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Mapping each Pac-12 men’s basketball team’s path to the Final Four

Mar 16, 2022

The NCAA Selection Committee has made its final decisions and three Pac-12 men’s basketball teams have punched their tickets to the Big Dance. No. 1 Arizona, No. 4 UCLA and No. 7 USC all open NCAA competition later this week, and while no path will be easy, there are legitimate arguments for why each team has a shot to make a deep run in the tournament.

Here is a look at how the Wildcats, Bruins and Trojans could make it all the way to the Final Four in New Orleans. 

No. 1 Arizona Wildcats

Of the three tournament-bound Pac-12 teams, No. 1 Arizona has the most straightforward path to the Final Four. Winners of the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles, the Wildcats' first real test should come in the South Region's Sweet Sixteen where they’ll most likely face either No. 5 Houston or No. 4 Illinois.

The Wildcats have already faced the Fighting Illini this season, winning an 83-79 battle in Champaign on Dec. 11 that vaulted Arizona into the discussion as legitimate title contenders. 

If the Wildcats were to make the Elite Eight, they could possibly face No. 3 Tennessee or No. 2 Villanova. The national champions in 2016 and 2018, Villanova always present a tough test and this year will be no different. As for Tennessee, the Vols are responsible for one of only three Wildcats losses this season, spoiling Arizona’s then-perfect season in Knoxville on Dec. 22.

A potential Elite Eight rematch makes for an enticing revenge possibility. 

Arizona has the talent, seeding and resume to make a legitimate run for the Pac-12's first NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament title since the Wildcats’ 1997 championship. But their road will be far from easy.

No. 4 UCLA Bruins

UCLA is the only team on this list with a chance to make back-to-back trips to the Final Four. An improbable run from the First Four to the Final Four as a No. 11-seed last year reestablished the Bruins as a college basketball powerhouse. This year’s iteration returned almost every starter and finished as the Pac-12 runner-up in both the regular season and conference tournament.  

The No. 4 seed in the East Region, the Bruins shouldn’t have too much trouble with their first-round matchup against No. 13 Akron but could have a tough out against No. 5 Saint Mary’s in the second round. The Gaels enter the tournament with their highest seed in program history and are responsible for No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga’s only conference loss of the season. 

The road gets no easier from there for UCLA, which would likely face reigning-champion No. 1 Baylor in the Sweet Sixteen. But the Bears haven’t looked as invincible this year, having lost in their first game of the Big 12 Tournament to unranked Oklahoma. If the Bruins were to survive that matchup they’d likely face No. 2 Kentucky or No. 3 Purdue in the Elite Eight. UCLA’s odds for the Final Four will be steep, but no steeper than they were last year. 

No. 7 USC Trojans

No. 7 USC will be tested right out of the gate in the first round of the Midwest Region. In what many are calling the best matchup of round one, the Trojans will open the tournament Friday against on No. 10 Miami (Fla.). FiveThirtyEight has the Trojans favored by a razor-thin 52%-48% margin. 

USC would be heavy underdogs from there on out, likely having to take down No. 2 Auburn, No. 3 Wisconsin, and No. 1 Kansas in-order to advance to New Orleans. But with a team full of upperclassmen, many of whom have NCAA experience from last year’s run to the Elite Eight, the Trojans could be just the team to beat the odds.