With the 2018 March Madness tournament seemingly around the corner and a week remaining of conference play, things are starting to shake out in the PAC-12. On paper, heading into the season, the initial thought was there would be 2-3 elite teams with a chance to challenge for a Final Four appearance. While that still may be a possibility, I’m a bit passive on going to Vegas with any of these teams. Arizona and USC were thought to be the two leaders coming into this year with incoming elite prospects and quality returning upperclassmen. Both teams have underachieved; however, I’m still buying stock of one of these teams. These thoughts are solely for PAC-12 regular season and conference tournament, not the NCAA tournament.
Arizona was the aforementioned letdown team. For NBA fans, if you’ve watched the Cleveland Cavaliers pre-trade play defense, that’s a great summary of how bad the Wildcats can be in spurts. Looking at their roster on paper, it could arguably be the best in college basketball which, makes the team’s inconsistency so perplexing. Maybe they’re a bit bored and sleepwalking into the tournament? I think Sean Miller could benefit from playing the Bahamian Unicorn DeAndre Ayton at center and surrounding him with four guards to space the floor and allow him to operate. The quickness on the court could help some of their defensive woes seeing that Dusan Ristic is a true liability. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t be surprised if they made a 2017 Duke-type run, winning the PAC-12 tournament minus the round of 32 exit.
One team that seems to be putting it together is UCLA after a dominant performance against Arizona at the McKale Center. The key to this team is the 32nd Holiday brother (at least it feels like it) Aaron. He should easily be a top candidate for conference player of the year. Jalen Hands seems to be finding his groove and they’re 12-2 when he scores in double figures—crazy right? They’re not as talented as the previous team, but the good news is there’s no team in the conference that’s separated itself from the pack.
What’s wrong with USC? Can anyone realistically answer that? They didn’t lose much of anything from their ’17 team that made a tournament run and they added Duke transfer Derryck Thornton. They returned three of their top contributors, Bennie Boatwright, Jordan McLaughlin, and Chimezie Metu. The rock bottom point was their three-game road skid. With Boatwright being out for the season, I don’t expect them to get out of this hole.
“Life comes at you fast” is a great summary of Arizona State’s season. Whether it’s the pressure or thinking they’re better than they actually are, their day in the sun has passed. After early-season wins against Xavier and Kansas, I think everyone was sipping the Kool-Aid. But the loss to Arizona was the precursor for what was to come. The biggest difference has been their inability to close games out. If you combine the second-half totals of their seven conference losses, they’ve been outscored 272-259. Not the widest of margins, but it adds up in a conference that plays tight games consistently.
I’m on the fence about the Washington Huskies and Oregon Ducks. When the Huskies parted ways with Lorenzo Romar, most thought there’d be a drop-off. But new head coach Mike Hopkins has brought new energy into the program. They’ve got quality wins against Arizona, Kansas on the road, and USC. The Ducks seem to be getting their footing and a lot can be attributed to Troy Brown asserting himself and looking more like the 5-star prospect. It’ll be interesting to see how both squads close out their seasons.