A look around the Pac-12 ahead of the 2021 Men's Basketball Tournament
The beauty of the Pac-12 Tournament is that no matter how steep the odds, every team has a fighting chance to take home the trophy. Take the most recent champ-game winner, the 2018-19 Oregon Ducks who entered the tournament as the No. 6 seed but caught fire in Las Vegas, winning four straight games to claim the title. And after last year’s tournament cancellation, teams are even hungrier to claim the Conference’s top prize.
While certain teams are all but assured of a chance to compete in the NCAA Tournament later this month, for several, an outright win at the Pac-12 tournament will be their only option for a March Madness invitation.
Ahead of the four-day event, here is a breakdown of where each team stands, how they got here and what the Pac-12 Tournament could mean for NCAA's Selection Sunday. And don't forget to tune in to Pac-12 Network for around-the-clock pregame, gamebreak and postgame coverage throughout the entire tourney!
No. 1 Oregon
Winners of the 2018-19 tournament, the 2019-20 regular season and now the 2020-21 regular season, it is fair to say the Oregon Ducks have a target on their backs. Ranked the No. 20 team in the country in the preseason, the Ducks endured a very strange and shortened season due to COVID-19 stoppages. But Oregon is finally at full health and has won five-straight games, so it looks like the Ducks are peaking at just the right time.
Oregon is currently projected as a 6-seed for the NCAA Tournament and a third consecutive Pac-12 Championship would have the Ducks riding high as they prepare for a deep March run. Oregon’s title defense gets started on Thursday against either No. 8 Arizona State or No. 9 Washington State at 11:30 a.m. PT/ 12:30 p.m. MT on Pac-12 Network.
Congratulations to @OregonMBB!
— Pac-12 Conference (@pac12) March 8, 2021
No. 2 USC
The Trojans enter the tournament as the No. 24 team in the country with an excellent chance to take home their first Pac-12 Tournament title since the 2008-09 season. USC boasts the incredible tandem of brothers Isaiah and Evan Mobley. Isaiah jumped up a level between his freshmen and sophomore years, going from averaging 6.2 PPG last season to 9 in 2020-21. Meanwhile, Evan has exploded onto the scene during his freshman year, averaging 16 points and 9 rebounds per game. The star forward swept the Pac-12 annual awards, taking home Player of the Year, Defensive of the Year and Freshman of the Year. The seven-footer has rocketed up NBA big boards and has a legitimate chance to go No. 1 overall in the 2021 draft.
Currently projected as a 5-seed for the NCAA Tournament, a dominant performance from the Trojans in the Pac-12 tourney could catapult USC to one of the top seeds in the Big Dance. After a first-round bye, USC will face off against either No. 7 Utah or No. 10 Washington on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. PT/ 6:30 p.m. MT on Pac-12 Network.
This. Is. March. pic.twitter.com/c2H0a0FQA2
— USC Men's Basketball (@USC_Hoops) March 6, 2021
No. 3 Colorado
With one of the top performers in the league in senior McKinley Wright IV, Colorado has its best chance at a Pac-12 Tournament title during the Wright era. The senior has put up eye-popping numbers this year and has made his mark as one the greatest players to ever wear a Buffs jersey.
Colorado is currently ranked as the No. 23 team in the nation and is projected somewhere around a 5-seed for the NCAA tournament, so the Buffs probably don’t need to worry about qualifying, no matter how their Pac-12 Tourney goes. But a strong showing could boost their resume and line them up as a legitimate contender for a national title.
After a first-round bye, Colorado will face either No. 11 California or No. 6 Stanford on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. PT/ 9:30 MT on ESPN.
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) March 6, 2021
No. 4 UCLA
The Bruins finished the year just behind their crosstown rivals and are in a strong position to try and claim their first Pac-12 Tournament Championship since 2013-14. UCLA does not have one singular star as some other top-seeded teams do, but they are as deep as any program in the conference, currently boasting five different players who averaged double-digit points.
UCLA is currently projected to be an 8-seed in the Big Dance but a victory in the Pac-12 Tournament, especially if it comes against arch rival USC, could catapult the Bruins up the rankings. After earning a bye in the opening round, UCLA will start the Pac-12 Tournament on Thursday against No. 5 Oregon State at 2:30 p.m. PT/ 3:30 p.m. MT on Pac-12 Network.
