Michelle Smith WBB Column: Who will be a top four seed in the Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament
Six games to go and four seeds to be secured for the Pac-12 Tournament.
With three more weeks of Pac-12 play on the schedule, the battle is on for coveted first-round byes in the conference tournament, which takes place March 5-8, at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
There is little doubt how valuable those top four seeds are. In the 18-year history of the Pac-12 Tournament only once has a seed outside of the top four played in the championship game - USC as a No. 6 seed in 2009.
Every team with a winning record in conference play is still in position for a first-round bye. Let’s take a look at their prospects.
Left on the schedule: at UCLA, at USC, at California, at Stanford, Washington State, Washington
The scenario: The Ducks have a one-game lead in the Pac-12 standings and one of the toughest roads to finish the conference schedule with four-straight road games, a stretch that includes two top-10 opponents in the Bruins and the Cardinal. The Ducks are playing confidently, winning six of their last 10 games by at least 20 points. Oregon leads the Pac-12 in scoring by more than 10-points-per-game margin over Stanford, the No. 2 scoring team in the conference. They lead in field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage, free-throw percentage and assists.
Chances of making top 4: Excellent. Oregon is playing at championship level at a critical point of the season. They have been the top seed two years in a row. Finishing No. 1 three years in a row is going to be far from easy with two tough road games ahead.
Left on the schedule: Oregon, Oregon State, at Washington State, at Washington, Colorado, Utah
The scenario: The Bruins have a chance to move into a tie for first place in the Pac-12 with a win over the Ducks on Friday night. And if they can do that, they will have a pretty good shot at a title. The remaining schedule includes four home games and the last four games of the season are against teams in the bottom half of the conference standings. UCLA played Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State once during the conference season, which should benefit them in the run for the regular-season title.
Chances of making top 4: Very strong. UCLA has been a top 4 seed four-straight years and is in great position to make it five.
Left on the schedule: at Utah, at Colorado, Oregon State, Oregon, at Arizona, at Arizona State
The scenario: Losses to both the Ducks and the Bruins made it more difficult for the Cardinal to finish with a conference title, and the remaining schedule does them no favors either. Stanford still has four ranked teams to face in its final four games, including the Beavers, Ducks, Wildcats and Sun Devils. It is a stretch that will certainly have them postseason ready.
Chances of making top 4. Strong. The Cardinal have never failed to finish as a top 4 seed in the history of the conference tournament. In fact, it was a No. 1 seed for 13-straight years. But it hasn’t been a No. 1 seed since 2014. Still hard to see the Cardinal playing on the first day.
Left on the schedule: Washington, Washington state, at Utah, at Colorado, Stanford, California
The scenario: Arizona’s stellar season is set up for a strong ending considering that it will face four-straight teams currently in the bottom half of the conference standings before hosting Stanford and Cal to close the Pac-12 slate in front of what will likely be very big crowds at McKale Center.
Chances of making top 4: Fair. The Wildcats are two-games behind the teams ahead of them for top 4 seeds, but Oregon State and Arizona State are hot on their heels for the final spot. Arizona has not been a top 4 seed since the 2011 tournament, but on paper, the schedule sets up nicely.
Oregon State (7-5)
Left on the schedule: at USC, at UCLA, at Stanford, at California, Washington, Washington State
The scenario: The Beavers are 4-5 over their last nine games and now reel from the news that super-talented freshman Kennedy Brown is out for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. Like Oregon, the Beavers have a tough path to the postseason with four-straight road games, including matchups against UCLA and Stanford before finishing at home against the Washington schools. In OSU’s five losses over the last nine games, they have averaged 56.8 points a game. In the four wins, they have averaged 75.3, proving that offense will be everything down the stretch.
Chances of making top 4: Difficult. While Oregon State has not finished worse than a No. 3 seed since 2014, the Beavers are a game out of the top-four spot at this point with a difficult stretch to close the regular season.
Arizona State (6-6)
Left on the schedule: Washington State, Washington, at Colorado, at Utah, California, Stanford
The scenario: The Sun Devils have only one ranked team left on their schedule - Stanford - between now and the end of the season, which brightens their chances that they could finish among the top-four seeds and earn a first-round tournament bye.
Chances of making top 4: Fair. ASU is two-games out of the top 4 spot with six games to go and five teams in front of them, but their schedule makes their prospects look fairly promising. The last time the Sun Devils finished with a top-four seed was 2015.
Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for pac-12.com. She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, San Francisco Chronicle, The Athletic and AOL Fanhouse. She was has won several awards, including the WBCA's Mel Greenberg Media Award, presented annually to a member of the media who has best displayed commitment to advancing the role of the media in women's basketball. For previous Michelle Smith features on pac-12.com, visit the archives page.