Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament Preview

Arizona looks to be the favorite to take home the Pac-12 Tournament title in Las Vegas, but Oregon, Utah and UCLA may have something to say about that.

WATCH
MARCH 11, 12 P.M. PT, PAC-12 NETWORKS
MGM Grand Garden Arena

#8 California

The Golden Bears have had a roller coaster season under first-year head coach Cuonzon Martin. From a 10-1 start to a six-game losing streak in conference play, the Bears have been consistently inconsistent this season, so seeing them go on a bit of a run in the tournament isn't out of the question. With Jabari Bird back in the thick of things -- averaging 14.67 points per game over his last six -- and one of the conference's most dynamic players in Tyrone Wallace -- on track to be the first Pac-12 player since Luke Jackson to average 17+ points, 7+ rebounds and 3+ assists per game, Cal has a puncher's chance in the tournament, but the road will not be easy. The Cougars beat the Bears 69-66 in Berkeley to kick off the six-game losing streak back on Jan. 4, but Cal came out on top in Pullman with a 76-67 win.

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A third date with Arizona looms on the horizon for whoever gets out of this first-round contest, and Cal has proven constitutionally incapable of dealing with the Wildcats' size down low -- an issue that will also haunt them against Washington State, if David Kravish isn't aggressive on the block. If Kravish gets into foul trouble early -- as he's done the last two games -- the Bears don't have another experienced, sizeable option in the post, and that dearth of viable post options allows opposing defenders to sag on Wallace when he drives, which has proven to be Cal's kryptonite. --Ryan Gorcey, BearTerritory.net

#9 Washington State

Washington State finished the regular season with an overtime win over Colorado on Saturday, putting an exclamation point on a season that was dramatically better than pundits predicted or fans could have hoped. The Cougs enter the Pac-12 Tournament at 13-17 overall and 7-11 in conference play. The year was one of narrowing the gap with the rest of the conference -- except for Arizona, the Cougars either defeated or played close with every team in the conference at least once. They split with Cal, their opponent on Wednesday, with each team winning on the road. The Cougars have two key players to watch: senior scoring leader DaVonte Lacy, who recently broke Klay Thompson's school record for 3-pointers, and sophomore post Josh Hawkinson, who just broke the 46-year-old WSU record for most double doubles in a season.? As for predictions, I see the Cougars and Bears going to the wire. If Lacy is on, give the W to the Cougs. --Ryan Witter, Cougfan.com

WATCH
MARCH 11, 2:30 P.M. PT, PAC-12 NETWORKS
MGM Grand Garden Arena

#5 Arizona State

After starting the Pac-12 with four straight losses Arizona State won nine of its final 14 games to finish .500 in league play and push into the No. 5 seed where it gets to play bottom ranked USC in an opening round game Wednesday. Freshman point guard Tra Holder improved through the season and stabilized the team's offense and the frontcourt tandem of Savon Goodman and Eric Jacobsen has continued to gel, with perimeter scoring coming from different players on different nights. -- Chris Karpman, SunDevilSource.com

#12 USC

The Trojans finished the regular season 11-19 and a woeful 3-15 in conference, but that doesn't mean they aren't capable of giving anyone in the tournament a good game. Playing close and losing was almost USC's specialty this year, dropping nine games by single digits, including six by five points or less. One of those close losses came on the road at Arizona State when the Trojans blew a 10-point second half lead and a career performance from sophomore Kahlil Dukes. USC will see those Sun Devils in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. PST. The Trojans could very well pull off the 12 vs. 5 upset if Arizona State doesn't shoot well from the outside, but then USC would be challenged with facing rival UCLA, who has dominated the Trojans in both matchups this season. The Bruins have a big-time advantage in the low post where they have got great production on the offensive board.