No. 5 Oregon State
After a somewhat uneven start to the season, the Beavers have hit their stride at just the right time. Winners of four of their past six games, Oregon State brings a head of steam into the Pac-12 Tournament. Much of Oregon State’s late-season success is due to sophomore Jarod Lucas, who has blossomed into a dynamic playmaker in his second year with the Beavers. Lucas forced his way into the starting line-up halfway through the year and has since nearly 13 points per game, up from 4.6 during his freshman campaign. Measuring by PPG, Lucas was the second-most improved player in the conference.
Lucas will lead an Oregon State team that is hungry to win its first-ever Pac-12 Tournament title and make its first NCAA Tournament since 2016. With their fifth place regular season finish, Oregon State earns a bye in the first round and will start the tournament against No. 4 UCLA on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. PT/ 3:30 p.m. MT on Pac-12 Network.
No. 6 Stanford
In terms of NCAA Tournament implications, the Cardinal has as much at stake as any Pac-12 team. At the same time, what the team has endured all year long by having to play away from their home court due to county restrictions is easily one of the most challenging journeys to the Pac-12 Tournament of any team this year. Currently discussed by many as "on the bubble," most bracketologists project the Card as either one of the last four teams in or first four teams out of the Big Dance. With a strong performance in the Pac-12 Tournament Stanford could cement its place in the Big Dance.
Stanford will hopefully look to its top performer in Oscar da Silva as the senior has been transcendent for the Cardinal this year but missed the team's final three regular season games. Stanford will open the tournament against No. 11 California on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. PT/ 8:00 p.m. MT on Pac-12 Network.
He’s the student-athlete of the century according to @mattmuehlebach. 🌲
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) February 27, 2021
No. 7 Utah
The Runnin’ Utes enter the tournament coming off their strongest offensive showing, a 98-59 win over Arizona State. While Utah may not have the star power that other squads do, Pac-12 Tournament veterans Alfonso Plummer and Timmy Allen will look to guide the seventh-seeded Runnin’ Utes to an upset run at the title.
Utah will begin the tournament against No. 11 Washington on Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. PT/ 5:00 p.m. MT on Pac-12 Network.
No. 8 Arizona State
For his senior season at ASU, Remy Martin is playing some of the best basketball of his career. He has scored 30 points in an astounding four different games this year. No other Pac-12 player has accomplished the feat even three times. Martin even tied Sun Devil great Eddie House by scoring 20+ points in eight-straight games.
An inconsistent season has Arizona State entering the Pac-12 Tournament as the No. 8 seed, but no one doubts that it has the talent to make a deep run at the Pac-12 title. The Sun Devils will open the tournament on Wednesday against No. 9 Washington State at 1:00 p.m. PT/ 2:00 p.m. MT on Pac-12 Network.
GAME WINNER. pic.twitter.com/NB3aHaAFj6
— Sun Devil MBB (@SunDevilHoops) February 28, 2021
No. 9 Washington State
No player has been more exciting than Washington State’s Noah Williams of late. The sophomore put up 32 and 40 points in back-to-back games in mid-February and was scorching hot late in the season.
As the No. 11 seed last year, Washington State pulled off the biggest upset of the suspended 2020 Pac-12 Tournament, taking down No. 6 seed Colorado. If the Cougars can pull off a few similar such upsets this year, they could find themselves playing in their first NCAA Tournament since 2008. The Cougars will open the tournament on Wednesday against No. 8 Arizona State at 1:00 p.m. PT/ 2:00 p.m. MT on Pac-12 Network.
— WSU Men's Basketball (@WSUCougarMBB) February 23, 2021
No. 10 Washington
Washington will try to make up for a disappointing season with a strong showing at the Pac-12 Tournament. Despite the Huskies’ struggles, Quade Green has been an imposing offensive presence, averaging nearly 15 points per game, and Marcus Tsohonis has been a revelation, scoring over 20 points off the bench in multiple games this year. Washington gets started on Wednesday against No. 7 Utah at 4:00 p.m. PT/ 5:00 p.m. MT on Pac-12 Network.
No. 11 California
The Golden Bears enter the tournament as the bottom seed and will face a formidable opponent in No. 6 Stanford. But Cal has a recent history of beating their Bay Area rivals at the Pac-12 Tourney. Last year, the Golden Bears upset the Cardinal in one of the few games played before the 2020 Tournament’s cancellation. The rivals will rematch this Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. PT/ 8:00 p.m. MT on Pac-12 Network.