This week in WSU hoops: Pac-12 seed at stake

THE FINAL REGULAR SEASON week of play for Washington State is ahead, and results of this home stand against Utah and Colorado determine the Cougars' seeding for the upcoming Pac-12 men's basketball tournament.

Heading into the week, WSU is tied with Colorado for ninth at 6-10. The Cougars can finish as high as seventh, and as low as 11th.

Realistically, the Cougars will end up with the No. 9 or 10 seed, and their postseason position likely comes down to Saturday's game against Colorado.

Despite what happens Thursday -- Utah at Cougs, Colorado at Washington -- WSU and the Buffaloes are almost certainly playing for the No. 9 and 10 seed Saturday. The winner is No. 9, the loser No. 10.

What about No. 7 or 8? It's possible, but it requires Washington State sweeping this week. The tie-breakers are complicated, but Arizona State holds a big tie-breaking hammer because of its win over Arizona on Feb. 7.

There is a scenario where Washington State can finish No. 11, but the odds are so infinitesimal, they're not worth outlining. Seriously, does anyone see Washington beating Utah?

As for an opponent for the No. 9 and 10 seed, it's anyone's guess. No. 9 plays No. 8, and No. 10 hooks No. 7. It could be Oregon State, California or Arizona State, all teams WSU can beat if it plays well. The No. 9 and 10 seeds are bummers, though, because it means an almost certain end of the road in the Pac-12 quarterfinals against either Arizona or Utah.

The week ahead: The Cougars (12-16, 6-10) play a pair of home games during the final week of the regular season. It starts with an 8 p.m. Thursday game against Utah (22-6, 12-4), followed by a 3:30 p.m. Saturday contest against Colorado (13-15, 6-10). The Utah game is televised on ESPNU, the Colorado game on the Pac-12 Network.

First up is Utah, a decidedly different team on the road than home. The Utes are 16-1 in Salt Lake City, but only 6-5 in road games. Still, Utah is one of only three Pac-12 teams with a winning road record. And three of the Utes' five road losses came to Top 25 clubs, plus Oregon and UCLA.

ESPN's Bracketology currently has Utah as a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.

This is a rematch of a Jan. 21 game in Salt Lake City, where the Utes pulverized WSU 86-64. The Cougars got a face full of 5-10 guard Brandon Taylor, who had 18 points and seven assists in the win. In that game, Utah played without 7-foot center Jakob Poeltl, who leads the team in rebounding (7.1 ppg) and blocked shots (1.9 ppg).

Washington State actually stayed with the Utes for a while in the first meeting. The Cougars trailed 30-25 with six minutes left in the first half when Utah scooted away, finishing the final six minutes on a 16-2 run. Brett Boese's 3-pointer cut the Utes' lead to 62-52 midway through the second half, and the Cougars were within 13 with seven minutes remaining. But it was all Utah down the stretch.

So while the first game was decidedly Utah, there were some good moments for the Cougars, as four players scored in double figures, and Josh Hawkinson had a double-double.

Watch out for senior guard Delon Wright (14.3 ppg, 4.6 apg) and junior forward Jordan Loveridge (9.9 ppg, 3.8 apg).

It's a most unfortunate scheduling quirk: this is the second time this season WSU gets Utah coming off a loss to Arizona.

The regular season concludes Saturday against Colorado, a team that handed the Cougars their most embarrassing loss of the season. Playing without two starters on Jan. 24, the Buffaloes had no problem routing WSU 90-58. The game was never close, as Colorado beat WSU by 16 points in both halves. Afterward, Ernie Kent didn't talk much about his team's poor performance as he did in saying that Colorado played "as well as I've seen them play in a while."

Of late, that Colorado team has been a no-show. The Buffaloes are 2-6 over their past eight games, though they head to Pullman off an 87-81 win over Arizona State.

Colorado guard Askia Booker has been mentioned as a potential Pac-12 player of the year candidate, though improbable as he plays for a team near the bottom of the standings. Booker averages 17.4 points a game, and scored 21 in the WSU win. Two other Buffs average in double figures in junior forwards Josh Scott (12.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and Xavier Johnson (10.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg). Guess what? They're the two that sat out the last game against the Cougars.

NOTABLE NOTES
  • The Pac-12 tournament begins March 11 in Las Vegas with games involving the No 5-12 seeds. If WSU is No. 9, it plays at noon; if No. 10, game is at 6 p.m. The tournament runs through the 14th, with the championship game at 8 p.m. on ESPN.

  • Washington State needs a split this week to clinch a winning record for home games this season. Currently, the Cougars are 7-5 in Beasley.

  • Pac-12 home teams are cleaning up this season --they're 70-36 in league play. The record for Pac-12 league wins is 72, set in 2012.

  • Hawkinson, who set a WSU record for season double-doubles on Sunday with 18, is tied for fourth nationally.

  • Hawkinson is second in the country in scoring improvement from the 2013-14 season to this season. Hawkinson's improvement is plus-13.4 points, which trails only Justin Moss of Buffalo (plus-14.4). Hawkinson leads the country in rebounding improvement at plus-9.3.

    Read Nick Daschel’s occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel

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