Pac-12 Whiparound

The final weekend of the regular season has arrived.

Prev KenPom
Best Win (KPR)
Worst Loss (KPR)
Gonzaga (6)
UNLV (100)
Wichita State (10)
UCLA (52)
Utah (7)
Washington State (182)
Utah (7)
California (123)
Texas (21)
Washington State (182)
Oregon State
Arizona (3)
Quinnipiac (166)
UCLA (52) Cal-State Bakersfield (268)
Arizona State
Arizona (3)
Lehigh (193)
Stanford (38)
Wyoming (136)
Washington State
Stanford (38) Idaho (224)
Oklahoma (11)
Washington State (182)
Utah State (97)
Portland State (265)

As we enter the last week of regular season play, the Conference of Champions (Last MBB Title: 1997) crystallized with regard to the only thing anybody really cares about:  NCAA Tournament qualification.  With the calendar now squarely onto March, I've added two more ratings to the table above to give some added scrutiny to the teams with postseason (read:  NCAA) hopes and to give greater context to the conference within the national scope.  If the season were to end today, the Pac-12 would get three teams in for sure, with two others battling for one final spot.  Arizona is playing for a top seed but nothing else at this point.  Utah is playing for a two seed, but nothing else thanks to its loss to the Kitties in front of the MUSS.  Oregon is in, but with only one game left against the Beavs, it's not likely they're going to be able to move their seeding needle up without a championship run in Vegas.  However, a loss to Oregon State could put the Ducks into a much tougher opening round match-up.

  UCLA stands on shaky ground, and with only a game on Wednesday against the worst team in the league, the Bruins would do well to secure that opening night Bye and get to the championship game in Vegas.  Otherwise, it's going to be a sweaty Sunday for Steve Alford's Baby Bears.  Stanford continues to remove all drama from Selection Sunday, but for the wrong reason.  The Cardinal needs to go Desert Sweep or Bust to qualify on regular season merit, and that hasn't happened one time this year.  Also, Stanford has lost twice to UCLA, so unless they leap frog the Bruins in the standings and advance furhter in the Pac-12 Tournament, it'd be difficult to envision them qualifying and UCLA being denied.
There are some fairly noticeable discrepancies in the three ratings, which are the consequence of the components that each emphasizes.  Basically, the biggest distinction between the RPI and the others is that RPI cares not at all about point differential or margin of victory. It's also slanted heavily towards opponents' winning percentage (50%).  Sagarin's ratings are a synthesis of three algorithms that take into account margin of victory.  Finally, Ken Pomeroy uses W-L and efficiency stats of teams and those of its opponents to calculate his ratings.  So we look at the Ducks, who are far more beloved by the RPI than by the other two ratings.  Now look at their schedule: 5 of the Ducks' 12 wins have been by 5 points or less.  Pomeroy and Sagarin makes this distinction, but RPI does not.  Stanford is far better regarded by Pomeroy and Sagarin than by the RPI.  Six of the Cardinal's nine conference wins have been by double digits, plus its win over UConn.  So Oregon, with three top 50 wins in the Sagarin ratings, is slotted below Stanford, who only has one such win per Sagarin.

So let's crack back the whip and look at the week that was:

1. Arizona- The 'Cats removed any doubt that they are the best team in the conference by going into the Huntsman Center and conquering the Utes.  The Rocky Mountain sweep means Arizona will be the top seed in the Pac-12 Tournament, and is still in play for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.  Arizona overcame rugged Utah defense and an abysmal performance from the Stanimal (3-19 FG) by pounding the offensive boards, securing 42% of available offensive rebounds ( 8 from Stanley Johnson) and amassing a ridiculous 53% FT rate which led to a +11 for the Wildcats and was essentially the difference in the game.  Arizona can win in so many different ways, and it's that versatility that makes them such a dangerous March team. 
Next Up:  The Bay Area schools visit.  After playing Cal and securing the regular season title outright, Arizona will have a chance to pull the plug on a desperate Stanford team.

2. Utah- 
Couldn't overcome a 9-29 performance from Wright, Loveridge, and Taylor, and couldn't keep Arizona off the boards.  Safe to say Arizona is a notch above the Utes, who remain a very good team with a strong chance at tournament success.  The Utes were slightly off at the three-point line (32% for the game vs. 41% in Pac-12 play) and that combined with their struggle to keep Arizona off the boards made for a rare home loss.  If Utah gets stung in March, it'll almost certainly be due to an off night from the three-point line. 
Next Up: 
A trip to the lowly Washington schools.   Expect an inspired performance coming off a loss and some very wounded Cougars Thursday night.  After that comes the finale in Seattle against the shell of a team that was once Washington.

3. Oregon-
The team playing perhaps the best ball in the conference outside of Tucson.  Completed the Bay Area sweep by gutting out a win at Stanford.  Coach Dana Altman continues to operate and succeed without any acclaim, but this Oregon team plays an attacking style of ball that is wing-centered and is going to give them a great chance to pull an upset in the Tournament.
Next Up:  The Ducks head up I-5 and then to the Coast to fave the Beavers, who will be looking for their third win against a tournament team at Gill Coliseum (Presuming UCLA makes the Tournament).  Track this one.  The Ducks don't want to lose momentum a whole week before Vegas, and Oregon State will be desperate for a win against its in-state rivals.

