Welcome to Conference Championship week, when automatic bids get stolen, bubble teams make their final push and top contenders look to affirm their status. As you prepare to fill out your NCAA Tournament bracket, catching up on these teams might give you a better idea of who could make a run.
CBS Local Sports is previewing the six major conference tournaments: ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. We’ll break them down by the favorites, contenders and dark horses that will have a chance of locking up the automatic bid to the Big Dance, which starts next week.
Now we look out west to Las Vegas where the Pac-12 will descend upon the T-Mobile Arena for their tournament beginning on Wednesday. Last year’s winner, the Oregon Ducks, enter as the one seed again, but they have a pair of strong challengers in Sean Miller’s Arizona Wildcats and Steve Alford’s UCLA Bruins.
First, a look at the tournament schedule (courtesy of CBS Sports).
Wednesday, March 8 (First round)
Game 1: No. 8 Arizona State vs. No. 9 Stanford | 3 p.m. | Pac-12 Network
Game 2: No. 5 California vs. No. 12 Oregon State | 5:30 p.m. | Pac-12 Network
Game 3: No. 7 Colorado vs. No. 10 Washington State | 9 p.m. | Pac-12 Network
Game 4: No. 6 USC vs. No. 11 Washington | 11:30 p.m. | Pac-12 Network
Thursday, March 9 (Quarterfinals)
Game 5: No. 1 Oregon vs. Game 1 winner | 3 p.m. | Pac-12 Network
Game 6: No. 4 Utah vs. Game 2 winner | 5:30 p.m. | Pac-12 Network
Game 7: No. 2 Arizona vs. Game 3 winner | 9 p.m. | Pac-12 Network
Game 8: No. 3 UCLA vs. Game 4 winner | 11:30 p.m. | Pac-12 Network
Friday, March 10 (Semifinals)
Game 9: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner | 9 p.m. | Pac-12 Network
Game 10: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner | 11:30 p.m. | ESPN
Saturday, March 11 (Championship)
Game 11: Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner | 11 p.m. | ESPN
Arizona was supposed to fall out of this conversation following the turmoil that embroiled them before the season. Ray Smith tore his ACL, Allonzo Trier was suspended for PEDs and Terrance Ferguson, one of the top recruits in the country, decided to go play pro ball in Australia instead. Then the normal nicks and bruises hit this team in the early going. And still, Sean Miller kept the Wildcats humming right along. They dropped just two games out of conference (Butler and Gonzaga) and one in conference (blowout loss at Oregon) thanks to the contributions from freshman Lauri Markkanen, junior Kadeem Allen, and freshman Rawle Alkins. The ‘Cats are the two seed by virtue of their blowout loss to Oregon, but they have proven more than capable of beating either Oregon or UCLA this season. Sean Miller’s group, now healthy, looks to be the top dog and is very capable of not only winning the conference, but advancing to Miller’s first Final Four.
Dana Altman has built a very good program in Eugene in the past several years. Last year’s iteration garnered a number-one seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Ducks have all five of their key contributors from that team back, and all five are averaging double-digit points (Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, Chris Boucher, Dylan Ennis, Jordan Bell). As good as the Ducks can be offensively (79.2 PPG and 117.5 offensive efficiency), they are better defensively. The Ducks rank 22nd in defensive efficiency, allowing 93.9 points per 100 possessions and 64.4 points per game. Two of their three losses have been head-scratchers, one to a bad Georgetown team in the non-conference slate and one to a mediocre Colorado team in conference. The third? A three-point loss to UCLA in which they blew a big lead.
The Bruins are an offensive juggernaut the likes of which we haven’t seen in college basketball for years, maybe ever. They average over 90 points per game and rank 2nd in offensive efficiency, posting a ridiculous 124.5 points per 100 possessions. The problem is they can’t defend. They rank 87th in defensive efficiency (100.4 points per 100 possessions) and allow an average of 75 points per game (246th DI). The Bruins have six players that average double-digit points, with three of them averaging 15 or more per outing. Furthermore, the Bruins are shooting an incredible 41.8 percent from three this season, which ranks fourth in Division I. Yeah, the defense hurts, and has already cost them games against both Arizona and Oregon this season. But, when this team’s offense is on, it’s almost impossible to stop. Over a weekend tournament, they can certainly get hot enough to take home the title.
California Golden Bears
Cuonzo Martin’s club is a bit forgotten about because of the top three teams in the conference. However, they have a former top recruit (Ivan Rabb), a stellar guard (Jabari Bird), and have played the top three teams pretty tough on their home floor. Oregon needed a three as the clock was running out to beat them, Stanford owns two five-point victories, and they fell to the Bruins by 10. The big key here is the Rabb and Bird combo.
They’re talented enough to take over a game, but they’ve had a problem putting together big performances at the same time against top teams. Bird will go off for 20 points and five boards one game then have just three points the next when Rabb goes off for 17 and 20. Point is, the Bears have the talent to contend with the top teams in the conference, but, can they put it all together at the same time to make a run to a conference title? We’ll find out this week.