For the Trojans to even make it to a third battle with their crosstown rival, they have to get good performances from their two leading scorers -- guard Katin Reinhardt (12.4) and forward Nikola Jovanovic (12.3). Reinhardt missed the first contest with Arizona State after being sent home following a violation of team rules. When Reinhardt gets his feet set and his shoulders squared to the basket, he can be lethal from the outside. But his shot selection can be questionable at times. The key for Jovanovic is to be aggressive on the offensive end. He has a tendency to play tentative and not use his 6-foot-11 frame like he should

USC is without its starting point guard, freshman Jordan McLaughlin, and his 12.1 points per game, after he had to have shoulder surgery. But sophomore combo guard Julian Jacobs has stepped in and been very good running the show. He has averaged 11.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6.1 assists in the final eight games of the season -- dating back to the game McLaughlin re-injured his shoulder.

Tournament Prediction: Back home in time to enjoy the Friday night L.A. fun. -- Shotgun Spratling, USCFootball.com

WATCH
MARCH 11, 6 P.M. PT, PAC-12 NETWORKS
MGM Grand Garden Arena

#7 Oregon State

Oregon State comes into the Pac-12 tournament having lost six of their last seven games. Still, their defensive-oriented game should serve them well in a tournament setting and in their first-round matchup vs. Colorado. Oregon State finished the regular season 16th nationally in scoring defense and teams don't like playing their style. Gary Payton II first team was the Pac-12's Defensive Player of the Year and with the Beavers limited by a lack of offensive firepower and the inability to come back from large deficits, he'll have to be on his game and make an early impact if the Beavs are to advance in the tourney.

Washington State wants to go fast, and also play an inside-outside game on the offensive end of the floor. They'll come into their first round tilt vs. Cal on a high note, with three seniors (DaVonte Lacy, Dexter Kernich-Drew, Jordan Railey) and two sophomores (Josh Hawkinson, Ike Iroegbu) all flying high in their regular season finale win. Defensively, the Cougs haven't been able to stop many teams this season for long stretches. The Cougs gaining a win and moving on to a second-round matchup in the tournament is likely dependent on them hitting their 3-pointers. --Barry Bolton, OregonState.scout.com

#10 Colorado

The Buffaloes have dealt with myriad injuries this year, including Askia Booker, Xavier Johnson and Josh Scott. Scott missed eight games with injury, and Johnson with five, and at no point in the year did Colorado win more than three games in a row. It's been a tough road to hoe for one of last season's tournament semifinalists, though Booker and Scott tallied 26 and 32 points, respectively, in the regular season finale against Washington State on the road. Scott provides a presence down low, as one of five players in team history with 1,000 points, 600 rebounds and 100 blocks, and Booker is still one of the most dynamic points in the conference, so if everyone's healthy, the Buffs could get on a roll.

WATCH
MARCH 11, 8:30 P.M. PT, PAC-12 NETWORKS
MGM Grand Garden Arena

#6 Stanford

It’s been an unremarkable season for the Stanford Cardinal this season. Picked to finish 5th in the PAC-12, they finished 6th while going .500 in conference play. Right now, they’re out of the NCAA Tournament picture, and probably need to win the PAC-12 to get in.

For a team that found itself in the Sweet 16 last season for the first time in Coach Johnny Dawkins’ tenure, this has to feel like a step back – even if it’s just a little, unremarkable step. -- Matthew McCreary, Scout.com

#11 Washington

The Huskies started out the season on fire, winning their first 11 games - including wins over ranked opponents San Diego State and Oklahoma - before free-falling. It’s hard to think that a team ranked in the top-12 in the country at one point in time would end up with a 5-13 conference record, but that’s what the Huskies’ season has been like. They’ve endured a real roller-coaster, including the dismissal of center Robert Upshaw. Upshaw had already set the single-season all-time blocks mark before UW let go of the troubled player, and they also suffered injuries to Jernard Jarreau and Shawn Kemp that turned their formidable front line into a shadow of itself. Yet just when it couldn’t get any worse for Washington, they put together arguably their best performance of the year to beat ranked Utah to finish the season. The key players for Washington will be their standout guards Nigel Williams-Goss and Andrew Andrews. Both have shown they can score 30 points a game and will have to handle the scoring load to give UW any chance to progress deep into the tournament. The Huskies start off with Stanford, and if they win that game have to beat the Utes again. I predict Stanford’s big men will be too much for Washington’s thin front line, and Chasson Randle has always proven to be a tough matchup for the Huskies. It will be a disappointing end to a season that started out with high hopes. -- Chris Fetters, Dawgman.com

