Michelle Smith’s postseason resume assessment of Pac-12 teams

In the vernacular of March, it’s called the “bubble”, a place that can either inspire stress or hope depending on your standing in the NCAA basketball universe.

There are indeed teams living on “the bubble” in the Pac-12 right now. Some teams are more solidly in the NCAA picture than others. But with Oregon State, Washington, Stanford and UCLA considered NCAA Tournament locks with potentially high seeds, there is room for a few more teams to grab a spot in the brackets and carry a successful Pac-12 season into the days of one-and-done.

Let’s take a look at their resumes to date, the pros and cons of their case to the NCAA Selection Committee and what they need to do over these final two weeks of the regular season. Teams are listed in order of their NCAA prospects.

Arizona State
Overview:
Arizona State’s NCAA status looks very solid at this point, but five losses in the last seven games makes the Sun Devils prospects a little shakier than they were just a few weeks ago with a 16-9 mark overall and a 7-7 record in the Pac-12.

Pro: ASU has an RPI ranking of 23, which puts the Sun Devils in strong NCAA position.

Con: ASU isn’t playing consistently at the level of the top teams in the conference and are struggling to score consistently in recent losses. The Sun Devils don’t yet have a win over the top 4 teams in the conference this season.

What needs to happen: Get healthier and get into an offense groove. ASU senior guard Kelsey Moos, who has missed more than a month with a foot injury, will be back on the floor this weekend. Moos will need time to integrate back into the Sun Devils flow on the floor. But her veteran leadership will be warmly welcomed for a team that ranks last in the Pac-12 in scoring offense.

What’s ahead: The Sun Devils don’t have to leave the state between now and the opening game of the Pac-12 Tournament, facing off against Arizona in rivalry games this week and then closing the regular season by hosting USC and UCLA in the closing games of the Pac-12 schedule. 

Oregon
Overview: The Ducks gave themselves a huge boost with last weekend’s sweep of UCLA and USC, moving their record to 17-9 and 7-7 in conference play.

Pro: Oregon has two of the most exciting young players in the country in guard Sabrina Ionescu, with her four triple doubles, post Ruthy Hebard and a healthy national RPI ranking of 37. The Ducks also rank second in the country in 3-point shooting percentage, hitting 40.3 percent of their shots from beyond the arc and have three wins against ranked teams this season.

Con: The Ducks opened conference play losing four of six, and their only win over a top 4 team so far is an upset over UCLA.

What needs to happen: The Ducks need to close strong, finish at least 2-2 down the stretch and then pick up a win or two in the Pac-12 Tournament to get to 20 before the NCAA brackets are revealed.

What’s ahead: Oregon will go on the road for the final time in the conference season this weekend at Utah and Colorado before coming home for a defining weekend series against Stanford and Cal.

California
Overview: Like Oregon, the Bears are 17-9 overall, but a 5-9 record in conference play puts Cal in a more precarious position when it comes to a postseason berth.

Pro: Cal is buoyed by a strong non-conference performance in which they went 12-0 and they have one of the nation’s best young players in Kristine Anigwe.

Con: The Bears’ RPI of 67 is considered borderline for NCAA consideration. Last week’s back-to-back home losses to Utah and Colorado, two teams that sit below them in the conference standings had to be the opposite of a confidence boost for a team that really needed one.

What needs to happen: The Bears need at least one big statement win and no more “bad losses” in order to be considered more seriously. They probably also need a strong run in the conference tournament like the one they had last season when they reached the semifinals.

What’s ahead: With four games to go, momentum will be hard-won for Cal. They face back-to-back games against No. 10 Stanford this weekend, following by a difficult road trip to Oregon to take on the 11th-ranked Beavers and Oregon in the regular-season finale. 

Colorado
Overview: After a strong start to the season, Colorado has struggled to maintain its momentum in conference play. At 14-11, the Buffaloes are on the outskirts of the bubble for NCAA consideration and would need a strong rally to finish the season for a shot.

Pro: An 11-1 non-conference and an early season spot in the national rankings brought attention to the Buffaloes, who have relied on the talent of floor leader Kennedy Leonard.

Con: Colorado isn’t going to be able to get to .500 in conference play, even if they were to sweep the final four games.

What needs to happen: The Buffaloes need to prove they can win big games away from Boulder. Before last Sunday’s win at Cal, Colorado had a 16-game Pac-12 road losing streak dating back to the 2015 season.

What’s ahead: A big date against Oregon State at home offers an opportunity to raise the NCAA stakes. Finishing up on the road against Washington and Washington State means the Buffs will have a long, hard road to the brackets.

Utah
Overview: The Utes are most decidedly living at the edge of the bubble, their NCAA hopes depending on a strong Pac-12 finish and maybe a long run into the conference tournament two weeks from now in Seattle.

Pro: The strength of the conference has propelled Utah to a No. 51 RPI and center Emily Potter, who is averaging 14.0 points and 8.6 points a game, raises Utah’s profile.

Con: The Utes are well below .500 and have won just two of their last eight games.

What needs to happen: The Utes quickly need to find some more offense, averaging just 64.8 points a game (10th in the Pac-12).

What’s ahead: The Utes close out their home schedule with games against Oregon and Oregon State and then finish up on the road at Washington State and Washington.

USC
Overview: At 13-12 overall, the Women of Troy are definitely viewed as an outside shot.

Pro: USC has a strong RPI at No. 56 and a big late-season road win at Oregon State that could stick in the committee’s memory if the Women of Troy can give them some more to consider.

Con: The Women of Troy have a 4-7 record on the road and a seven-game losing streak in conference play.

What needs to happen: Picking off another win against a ranked team would be helpful to USC’s faint hopes. They have two chances left in the conference with Washington and Arizona State. A good run for USC in the Pac-12 Tournament would also bolster their resume.

What’s ahead: The Women of Troy host the Washington schools next weekend before finishing off the Pac-12 schedule with a road set at Arizona State and then Arizona.

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