Pac-12 Tournament story lines one week out
As hard as it is to believe, the Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament is just one week away. The excitement level continues to ramp up for players, coaches and fans around the conference as everybody realizes it's now days, not weeks, before the games begin at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Here are a few story lines for all 12 teams as they wrap up the regular season this week and prepare to travel to Las Vegas.
There was a fleeting chance that the Cardinal was going to sneak in and make the cut for the NCAA tournament but losing four of their last six has put a damper on that. They wrap up the season with a "Big Game" against Cal across the Bay and then have a week to rest before their first game in Vegas. At this point, Stanford obviously has talent on the team but still haven't been consistent enough for people to think they could win four games in four days. A surprise run for the conference title can't be ruled out but they have to figure out what kind of rotation they want to use and get focused for a tough run into the postseason.
What's left: At California on Wednesday, 8 p.m. PT on ESPN2.
It could be argued that there's no hotter basketball team in the country than the one in Berkeley, where the Golden Bears have won seven straight for the first time in a decade. The key to their run has been a much improved defense that is allowing opponents to shoot just 34 percent from the floor during the win streak. On top of that, Allen Crabbe has pretty much locked up Pac-12 Player of the Year honors thanks to his play down the stretch. The team also catches a big break by playing rival Stanford at home on Wednesday to give the team over a week of rest before a tournament game in Vegas. Mike Montgomery has Cal firmly in the NCAA Tournament according to most bracketologists so closing out their Bay Area rival and prepping for opponents in the Pac-12 Tournament are really all that's left on the docket.
What's left: Home vs. Stanford on Wednesday, 8 p.m. PT on ESPN2.
Since losing in overtime to their crosstown rival USC at home, the Bruins have looked like a completely different team as winners of six of their last seven. The program gathered plenty of exposure when they hosted ESPN's College GameDay last week and followed through with a big win against Arizona that has them tied for 1st place in the Pac-12. A regular season conference title is still in play so it's a big week on the road in Washington at two difficult venues for visiting teams. Sweep the Cougars and Huskies, however, and expectations for the regular season will be partially met heading into Vegas as a top two seed. On top of all that, a pair of wins will give coach Ben Howland 400 career wins.
What's left: At Washington State on Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Networks. At Washington on Saturday, 11 a.m. on CBS.
Brock Motum will be one of the seniors playing in their final home stand this week and it's pretty clear that the forward has put up a great season even if the Cougars' record hasn't been where he would want it to be. Motum is scoring 16.4 ppg in conference play and is one of only two players to hit double-digits in every Pac-12 game this year. Washington State can end their nine game losing streak against a pair of surging teams from Los Angeles but it won't be easy.
What's left: Home vs. UCLA on Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Networks. Home vs. USC on Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks.
Washington captured a big road win at Arizona State two weeks ago and are hoping to keep up the momentum from the victory on their way to Vegas. The team has done a fairly good job rebounding as of late but have really been keyed by senior guard Scott Suggs chipping in on the offensive end (9-of-14 from beyond the arc the past two games). The Huskies are playing for seeding in the Pac-12 tournament at this point and with a great home environment to play in, who knows what the team can do as the season wraps up.
What's left: Home vs. USC on Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Networks. Home vs. UCLA on Saturday, 11 a.m. on CBS.
The Trojans have been popping up fairly frequently in basketball circles thanks to their play on the court (winning six of their last eight) and who the athletic department staff has been meeting with. While the drama surrounding who might get the head coaching job doesn't seem to be a distraction for interm coach Bob Cantu and his team, it is nevertheless a key story line involving the program heading into Vegas. They have a chance to actually earn a first day bye for the Pac-12 Tournament, owning the tie-breaker with Arizona thanks to a home win last week. It's a tough upcoming road trip however but this is one team that is looking very capable of going on a run at the MGM Grand and somebody that no team really wants to face.
What's left: At Washington on Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks. At Washington State on Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks.
The Ducks have locked up a first round bye for the Pac-12 Tournament but are still playing for the regular season crown as they're tied with UCLA (but own the tie-breaker). Guard Dominic Artis is back in action after sitting out a number of games due to injury so the upcoming swing through the mountain schools will be a tune-up that plenty of people are looking forward to. The bottom line is Artis needs to get in game shape and back in-sync with his teammates during extended minutes. Arsalan Kazemi has been one of the players who have helped carry Oregon in Artis' absence and figures to be one of the guys that Dana Altman hopes will continue to play at a high level on the road to Vegas.
What's left: At Colorado on Thursday, 6 p.m. PT on ESPN2. At Utah on Saturday, 11:30 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Networks.
The Wildcats have slipped from a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament to possibly a non-top four seed, meaning they wouldn't be region protected to wind up close to home. On top of that, they've slipped to the No. 4 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament and could even wind up playing on the first day if they lose to Arizona State and have USC or Colorado get a sweep this week. Defense has been an Achilles' heel the second half of the season so finding key stops when they need them against their rival at home will be big heading to Vegas. There's plenty of potential for a deep run in March for the Wildcasts but they still need to start showing it on the court before people buy in. They have a long rest before playing the Sun Devils and a long rest before the tournament so there's plenty of time for Sean Miller and company to figure it out.
What's left: Home vs. Arizona State on Saturday, 1:30 p.m. PT on FSN.
Outside of a tough Bay Area trip last week, the Utes have been pretty competitive in conference play this season even if the wins haven't shown up on the record. Senior guard Jared DuBois has been terrific lately, nailing all 13 free throws last game while posting solid numbers running the point. A home game against Oregon State provides an opportunity for a win while a big game on Senior Day against top-seeded Oregon could throw the conference race up for grabs.
What's left: Home vs. Oregon State on Thursday, 6 p.m. PT on ESPNU. Home vs. Oregon on Saturday, 11:30 a.m. PT on Pac-12 Networks.
Colorado has not played to their potential the past few weeks by struggling on offense and not attacking teams like the can. They were nearly swept in the Bay Area last week and suffered a loss to Cal in a game they'd love to have back. Andre Roberson has continued to post big numbers so he could use a final week push to nail down a few 'Leading the conference in...' items in a future press release. The Buffs have gone on runs in March before and with a top four seed still in play for Vegas, nobody is counting out this team to flip the switch and snag some big wins. There's probably little doubt that the home game with the Ducks is the must-see game of the week around the conference as well.
What's next: Home vs. Oregon on Thursday, at 6 p.m. PT on ESPN. Home vs. Oregon State on Saturday, 1:30 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Networks.
Three straight losses has sent the Sun Devils to the wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble but there's still an outside chance they can top their rival to the South and make a strong run in Vegas. Jahii Carson and Carrick Felix have been phenomenal all year long but Arizona State needs more from Jordan Bachynski if they want to push forward and state their case for a bid.
What's next:At Arizona on Saturday, 1:30 p.m. PT on FSN.
The Beavers are on the road for a final trip this regular season but are really playing for a few milestones. Roberto Nelson dropped 31 in a close game against Oregon to top the 1,000 career points mark and Joe Burton and Ahmad Starks could reach the mark this week. Oregon State could have four players with more than a 1,000 career points, a bright spot on the season for sure.
What's next:At Utah on Thursday, 6 p.m. PT on ESPNU. At Colorado on Saturday, 1:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks.
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