Pac-12 Whiparound: Postseason Review

The Pac-12 found some success in the post-season tournament

    On the plus side, the Conference of Champions did end the season with a team cutting down championship nets on national television.  Some nitpickers may retort that it was an NIT championship, but when your last NCAA Championship came in 1997 and you haven't even had a Final Four participant since 2008, you take what you can get.  There is a glass half-empty/full spin you can put on any team, and as we close out our look at the Pac-12's Hoops Postseason, let's go ahead and apply that point-counterpoint rationale to the league's postseason participants.

Arizona Wildcats:  Beat Xavier 68-60 in Sweet Sixteen, Lost to Wisconsin 85-78 in Elite Eight

Glass Half-Full:
The Kitties were the best team in the conference, won 34 games, and were beaten by a team that ultimately went to the NCAA Final.  Against Xavier, the Wildcats survived the Stain Train by shooting it a little better and limiting turnovers (11.4% Rate).  Unfortunately, the Wildcats' difficulty with the Musketeers' size was an ominous foreshadowing of their flattening at the hands of Frank the Tank and a Thermonuclear 2nd half from Sam Dekker.  Wisconsin put 55 points on one of the nation's best defenses, and Arizona simply couldn't keep up with the rabid Badgers' furious feed in the final 20 minutes. Nevertheless, it was a strong run from Coach Sean Miller's squad.

Glass Half-Empty:  Sean Miller still can't break through that Elite Eight barrier, and the Exodus has already begun in Tucson.  Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has signaled "Deuces" to McKale Center, Brandon Ashley is not far behind, and despite recent reports of hesitation on behalf of the Stanimal, it's likely Johnson is on his way to the NBA Draft Lottery as well. Add in the fact that T.J. McConnell graduates, and Arizona faces severe roster turnover heading into next year.

Verdict:  That turnover just makes way for the next wave of talent headed to Tucson.  A class rated as high as #2 nationally is on the way, and that's not including power forward Ivan Rabb, who is reportedly down to a choice between the Kitties and Cal.  Expect the Wildcats to be players on the Free Agent Market as well, with Mark Tollefson touted as a replacement for Brandon Ashley. If Stanley Johnson returns, Arizona will be favored to win the conference and could even be a threat to make another deep tournament run.  If he leaves, Arizona will be favored to win the conference but may be less of a threat to run deep into March.  Life is tough in Tucson.

Utah Utes:  Lost to Duke 63-57 in Sweet Sixteen

Glass Half-Full: 
The first real sign that Duke may have been headed to its 5th championship started in Houston, where the Blue Devils' ascendant defense smothered a potent Utah offense. The Utes found themselves uncharacteristically flummoxed on offense, and despite an impressive 42.5% OReb rate, just couldn't score enough to advance. Utah shot only 25% on its three pointers, a far cry from the stellar 40% it shot for the year.  Despite the loss, Utah's phenomenal four-year turnaround under Coach Larry Krystkowiak stands as impressive an accomplishment as the conference has seen in quite some time. From 6-25 in Year One to 26-9 and the Sweet Sixteen in Year Four, the Utes put together a spectacular season.

Glass Half-Empty:  It took the national champion to eliminate the Utes, and without the burden of expectation that Arizona bears, it's tough to find major problems or criticisms with Utah. They did struggle in the final month of the season, and in fact were just 5-5 in their final ten games including the postseason.  Delon Wright went out a shell of the player he had been the entire season, as he went 4-13 from the field against the Blue Devils.

Verdict:  With six to  seven of the nine players who played 12 or minutes against Duke returning, Utah should be very strong next year even without Wright and Dallin Bachynski.  Brandon Taylor, Dakari Tucker, and Jordan Loveridge become the Seniors, and if Jakob Poeltl returns for his sophomore season and he will be rated as one of the top centers in the game. His struggles against Duke notwithstanding, Wright was a huge get on the Free Agent Market for the Utes, who should be strong for years to come as they prepare for a facilities upgrade to further entice recruits.

UCLA Bruins:  Lost to Gonzaga 74-62 in Sweet Sixteen

Glass Half-Full:  At numerous points deep into the year, UCLA didn't look like a tournament team, let alone a Sweet Sixteen team.  However Coach Steve Alford and his players deserve credit for getting stronger as the season went along (6-2 to end the year, with only losses to Arizona and Gonzaga) and for running with what appeared to be a gifted at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins were outclassed for a second time to Gonzaga, but overall have to be happy with the way their season concluded.

