Pac-12 sends four schools to 2015 NCAA men's basketball tournament
Following a wild week in Las Vegas for the Pac-12 Tournament, all eyes were on the TV Sunday as the NCAA tournament selection committee announced its 68-team field.
The Conference of Champions will feature four teams in this year's bracket, highlighted by Pac-12 regular-season and tourney title holders Arizona. Less than 24 hours after routing Oregon, 80-52, in front of a rowdy crowd in Sin City, the Wildcats earned a top-two seed for the second straight year.
While it's no surprise to see Oregon and Utah make the field, UCLA was sitting on the bubble entering Selection Sunday, but did enough to earn an invite. Once again, NCAA.com will provide live streams to every game online.
Seed: (2) West Region
Second-round opponent: (15) Texas Southern
Date: Thursday, March 19
TV info: 11:10 a.m. PT on TNT
Location: Portland, Ore.
Arizona is peaking at the right time, winning 11 straight entering March Madness and 17 of its past 18. Miller guided his team to the Elite Eight last year before suffering an overtime loss to Wisconsin, which holds the No. 1 seed in the West Region. The only place those two programs could meet again? The Elite Eight.
As they ripped their way through the Pac-12 Tournament, the Wildcats (31-3) showed off a stout defense full of athletic and rangy players at each position. For the year, Arizona ranks 15th in the nation in scoring defense (58.7 points per game allowed), as opponents shot just 39.2 percent from the field.
Offensively, this is a team that features a host of capable scorers on the perimeter and down low. Point guard T.J. McConnell is playing at a high level as the unit's facilitator. Freshman Stanley Johnson is a matchup nightmare at 6-foot-7, 245 pounds with NBA athleticism, while fellow wing player Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is one of the nation's best defensive players. He also knows how to throw down a dunk to energize his team.
[Related: Arizona cuts down the nets as tourney champs]
Then there's the frontcourt, which features Pac-12 Tournament Most Outstanding Player Brandon Ashley, who is playing the best basketball of his career, according to Miller. Couple the 6-foot-9 Ashley with athletic 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski at center, throw in sharpshooting sixth man Gabe York and that's a tough team for anyone to stop.
Miller told reporters that his team is performing better on the offensive end than it was at this point last year, while the squad is fully healthy after Ashley missed the end of the 2014 season with a foot injury.
"We just do what we do. We're not finished yet," Johnson said after the Wildcats cut the nets down in Vegas. "That was one goal. ... A lot of guys on this team want to win a national championship and I think to everyone, 15 out of 15 will win a national championship, and that was our goal to begin the season. Now we are at the start of our journey. Let's finish it."
Texas Southern (21-12) topped Southern University to win the SWAC Tournament title on Saturday in Houston, and features a quartet of players who averaged double-digit scoring this season: point guard Madarious Gibbs (14.1 ppg), forward Chris Thomas (12.6 ppg), guard Deverell Biggs (11.4 ppg) and forward Malcolm Riley (10.2 ppg). But the Tigers don't have any players listed taller than 6-foot-9 on their roster, and will be at a major size disadvantage when these two teams take the floor Thursday in Portland.
UTAH RUNNIN' UTES
Seed: (5) South Region
Second-round opponent: (12) Stephen F. Austin
Date/Time: Thursday, March 19
TV info: 4:27 p.m. PT on TruTV
Location: Portland, Ore.
Coach Larry Krystkowiak's squad backpedaled its way into the Big Dance, going 3-4 in its final seven games, including Friday's heartbreaking loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals.
There's no doubting the potential of this team, with its depth, size and efficiency, but the execution hasn't consistently been there the past couple of weeks. Still, the Utes feature one of the nation's best all-around players in Delon Wright, a smart scoring threat who likes to get his teammates involved while being a shutdown defender.
The Runnin' Utes (24-8) have had difficulty sustaining offensive rhythm in recent weeks. But if players like Brandon Taylor, Jordan Loveridge and Brekkott Chapman get it going from behind the arc, the Utes are a tough team to slow down. Jakob Poeltl has been mercurial as of late, but the 7-foot center is paramount to the team's success. He's a great athlete for his size and also an imposing force on defense, but he's still a true freshman.