4. UCLA-
The Bruins have never been able to sustain any type of success this year, but they got the big win against Utah and they swept Stanford, and that's got them set up to make a last-ditch gasp at the NCAA Tournament.  The Bruins are not beloved by any of the rankings, in large part because 12 losses is a bunch.  Joe Lunardi has them as one of the first four out, so securing 4th place is a big deal, because it means the Bruins will only have to win one game in Vegas to get to a team that would ostensibly boost its resume.  The trouble is that team would almost certainly be Arizona.  The Bruins can't even root for an upset of the Wildcats, because then their opponent would be no help to the Bruin profile.  Essentially we're talking about a team that needs to get to the finals of the Pac-12 tournament to play its way in to an at-large berth. 
Next Up: 
Hosting the Trojans on Wednesday.  The game should not be close given its vital status to UCLA, but if the Trojans can hang in for a while, the tension will be palpable in Pauley.

5. Stanford-
When February began, the NCAA Tournament was a virtual certainty for this team, who now stand well outside the field of 66.  That can change dramatically this weekend, but that's an incredibly unlikely scenario.  For those looking for root causes for the Cardinal's collapse, consider these reasons and feel free to debate their order of importance:  injuries (to Reid Travis, Rosco Allen, and Grant Verhoeven), mediocre defense (currently rated 5th in the Pac-12 at 102.5), and lack of backcourt depth (Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown have both suffered significant slumps in February after a season of playing huge minutes. 
Next Up:  One advantage Stanford has over UCLA:  The chance to win two road games that would include a victory over Arizona and ensure them a spot in the NCAA Tournament in all likelihood.  The problem:  The Cardinal is more likely to get swept than to sweep.

6. Oregon State-
The Beavers' maiden voyage under Wayne Tinkle will be viewed as a feel good story, but for the program to truly progress it's clear where and how it needs to happen.  Oregon State needs to find a way to get its game to travel.  The Beavers were 1-8 in conference this year.  The major reason is their absolute inability to produce points.  Their 90.1 efficiency rating is turrible.  Super turrible.  The D-1 average is 102.  Add some firepower, and the Beavers should be a program on the ascent next season. 
Next Up: 
A chance to de-rail the Ducks.  Oregon is likely in, but a loss to the Beavers would qualify at this stage as a bad one, and potentially force the Ducks to perform well in Vegas to alleviate any stress on Selection Sunday.

7. California-
Cal's seniors got a nice send-off by beating the Beavs, and as Cuonzo Martin's first season in Berkeley winds down, it's hard to tell just where the program is heading.  That he follows a Hall of Famer doesn't make it easy, but that expectations are so low at this point in Strawberry Canyon certainly does.  Cal's first order of business next year:  Find an identity.  Cal was 9th in offense and 10th in defense.  They have the athletes to be good at something.  Like all coaches, Martin preaches defense.  Perhaps in year 2 we'll get a better glimpse of his vision for the Golden Bears. 
Next Up: 
They get sent to the Tucson woodshed on Thursday and then get to finish against Arizona State, who shares the very same conference record as the Golden Bears.  The two teams could easily play themselves into a rematch just four days later at the MGM Grand.

Arizona State- The Sun Devils are enjoying a far better back nine than front nine in conference play.  5-4 isn't enough to start a party on Mill Avenue, but beating Arizona certainly was. The Sun Devils had an odd and brutal week in the Rockies.  They scored 41 and lost, then scored 81...and still lost. 
Next Up:  ASU welcomes the desperate Cardinal in before closing out the year at Wells Fargo against Cal.  They can avenge an earlier defeat at the hands of Stanford, but will be hard pressed to duplicate what was one of its best performances of the year, a 35-point evisceration of the Golden Bears.

9. Colorado:
Apparently, it took some trash talk from Gerry Blakes of ASU to wake up Askia Booker's game.  During the three game losing streak that preceded the Buffs' victory over the Sun Devils, Booker made only 12 of his 47 FGA.  That he takes an absurd amount (37%) of Colorado's shots explains clearly how that performance contributed to that down turn.  Overall, the senior did manage to increase his ORtg to a respectable 104.8, the only time in his four years in Boulder when he cracked triple digits. However, next year the Buffaloes are going to need some better offensive balance to get back to the success they've enjoyed in the recent past. 
Next Up:  A Washington road trip that will resolve little more than Wednesday night Pac-12 Tournament seeding.

10.  Washington State- 
Ernie Kent's Cougars very nearly pulled off a road sweep in Los Angeles.  They beat USC and then on Sunday played the Bruins very close before finally succumbing.  Offseason priority #1 in Pullman will be to find some kind of defense.  The Cougars are the worst defensive team in the conference, allowing opponents a whopping 114.3 points per 100 possessions.  Six conference wins with two games to play isn't bad, but it's clear which end of the court Coach Kent must address before next season. 
Next Up:  A probably drubbing against a Utah team coming off a deflating loss, then the finale against Colorado.  Right now, the Cougars are slotted to play their third game against Cal in Vegas.  So there's that.

11. Washington-
Despite winning records in the previous three seasons, this will be Coach Romar's fourth consecutive season not qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.  That's an entire class who never sniffed March.  Have to wonder how warm his seat at American Airlines Arena is next season.  The dismissal of Upshaw clearly derailed the hopes of a team who'd beaten Oklahoma earlier in the season, but even with Upshaw this team was no lock.  Hard to imagine Husky fans patiently absorbing too many more NIT seasons. 
Next Up:  Playing out the string against the Rocky Mountain Schools, then a probable match-up with the Beavers in Vegas.  Beavers vs. Cougars.  Enough said.

USC- Began spring football practice today. 

Games of the Week:

Stanford at Arizona, Saturday 3/7, 1:00 PM, CBS: The only match-up of teams with winning conference records this entire week.  Arizona will be gunning for a number one seed and likely a perfect conference road record. Stanford will be doubling down on a miraculous upset in LuteLand to revive its flatlining NCAA Tournament hopes.  May not be much, but it's as much drama as the Pac-12 can muster this week.

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