Pac-12 gets five teams into NCAA Tournament
Five Pac-12 teams are in the NCAA Tournament and the dream is alive for making it to Atlanta for the 75th edition of the Final Four. Here's a quick look at where each team ended up and what their path to the title looks like.
The Ducks are a bit lower than most would have thought given the fact that they nearly won the regular season title and blew through the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas this past week. They'll face a tough Cowboys squad that went out in the Big 12 tournament to Kansas State but has plenty of talent to make a deep run this month.
Oregon will have its hands full defensively with 6-foot-4 guard Marcus Smart, the Wayman Tisdale Award winner given to the nation’s top freshman. That likely falls on Damyean Dotson to keep Smart in check or it could be a quick exit for the team from Eugene. Both teams matchup against each other fairly well with Michael Cobbins and Le'Bryan Nash being versatile enough to cause problems. If the Oregon team that won the Pac-12 tournament shows up, they could be a trendy 5-12 upset pick. If it's the one that doesn't get a good game from Dominic Artis, the bigs down low struggle and there's just average play from the rest of the supporting cast, it will be a quick trip home for the Ducks.
The rest of the way: If Oregon survives their first round test, they will likely face a very tough Saint Louis team that is primed for a deep run. They're in the Midwest regional so any trip to Atlanta would most likely have to go through overall No. 1 seed Louisville not too far from their campus. It's a tough path for the Pac-12 tournament champion no matter how you slice it.
The Bruins are shipped to Austin and will probably be none too pleased to see that two Pac-12 teams are playing closer to home while they draw a really tough path. Of course, it was already a difficult path given the fact that Jordan Adams would not be playing after breaking a bone in his foot in Las Vegas. Norman Powell played ok in his absence but UCLA will need even better minutes from him if they're to advance past the Golden Gophers.
The biggest concern for Ben Howland will likely be the fact that Minnesota attacks the glass and are 17th in the country in rebounding. This team was beat up in the brutal Big Ten this year but does have big wins over Indiana, Wisconsin and others (including a 66-63 win over Stanford). If UCLA can slow down guard Andre Hollins and senior Trevor Mbakwe, they'll have a shot. If they don't show up and attack Minnesota and get out and run, it might be a quick exit from the field.
The rest of the way: It's a tough next game for UCLA as they'll have to face a Florida team that ran through the SEC this regular season. The good news is the Gators lost to an Arizona team that UCLA beat three times and has struggled on the road and in close games. The rest of the bracket actually shapes up nicely after that, including a possible rematch with Georgetown (which is playing much better than they did when the two teams met earlier) and a chance to take on Kansas in Dallas for the regional.
It's a really tough draw for the Wildcats as they open with an excellent shooting team in Belmont. The Bruins are 4th in the country in field goal percentage and rank in the top 15 in points scored. That means defense will be a key factor in advancing further in March. Nick Johnson and several others looked like they were re-energized in the Pac-12 tournament and Sean Miller will likely need even more on both ends of the floor. Stopping guard Ian Clark will be a big thing for Arizona, who draw a very tough match up in their opening round game.
Bruins have beaten the Wildcats three times this season already, could there be a fourth?
The rest of the way: Arizona's region is stacked so it will be a difficult road to Atlanta no matter how things shake out. New Mexico would probably be up next and they just won a very good Mountain West right down the road in Las Vegas last week. Luckily they're in the West regional and would head to a familiar site in Staples Center if they make it that far but teams like Ohio State, Notre Dame, Iowa State, Kansas State and No. 1 seed Gonzaga would still be in their way.
Rematch! The two teams met in early December in Berkeley with the Rebels winning 76-75. These are two very different teams from that point in the season however, with the Bears in particular turning it on the second half of the season. Anthony Bennett looked like a strong candidate for Freshman of the Year during the first game but has cooled off and will face an improved front court for Cal. Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe need to put in an improved effort so perhaps the loss in the Pac-12 tournament will serve as a wake up call and kick start the high-scoring duo. It is worth noting that Cal nearly beat UNLV in that earlier meeting (a last-gasp shot with 2.1 seconds left won it) so this is a very intriguing matchup.
The rest of the way: The next game could be against Syracuse but it's no lock that the Orange get past a pesky Montana team. A game down the road with No. 1 seed Indiana could be in the cards however if Cal advances far enough.
Illinois is a team with terrific wins (Indiana, Butler, Gonzaga) but also some puzzling losses (Purdue, Northwestern). Brandon Paul has been much better at getting to the rim when his shot isn't falling and he represents a tough player to guard no matter what. The Illini don't rebound the ball great which means Andre Roberson should have a big game down low in cleaning up missed shots. This is a difficult but winnable game for the Buffs if they're energized and play without making many mistakes.
The rest of the way: With seeding being the way it is, a tough game against No. 2 seed Miami awaits the winner of the first game. One also has to consider a very long trip to Washington D.C. if Colorado makes it as far as the regional.
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