Five story lines for the 2016 Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament
It's about that time.
The Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament descends on Sin City this week with much on the line. For some teams, it's about pride, a second chance to upend the regular season champion Oregon Ducks. For others, it's about busting brackets and March Madness dreams. But for a good deal of the conference, what happens in the MGM Grand represents a chance to tidy up résumés for Selection Sunday.
Individually, some lesser-known players will put their names on the map for the upcoming seasons. Others will use Las Vegas to say their goodbyes with a dagger jumper or a highlight jam.
These are the top five story lines as the Pac-12 Tournament takes Las Vegas.
1. Fighting for a bid – The first four teams are in no matter what. Oregon, Utah, Cal and Arizona should be locks for the NCAA Tournament, but their résumés and those of several teams below them in the seedings could use some work. Colorado (21-10, 30th RPI) is a likely middle-seeded team and could make a run in Vegas to improve its standing. Oregon State (18-11, 29th RPI) looks safe with a opening-round win against ASU, and USC (20-11, 43rd RPI) could also help its cause by beating UCLA after struggling down the stretch of the regular season. Washington (17-13, 82nd RPI) is perhaps squarely on the wrong side of the bubble, but could perhaps make an NCAA tournament case with a deep run.
2. Is this goodbye? – We know the opportunities to watch Gary Payton II's jams, Jordan Loveridge jumpers and Josh Scott's pretty post moves are winding down. We'll savor the ends of brief Pac-12 stints from transfers like Arizona's Ryan Anderson and Oregon's Chris Boucher. But this also might act as the closing moments for a few younger players: Cal's Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, plus Utah's Jakob Poeltl come to mind. All three are likely NBA lottery picks, and what they do in the Pac-12 Tournament should only help their decision to leave college easier.
3. Pac of the future – Even if Brown and Rabb leave for The League, the 2015-16 freshmen class in the Pac-12 should feed the future of the conference. While we always expect a few surprise jumps to the NBA, the crop of top-notch players who are already making an impact runs long. Washington's Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss, Arizona's Allonzo Trier, Oregon's Tyler Dorsey, USC's Bennie Boatwright and Oregon State's Tres Tinkle will all make some noise in the tournament this year – and likely next.
4. Anyone feeling snubbed? – Poeltl was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year on Monday, and rightfully so. He averaged 17.5 points on 66 percent shooting, 9.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.6 blocks per game. Will Oregon's Dillon Brooks feel slighted enough to make a scene in Las Vegas? In the top newcomer race, will Arizona's Trier feel like his broken hand suffered in the middle of the season set him back in losing the Freshman of the Year award to Cal's Brown? Nobody's going to say it out loud, but there's room on the court to make a few statements.
5. It's a wide open field – The last three Pac-12 Tournament chapionship game matchups have essentially been a round-robin between Arizona, Oregon and UCLA. This year? Not so high on a predictability scale. Middle-tier teams like USC, Oregon State and Washington have enough wins against higher seeds to give them a chance of making it a four-day run. Even the No. 10 seed Bruins have non-conference wins against Kentucky and Gonzaga that make the odds a little tougher to decipher. It's going to be a free for all, last-man-standing type of tournament. And we probably can't accurately map much out.
Catch eight of the tournament's 11 games, from the firsttround through the semifinals, on Pac-12 Network starting on Wednesday, March 9 at 12 p.m. PT/1 p.m. MT.