This one has potential to be fun – and a little dramatic.
The Pac-12 tournament gets underway on March 7, tipping off, once again, in Las Vegas. The event will be held at the T-Mobile Arena for the second straight year, following a record-setting attendance in the building last season. And with plenty of drama on and off the court, the conference of champions has the potential to put on one of the most interesting postseason tournaments in the country.
Arizona comes into the tilt as the top-seeded team in the tournament, capturing its 13th regular-season crown on March 2. It’s also the eighth time the Wildcats enter the Pac-12 tournament as the top seed and the squad will look to defend its title while ignoring just about everything else.
Arizona is currently at the center of several media reports, including an ESPN story by Mark Schlabach that reported Wildcats coach Sean Miller had been overheard on an FBI wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment for a player with Christian Dawkins, a key figure in the NCAA bribery scandal. Miller denied the allegations, but told reporters on March 3 that Deandre Ayton, Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins won’t be returning to the team next season and “…they played their last game at McKale.”
Miller went on to describe the last few days in the Wildcats program, telling reporters:
And the second word that I would use is ‘remarkable’ because a lot lesser programs, teams — bigger picture — universities would have crumbled and we didn’t. And I think that says something about us and our future.
It’s fair to assume Arizona is a bit distracted heading into the conference tournament. And despite rare upsets in the past – the Pac-12 championship game has been No. 1 vs. No. 2 in four of the last five years – there’s some serious potential for some hardwood drama in Vegas.
Yes, Arizona is the top seed and, as of March 6, were the only Pac-12 team even receiving votes in the Top 25 poll, but the Wildcats also have the worst-ranked defense since Miller’s first year in the program. The squad’s best bet at a title run rests on the shoulders, and the shot, of freshman Deandre Ayton.
The Pac-12 Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year is also a candidate for national player of the year and in 31 regular-season games averaged a whopping 19.9 points and 11.4 rebounds. He’s a force, a game-changer and powerhouse underneath the hoop. If Ayton can find a rhythm, he might be able to lead the Wildcats to a championship on sheer force of will.
No. 2 seed USC, meanwhile, has struggled to hold onto big leads late in games and, fresh off an 83-72 loss to UCLA in the regular-season finale, the Trojans need a strong run in the Pac-12 tournament to solidify their NCAA hopes. The problem for USC doesn’t lie in a lack of wins or even a bad RPI, but the squad lacks a big-time victory. In fact, the Trojans’ only have four Quadrant 1 wins – two on the road against Utah and Oregon and two on a neutral court against Middle Tennessee State and New Mexico State. If USC can make it to the title game of the conference tournament, the Trojans will be able to beef up their resume before the committee makes its selections.
So where’s our potential for upsets?
No. 3 Utah. Graduate transfer Justin Bibbins has given his team a big-time spark at point this season and he finished in the top 10 in points, assists, assist-to-turnover ratio, steals, free-throw percentage, three-point percentage and minutes played. He’s quick on his cuts and even quicker on the pick-and-roll and if Bibbins can dish it, Utah can score it.
Keep an eye on Arizona State and UCLA as well. The Sun Devils started off the year on fire, with wins at Kansas and on a neutral court against Xavier, but floundered a bit in conference play, wrapping up the year with an 8-10 record. The Bruins, on the other hand, notched road wins at Arizona and Kentucky as well as a season sweep over USC, but likely need to pick up a win or two in the conference tournament to go dancing.
Both of these squads have potential to hear their name on Selection Sunday, but they need to win this week to do it. That means potential for upsets and even more potential for some seriously competitive basketball. Here’s how it’s all scheduled to go down:
Pac-12 Tournament Schedule 2018
*** all times are Pacific
Wednesday, March 7
Game 1: No. 8 Colorado vs. No. 9 Arizona State – 12 p.m. on Pac-12 Network
Game 2: No. 5 Stanford vs. No. 12 California – 2:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Network
Game 3: No. 7 Washington vs. No. 10 Oregon State – 6 p.m. on Pac-12 Network
Game 4: No. 6 Oregon vs. No. 11 Washington State – 8:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Network
Thursday, March 8
Game 5: Game 1 winner vs. No. 1 Arizona – 12 p.m. on Pac-12 Network
Game 6: Game 2 winner vs. No. 4 UCLA – 2:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Network
Game 7: Game 3 winner vs. No. 2 USC – 6 p.m. on Pac-12 Network
Game 8: Game 4 winner vs. No. 3 Utah – 8:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Network
Friday, March 9
Game 9: Semifinal 1 – 6 p.m. on Pac-12 Network
Game 10: Semifinal 2 – 8:30 p.m. on FS1
Saturday, March 10
Pac-12 Championship – 7 p.m. on FS1