Glass Half-empty:  They were lucky to be invited to the tournament, they were the beneficiaries of a controversial goal tending call, and then a huge upset that saw them get UAB in their second game.  Bruin fans have been down the road with a Steve who found his way into the Sweet Sixteen after underachieving during the year. The departure of Kevon Looney leaves a significant talent off the roster for next year's team.

Verdict: Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton return, and along with highly touted newcomer Aaron Holliday (brother of Bruin Alum Jrue) joining the backcourt, UCLA should be strong on the perimeter.  Seven-footer Thomas Welsh returns to build on a promising freshman campaign, as do plenty of others, including frontcourt mate Tony Parker. The Bruins should have plenty of talent as always, but it remains to be seen whether Coach Alford can better navigate what will be yet another rigorous non-conference schedule (Kentucky, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Maui Invitational).  This should be an NCAA Tournament team, but beyond that, who can really say?

Oregon DucksLost to Wisconsin 72-65 in "Third" Round

  Glass Half-Full:  The Go-Go Ducks finished an overachieving season by giving the mighty Badgers all they could handle to close out the first week of NCAA Tournament play. As predicted, Wisconsin's front line was just too much, as they would prove to be for Arizona and for everybody else except Duke. Oregon played gutsy ball in closing out the season.  Coach Dana Altman's team won eight of its final ten games, with losses to only Elite Eight teams Wisconsin and Arizona.  They return four of five starters.

Glass Half-Empty: The Ducks aren't getting any bigger, both by returning all starters except Mighty Joe Young and by bringing in highly touted recruit guards Tyler Dorsey and Kendall Small. Until they can get some size of consequence, there's always going to be a ceiling to how high Duck hoops can fly.

Verdict:  40% of Oregon's scoring (Young and fellow Senior Jalil Abdul-Bassit) flies out of Eugene, but plenty of talent still remains.  Most importantly, Coach Altman seems to have found the style and roster cohesion that many teams envy. Oregon should be a top conference team next year, as well as a likely NCAA participant.

Stanford Cardinal:  Beat Old Dominion 67-60, Beat Miami 66-64, Won NIT Championship

Glass Half-Full:  The only Pac-12 team to win its final postseason game claimed its second championship in four seasons under Coach Johnny Dawkins, who is now 12-1 in his past 13 postseason games and 15-3 lifetime in postseason play (Not counting conference tournaments).

Glass Half-Empty: The championships are NIT wins, and the Cardinal has been to one NCAA Tournament in seven seasons under Coach Dawkins.

Verdict:  The nets cut down by the Seniors in New York City may be the last ones for a while, as significant roster turnover means the Cardinal will likely be on the NCAA bubble again, if all goes well.

Arizona State Sun Devils: Won At UConn 68-61, Lost at Richmond 76-70 2nd Round NIT

Glass Half-Full:  Sun Devils put a stop date on the Herb Sendek era after one NCAA Tournament berth in the past six seasons and two total in his nine seasons in Tempe.

Glass Half-Empty:  After playing footsie with Jeff Capel, still don't have a head coach.

Verdict:  There are some institutional obstacles (an old, oversized arena they can't ever hope to fill) and some geographical (Fighting U of A and many others for talent in Los Angeles and Texas) challenges, but like football, Arizona State could be a legit hoops school with the right hire. Sun Devils appear to have their man on the gridiron in Todd Graham, can they get this one right?

Pac-12 Conference: Sent 4 teams to the NCAA Tournament, 3 to the Sweet Sixteen, 1 to the Elite Eight

Glass Half-Full:  Made most of the first weekend of the Tournament, going 7-1

Glass Half-Empty:  As comprehensively documented by Jon Wilner here, it's been seven years since the Conference of Champions even had a Final Four participant. The conference lacked legitimate depth this year, and with the defections to the NBA likely to hurt the two standard bearers (Arizona and UCLA), the future at the moment doesn't look much better.

Verdict:  As the references to NBA defections suggest, talent hasn't been a problem for most of the schools in conference. That leaves funding and coaching as the only variables to conference success.  If your team isn't doing its share in hoops, it's either one or both of those reasons that are their undoing. One thing is for sure:   this conference should be sending more than four teams to the conference each year, and that Final Four/National Championship drought is getting longer and longer.


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