WATCH
MARCH 12, 12:30 P.M. PT, PAC-12 NETWORKS
MGM Grand Garden Arena

#1 Arizona

Arizona ran through the Pac-12, finishing in first by three games.The race for the regular season title came down to a late season matchup at Utah in which Arizona gave the Utes only their second home loss in as many years, both to the Wildcats. From there, Arizona ran through the Bay Area schools and might be playing its best basketball of the season. As well as Arizona has done in the conference in the past, it has not won the conference tournament since 2002. The Wildcats will be the favorite to win the conference tournament, but will likely have some tough competition on the way. A matchup with UCLA in the semifinals seems likely, though the Sun Devils may be good enough to upset UCLA. If Arizona is going to win the tournament, it will continue to need strong performances from Kaleb Tarczewski, T.J. McConnell, and company. -- Jason Scheer, WildcatAuthority.com

WATCH
MARCH 12, 2:30 P.M. PT, PAC-12 NETWORKS
MGM Grand Garden Arena

#4 UCLA

It's been an up and down season for UCLA, marked by some obvious high points (beating Utah at home, the two wins over Stanford) and some even more obvious lows (losing by 39 to Kentucky and 32 to Utah on the road). The Bruins have not been good outside of Los Angeles, with a 2-11 record away from the city.

Best Player: Norman Powell has been UCLA's best and most consistent player on both ends, often drawing the assignment of defending the opposing team's best player while shouldering a good deal of the scoring load.

Tournament Preview: UCLA has done well in Las Vegas the last two years, so we imagine the Bruins should be able to knock off Arizona State in the first round, despite their loss to the Sun Devils in Tempe. The road will most likely end there, though, as Arizona is far too stout defensively for UCLA to beat in what should feel like a road environment, and the Wildcats should have little trouble advancing past the winner of California and Washington State. -- David Woods, BruinReportOnline.com

WATCH
MARCH 12, 6:00 P.M. PT, PAC-12 NETWORKS
MGM Grand Garden Arena

#2 OREGON

The Oregon Ducks head into the Pac-12 Tournament as one hottest teams in the conference by winning its last five games. The Ducks are led by the conference scoring leader Joseph Young, averaging 19.8 per game. Freshman Jordan Bell is not a scoring threat but defensively has been one of the stronger players in the conference hauling down 6.4 rebounds per contest and has 83 blocks for the season.

The Ducks are second in the conference in scoring at 76.0 ppg and have improved steadily on defense through conference play and now fourth in scoring margin at plus 5.8 ppg scoring difference. While Oregon has one of the smaller starting units, with the tallest player being Bell at 6-7 the Ducks are third in the conference in rebounding at 37.3 rebounds per contest.

Oregon started the season with a relatively easy non-conference schedule but did suffer three losses. In conference play, the Ducks lost three of its first five games but went on to win 11 of the next 13 to finish third in the regular season conference race. Oregon could win the tournament if Arizona is somehow eliminated but should they meet the Wildcats it could be a very difficult match-up considering the two previous losses Oregon suffered to Arizona.-- Stephen Summers, EDuck.com

WATCH
MARCH 12, 8:30 P.M. PT, PAC-12 NETWORKS
MGM Grand Garden Arena

#3 UTAH

Utah has had a strong season that looked on track to beat the preseason expectations before a late season slump that saw them drop 3 of their final 5 games, including an embarrassing loss to close out the year against Washington. Led by senior point guard and Pac 12 player of the year candidate Delon Wright, they finished the year third in the conference and have positioned themselves for a top 4 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Pac 12 tournament gives Utah a 3rd shot at taking down Arizona, who beat them twice already this year, and I expect those two teams to meet in the final where the Utes come up short again, but lock up a 4 seed for the big dance.-- Brian Swinney, UteSportsReport

Semifinals

WATCH
MARCH 13, 6:00 P.M. PT, PAC-12 NETWORKS
MGM Grand Garden Arena
WATCH
MARCH 13, 8:30 P.M. PT, ESPN
MGM Grand Garden Arena

Finals

WATCH
MARCH 14, 8:00 P.M. PT, ESPN
MGM Grand Garden Arena

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