Pac-10 Men's Tournament Predictions
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Category: Sports > Winter > Basketball (Men's)
This is one of my least confident picks that I have had all season. There are a litany of teams that could win it all, and Arizona's road is anything but easy. While it should easily roll over either Stanford or Oregon State on Thursday, the Wildcats will either be faced with the unenviable task of beating Cal a third time or knocking off USC, a team that beat them when the 'Cats last came to L.A. That plus if Arizona faces off with Cal, it should make for the best game of the tournament.
All Cal fans remember the three-overtime showdown at Haas Pavilion a month ago, and the Bears played Arizona just as close in a two-point loss at the McKale Center in Tucson. The key for newly anointed Pac-10 Coach of the Year Sean Miller to properly utilize his team's depth that has anchored the squad's success this season. The teams that tend to win the conference tournament are those that are either red-hot or have fresh legs. I think the 'Cats will square off with the winner of Thursday's Washington/Washington State game in the tournament final.
The only thing I will guarantee is that UCLA, the most patently overrated team in the conference, will not win the conference tournament.
Yes, they got swept in L.A. two weeks ago. And yes, they're already a lock for the Big Dance anyway. No matter. Sean Miller's squad has to be pretty peeved about its recent performance down in Los Angeles, and will be playing for better NCAA seeding. As prone as they may be for an upset, the Wildcats still have the conference's best all-around player in Derrick Williams and the depth to survive three games in three days.
Player to Watch:
After watching Washington State take UCLA into overtime on Saturday without its high-flying star, it reminded the nation just how good the Cougars can be with their blazing hot shooter. Conference tournaments are often opportunities for stars to elevate their status. This will be Klay Thompson in this tournament, especially after the untimely, embarrassing suspension that he endured last week. Klay Thompson is going to lift the Cougars. And then he might get lifted for all we know.
The recently-named Pac-10 Player of the Year can show the Staples Center crowd - which will certainly include NBA scouts - why he was the run-away winner. If the Wildcats capture the conference tournament crown this week, it will be because of their stellar sophomore forward, who can score from anywhere on the floor.
Tie between Cal and Washington State
The way the Bears thrashed Stanford on Saturday, they could beat anybody in the conference with that type of ball pressure and offensive fluidity. They play harder than anybody in the conference, and that type of vigor is often rewarded in the tournament format.
Washington State faces a team it has already defeated twice (Washington) and, should the Cougars win, likely a team that it should have knocked off, UCLA, without its best player (the aforementioned Klay Thompson). That is, of course, if UCLA is not upset by either Oregon or Arizona State - a possibility I think is certainly feasible.
Why not Kevin O'Neill's club, which comes into the Staples Center as one of the conference's hottest teams? Led by a formidable frontcourt of Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson, USC is physical, gritty and defensive-minded squad. Plus, a look at the team's best wins shows that it can beat anybody ... when it wants to. If Vucevic is on top of his game, he instantly makes everyone around him better. Plus, no one will want to face the Trojans in what is a de-facto home environment.
Team with the most to play for:
USC would also fit nicely into this category, but the Trojans remain a tournament longshot because of a series of bad non-conference losses. Conversely, the Cougars have several commendable non-conference wins (Gonzaga, Baylor) and a close non-conference loss to Kansas State. If Washington State can get to the tournament final, then it should get an at-large tournament berth.
Remember when the Huskies were overwhelming conference favorites in the preseason? Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Despite their wealth of talent, their NCAA Tournament fate still hangs in the balance after dropping two of three at home to end the season. Just 3-3 over the last six games and lacking any impressive non-conference wins, Washington needs a very deep run this week to solidify their resume.
Best Potential Matchup:
Cal vs. Arizona
This one is a no-brainer. Anybody that watched the first two games between these squads saw not only close games, but inordinately fun contests. These are two squads that love to play physically and execute their offensive gameplans better than anybody else in the conference. This would be undoubtedly the game of the tournament, though the prospect of Arizona-Washington is also exciting.
Cal vs. Arizona
The two teams' triple-overtime thriller at Haas Pavilion was an instant classic, so why not ask for an encore? With a spot in the Pac-10 final at stake, this potential Friday tilt will not disappoint.
Biggest Tournament Storyline:
Who Wants to Rise to the Top?
The Pac-10 Tournament always seems to be cluttered, but this year is as unpredictable as ever. Cal coach Mike Montgomery alluded to how he thinks even seventh-place Stanford could make a run in the tournament; Now that would certainly be a shocker.
The reality is that the top six seeds are all formidable threats to get that automatic bid on Saturday afternoon. While many say that the conference is down this season, this promises to be one of the most exciting conference tournaments in years.
How Many NCAA Bids Will the Pac-10 Get?
The Pac-10 Tournament features two NCAA locks (Arizona and UCLA) and three bubble teams (USC, Washington State, Washington), with nearly all five teams having beaten each other. Since the Huskies and Cougars face off on Thursday, a maximum of four is theoretically possible. What if upsets rule the week, ending up with USC and one of the Washingtons in Saturday's final?
Gabriel Baumgaertner and Ed Yevelev cover men's basketball. Contact them at [email protected]
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