruins can’t afford to get behind Kentucky early and they need to avoid foul trouble because of their lack of depth. A win against the Wildcats could turn their season around.