[Related: Top 12 Plays of the Pac-12 Tournament]
Southland Conference champ Stephen F. Austin (29-4) hasn't played top-notch competition throughout the season, but there's no doubting the team's offensive capablities. The Lumberjacks rank eighth nationally with their 79.5 points per game, lead the country with 17.1 assists per contest and have shot 49.1 percent from the field, the fifth-best mark in the nation. Also worth noting: SFA has gone 28-1 since starting the season off 1-3.
But one of Utah's strengths all season long has been on defense. The Runnin' Utes rank 11th in the country in scoring defense (56.9 points allowed per game), while checking in at ninth at field goal percentage defense (38.3). Utah will also hold a major size advantage against the Lumberjacks, who have just three players taller than 6-foot-5.
Seed: (8) West Region
Second-round opponent: (9) Oklahoma Sate
Date: Friday, March 20
TV info: 3:50 p.m. PT on TBS
Location: Omaha, Neb.
The Ducks (25-9) have looked like a different team the past couple of months, going 13-3 against conference foes since Jan. 22. Pac-12 Player of the Year Joseph Young made his mark at the conference tournament, hitting a last-second three-pointer to top No. 17 Utah in the semifinals while averaging 24.7 points in his trio of tourney tilts.
Young has been a consistent presence for Oregon coach Dana Altman all year, but it's the development of youngsters like Elgin Cook and Dillon Brooks that has allowed the Ducks to become a force in the Pac-12. Altman has also pointed to his team's improving defense as a key behind the late-season success.
In Oklahoma State, the Ducks have an opponent that has been stumbling down the stretch. The Cowboys (18-13) have gone just 1-6 in their past seven games and have had a lot of trouble finding consistency on the offensive end. These two programs have some recent history in the NCAA tournament, as the Ducks dispatched OSU in the round of 64 in 2013.
If there's one thing that Oregon lacks, it's size. Arizona exposed the Ducks on the boards Saturday night, outrebounding them by a whopping 37-20 margin. In order to reach the next round, the Ducks will likely need to get some contributions from forward Dwayne Benjamin and Jordan Bell, who essentially disappeared against Arizona's big men on Saturday.
But the Cowboys don't have the same imposing presence down low, and fit a similar profile as the Ducks – a team that relies on guards and wings to carry the offense. Senior Le'Bryan Nash, listed at 6-foot-7, leads the charge on offense with 17.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. Oklahoma State also features a couple of small, shifty guards in Phil Forte III (15.1 ppg) and Anthony Hickey, Jr. (9.6) that should make for some interesting matchups on the perimeter.
Seed: (11) South Region
Second-round opponent: (6) Southern Methodist University
Date: Thursday, March 19
TV info: 12:10 p.m. PT on TruTV
Location: Louisville, Ky.
Following Friday night's defeat to Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals, UCLA (20-13) had to play a waiting game. Coach Steve Alford was confident his team would receive an invite to the Big Dance, and the Bruins' body of work was enough to impress the selection committee.
Talent has never been an issue for this team, but execution has escaped the Bruins at times (that five-game losing streak in December and January comes to mind) throughout the year. UCLA's offense has really picked up the pace in recent weeks, as the team has averaged 81 points per game in its past five contests, four of which have resulted in victories.
[Related: Steve Alford discusses NCAA Tournament bid]
Senior guard Norman Powell is the heartbeat of this team, with his aggressive playing style that usually sparks the offense. Fellow guards Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford are also capable of catching fire, but don't have the same consistency that Powell brings. The same can be said for big man Tony Parker, whose presence in the paint can bring another element to the team if he's on the top of his game. But between Parker, elite freshman Kevon Looney and much-improved Thomas Welsh, UCLA has an imposing frontcourt that matches up well with SMU's size.
Larry Brown – who coached the Bruins from 1979-81 – will return to the Big Dance for the first time since taking over the SMU program in 2012. The Mustangs (27-6) wrapped up their invite to the NCAA tournament by defeating UConn in the American Athletic Conference tourney title game on Sunday. SMU has to be feeling confident after winning 17 of its past 19 contests.
The Mustangs feature a balanced scoring attack, one that runs through point guard and leading scorer Nic Moore, who was named AAC Player of the Year after averaging 14.3 points and 5.3 assists per game. Forward Markus Kennedy and center Yanick Moreira give Brown a solid combo of big fellas in the paint that will be a handful.
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