It’s officially March which means the NCAA Tournament is right around the corner. And while the Pac-12 may not have a Final Four team this year, the conference does have the potential to get seven teams into the big dance, which would be the most since 2016. The list of teams with a real shot of dancing are Oregon, Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford, USC, and conference leader UCLA. In this column I am going to do a quick synopsis on where these teams currently stand, and how far they are capable of going.
If the season ended today the Ducks would likely end up around a No. 4 seed. To finish out their schedule they host the Bay Area schools. Plain and simple, Oregon has one thing going for them and that is point guard Payton Pritchard. The senior is the team’s undeniable leader, and has Final Four experience under his belt spurring from his freshman year. If UO is going to make it to the second weekend they’ll need to find offensive outside of Pritchard. Guards Will Richardson and Chris Duarte, must be reliable scoring options in the tourney if the Ducks expect to make a deep run. The guard duo has been inconsistent all year, therefore I see UO getting eliminated in the Sweet 16.
The Buffs were projected by many analysts to win the Pac-12 this season. And up until their current three-game losing streak they looked the part. However, the questionable losses to Cal, Oregon State, and Stanford leave me wondering if this team is overrated? Earlier in the year they beat Dayton, Oregon, and USC twice which shows the talent level is there. I don’t know if they even know which version of themselves will show up… they’ve fallen down to a six or seven seed. The group is led by point guard McKinley Wright IV, and Tyler Bey which has proven a formidable one-two punch, but formidable is not good enough in the Tourney. I think they’ll get upset in the first-round due to their inconsistency.
Out of all the teams on this list the Wildcats could be the only group capable of making a deep run. From top to bottom, UA is an extremely talented team. Zeke Nnaji, Nico Mannion, and Josh Green form a fearsome trio which has the potential to take over any game. The flipside of this combination, is that they are all freshman, which may increase the likelihood of timely mistakes… there are no do-overs this time of year. The Cats will look to regain confidence as they host the Washington schools to round of the regular season. They would likely benefit by finding their rhythm before the Pac-12 and NCAA Tourneys begin. This team has the potential to make the Final Four, but they could also lose in the first-round. I have them projected losing in the Sweet 16.
The Sun Devils ripped through the middle of their conference schedule reeling off seven wins in a row and directly placing themselves in the NCAA Tournament conversation. Last week, they cooled down in LA losing both their games on the road trip. They are likely a lock for the tourney, but, if for some reason they lose both games to the Washington schools at home, then coincide that with a first-round exit in the Pac-12 Tourney, things could change. Assuming all that doesn’t happen, they are currently projected around the 9-line. Point guard Remy Martin leads the group with support from guards Alonzo Verge Jr., and Rob Edwards, and forward Romello White. This team has adequate guard play, but their only viable low-post option is White which is why I believe they will lose in the round of 32.
If the Sun Devils are guard heavy, the Trojans can be considered the exact opposite. USC forwards Onyeka Okongwu, and Nick Rakocevic form arguably the best frontcourt duo in the conference, and should prove difficult for most tourney teams to match up against. However, they lack consistent scoring from the guard position, which could prove troublesome in the post season. Last week, they pulled off two huge home wins against the Arizona schools behind the scoring of guards Jonah Mathews and Daniel Utomi. If the senior duo can continue to score at a high rate, I believe the Trojans could shock some teams in the big dance. They’re currently projected around the eight or nine mark and I believe they will pull off an unexpected run to the Elite Eight.
The Cardinal opened up their campaign on an absolute tear and rose to the top of the Pac-12 standings. As the middle of the season continued, they cooled down considerably and almost fell out of tourney contention. They regained their footing recently, and are in the midst of a four-game winning streak which has propelled them back onto the bubble. They are currently projected around the 10-11 line but by no means have locked up a spot. If they could sweep the Oregon schools on the road this week, they’ll likely be in. The group is led by point guard Tyrell Terry and forward Oscar da Silva. The duo is quite dangerous, but they do not have a third option which leads me to believe they’ll lose in the round of 32.
The last team on this list is currently sitting atop the conference standings, but yet is still on the bubble. The Bruins were projected as one of the worst teams in the Pac-12 this season, and played like it at the beginning of the year, before surprisingly winning seven-games in row and moving themselves to the top of the helm. Due to their slow start in non-conference, with losses to Cal State Fullerton and Hofstra, they still find themselves on the bubble even in the midst of their remarkable turnaround. They have a huge game against rival USC this week, a win, and their likely in, a loss and they have some work to do in the Pac-12 Tourney. The group is led by shooting guard Chris Smith and point guard Tyger Campbell. I cannot project how deep they’ll go, but I think they’ll qualify for the big dance.