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Michelle Smith Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Mailbag

Feb 11, 2021
John McGillen / USC Athletics
It’s February Mailbag time! Thank you to all who submitted questions. They are good ones, so let’s get to it.
All the intrigue down the stretch surrounds USC and WSU. Can either turn an improbable stretch run into an NCAA berth?
Sure. I think it’s hard to know how the tournament brackets are going to look at this point, even with a little more than a month to go before the start of the tournament, but both teams are currently in bubble position. USC and Washington State are both 9-7 overall. USC is 7-6 in conference play, the Cougars are 7-7, but WSU has the better resume by a fairly wide margin. The Cougs have wins over then-No. 21 Oregon State, No. 5 UCLA, a four-point loss to then-No. 7 Oregon, and an overtime win over then-No. 7 Arizona. USC, meanwhile, doesn’t have a win over any of the conference’s ranked teams, and its best wins are two victories over Washington State. The Cougars, who are ranked No. 35 in the NCAA Net Rankings, are definitely in a better position at this moment. USC, ranked No. 51 in the NCAA Net Rankings, is going to finish conference play with three of five games on the road, and still have Oregon and UCLA still left on the regular-season schedule.
Not specific to the Pac-12 per se; will the NCAA be doing a top-16 reveal this year as in years past to get a sense of where teams stand with the committee?
Checked in with the NCAA and they confirmed that yes, there will be a first top-16 reveal will take place on Monday at halftime of the No. 5 Stanford - No. 11 Oregon game, and a second top-16 reveal on March 1, days before the conference tournament begins in Las Vegas.
What's the biggest Bracketology question in the Pac-12? What do ASU, Oregon State, and USC need to do the rest of the way to earn their way into the bracket?
The biggest question I have at this point is whether Arizona State or Oregon State can do enough down the stretch to get into the NCAA brackets. Oregon State (6-5), needs to play two more games still just to be eligible for the tournament, and has a very big opportunity coming up with No. 5 Stanford in Corvallis, followed by a tough finish that includes three straight road games at USC, UCLA and at Oregon to close the regular-season schedule. The Beavers would do well to pick up a couple of wins in that stretch. OSU (ranked 49th in the NCAA Net Rankings) also needs to determine whether it might want to make up any of its many postponements in order to strengthen its NCAA case and head coach Scott Rueck indicated that “all options” are being considered. The Beavers haven’t missed the NCAA Tournament since 2013.
Arizona State, at 9-6 (4-6 in conference), has a No. 71 ranking in the NCAA Net Rankings, which definitely indicates there is work to be done down the stretch after losing three of their last four games. The final sprint of the regular season includes tough matchups against Washington State (home), Stanford (road) and rival Arizona (home). The Sun Devils, who reached at least the second round in the NCAA tournament six years in a row before last year’s postseason cancellation, may also be looking to make up a postponement or two to bolster their tournament resume.
What is the plan for rescheduling postponed games due to COVID? How will that affect conference tourney seeding if not everyone plays equal full conference schedule in the end?
The women’s coaches agreed that with so many teams having short rosters and the physical wear and tear on the student athletes, that games that are postponed would not need to be rescheduled. Still, the conference asked every program to hold back one date with the potential of making up a game on the last weekend of the season. 
The conference has said that they would be able to prioritize makeup games for the last weekend with an emphasis on teams in line for NCAA berths and could also hold some makeup games in Las Vegas before the start of the tournament. But the Pac-12 will not force teams to make up games. As for seeding the conference tournament, conference officials will be meeting over the next few days and one of their topics will be tie-breaker criterias and how it will play out with teams having played disparate numbers of games and not all teams having head-to-head matchups. It’s going to be tricky.
Is Stanford still a legit title contender and what other Pac-12 teams could make a Final Four push?
The Cardinal definitely have the profile of a title contender. They have talent and depth and size and experience, and after their nine-week road trip they have shown they have grit and poise. Two losses last month were wake-up calls for a team that perhaps needs to learn a couple of lessons from a loss that they wouldn’t learn from winning. Tara VanDerveer will certainly make sure that happens. Without a lot of non-conference games, it’s difficult to assess how Stanford would match up against some of the country’s top teams because you can’t play compare/contrast with common opponents. But objectively, Stanford is one of the best teams in the country taking a shot at winning one of the best conferences in the country.
Who else looks like Final Four materials? Right now it’s UCLA and Arizona. Both have teams that have been playing together long enough to put it together in the postseason. Both have All-American stars in Aari McDonald and Michaela Onyenwere and very strong supporting casts. UCLA is tournament-experienced, but doesn’t have a deep bench. Arizona isn’t NCAA Tournament-experienced, but so talented and hungry. Should be fun.
I have read that some conferences are considering NOT holding their conference tournament and instead just prepping for the NCAA.  Have you heard any news re: Pac-12 considering this?
So far none of the major conferences have chosen to cancel their tournaments, but there is worry by individual programs and coaches that a long weekend of travel and exposure to multiple teams in a short period of time may make them vulnerable to COVID right before the start of the NCAA Tournament.