Conference Tournament As Wide Open As Ever
The top four teams in the Pac-12 earned byes into the conference tournament, which begins Wednesday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. But that doesn’t mean those four teams are necessarily going to pounce on whatever team wins its way into the quarterfinals just because they are well-rested.
On the contrary, there are some coaches who believe the eight teams playing Wednesday may actually have an advantage because they will be more used to the atmosphere in a new playing arena.
Combine that with the fact that there appears to be more parity in years up and down the conference, and it could be a wild week in Las Vegas.
“There are nine teams that could win the tournament and it wouldn’t surprise me,” Pac-12 Networks analyst Don MacLean said.
The Pac-12 Networks will air all four games Wednesday, the first three games Thursday and the first semifinal on Friday. ESPNU will carry the final quarterfinal Thursday night while ESPN will air the second semifinal Friday and the championship game Saturday.
Stanford-Arizona State gets the festivities going Wednesday at Noon. The other first round games feature Colorado against Oregon State at 2:30 p.m., USC against Utah at 6 p.m. and Washington vs. Washington State at 8:30 p.m.
UCLA, Cal, Oregon and Arizona earned the top four seeds in the bracket and will play Thursday.
“Because the conference is so congested and everyone has played so competitively this year, you have to go into one of those four games on the second night ready to play,” Pac-12 Networks analyst Ernie Kent said. “The winners the first night are going to have a high energy level and they will all feel like they have a chance to win. It’s a much different scenario the second night when one team already has a game under its belt in a new environment.”
Cal coach Mike Montgomery pointed out that by the time his team begins its game Thursday night, the Bears will have spent just 30 minutes on the floor at the MGM Grand. Their opponent – USC or Utah – will have played an entire game.
Last year, Colorado entered the conference tournament as the No. 6 seed, was forced to play on Wednesday night, and ended up winning four in a row to win the championship.
“It makes sense because you have a chance to get loose and used to the environment,” MacLean said.
While “parity” has arguably become one of the most overused terms in sports, it’s hard to argue with the idea that it applies to the Pac-12 this season. UCLA won the regular season with five losses (13-5), and there was a three-way tie for second. Colorado finished fifth at 10-8, and there were four teams tied for sixth at 9-9.
Kent admitted there were times at Oregon when there was a team or two he felt his team just couldn’t beat in the conference tournament. He doesn’t see any dominant team like that this year, and the results of the regular season seem to support him.
“Some years, you felt you could go into the tournament and win a game or two, but you felt like you would eventually run into a team that you would just get dominated by,” Kent said. “This year, if you are the ninth-place team and get on a roll, you think you win this thing. There isn’t a team that you will be running into that you just can’t handle because it’s so evenly balanced.”