It’s officially the start of conference tournament season! The Pac-12 gets started on Wednesday afternoon. The Pac-12 has been the weakest of the power conferences this season, depth-wise, but the top two teams are two of the best teams in the entire country in Arizona and UCLA. USC can compete with anyone, and Arizona State is decent too, but is sitting on the bubble. UCLA won the regular season title by four games with a record of 18-2, but the other top three teams in the conference could make this tournament interesting.
There also might be up to two to three other teams that could make some noise too. Let’s look at the madness happening in Las Vegas this week!
Here is our preview and prediction, provided by Betfred Sportsbook
When: March 8-11
Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada
Format: Top Four teams get a bye before playing.
Watch: Pac-12 Network & ESPN. Championship game is on Saturday, March 11th, on ESPN at 10:30 p.m. E.T.
Arizona State (+2000)
Washington State (+2200)
Oregon State (+25000)
The Bruins are favored to win this tournament and rightfully so after they won the regular season title by four games and tied a conference record by winning 18 games in league play. UCLA hasn’t lost in a month and locked up the regular season title a week early against Colorado.
This team is as tough and hard-nosed as they come, and that’s just how their head coach, Mick Cronin, wants it. Jaime Jacquez Jr. is one of the best players in the country and could end up being both an All-American and the Pac-12 Player of the Year. He’s leading UCLA in points per game at 18 and in rebounding at eight per contest. Jaylen Clark and Tyger Campbell both make up one of the best backcourts in the country. They both average 13 PPG and Campbell leads the team in assists at 5 per game and Clark leads the team in steals at three per game. Clark is also the best defender in the entire conference too, but the big question is if he'll be available for this tournament after leaving the regular season finale against Arizona. He returned to the UCLA bench on crutches, but as of now, not much is known about his status for this tournament or beyond.
UCLA is the team best built to make a run in March in the Pac-12. They have a bye before facing either Colorado or Washington in the quarterfinals, which should be an easy win either way. They then could play Oregon in the semifinals, which could be difficult, and then face a potential third game against Arizona in the championship game.
The Wildcats handed the Bruins one of their only two league losses this season, with USC providing the other.
Arizona is the team best equipped to challenge UCLA for the Pac-12 throne. They had a bit of a bumpier than expected conference season, and are 3-3 in their last six games, but talent-wise they’re hard to ignore and could beat UCLA again after splitting the season series with them.
Arizona is one of the best offensive teams in all of college basketball and it’s because of how fast-paced they are. Tommy Lloyd got his style from Gonzaga, and it’s fit in very well at Arizona so far. Azuolas Tubelis is one of the best players in the country. He leads the team in scoring at 20 points per contest, rebounding at nine per game, and steals in 1.1 per game. He’s another contender to be an All-American and be the Pac-12 Player of the Year. Oumar Ballo might be the most improved player in not just the conference, but the entire country. He joins Tubelis to make the best front court in all of college basketball. He averages 14 points per game behind Tubelis and he also leads the team in blocks at 1.3 per game. Kerr Kriisa is the x-factor because he can get very hot shooting the ball or he’ll turn the ball over a lot. He averages 11 PPG and leads the conference in assists at 5.4 per game.
Arizona could make a deep run this season if certain things fall into place for them. They have a bye before facing either Stanford or Utah, which could be a revenge game either way. They would then play Arizona State or USC, and then have another grudge match against UCLA in the championship game.
This is a team that not only beat the Bruins in league play, but also Tennessee, Indiana, Creighton and San Diego State in the out of conference, so they're capable of beating anyone. With losses to Stanford, Washington State and others in conference play, they're capable of losing to anyone too.
USC might have the most athletic team in the whole conference, and they could cause issues for both UCLA and Arizona. They’ve had a consistency issue at times this year, especially on offense. Talent-wise they are next up after UCLA and Arizona.
USC has length and athleticism that most teams in the Pac-12 just don’t have. Their head coach, Andy Enfield, has emphasized that and it’s paid off. Boogie Ellis is huge difference-maker at point guard. He leads the team in scoring at 18 PPG, and Drew Peterson has also been very good on the perimeter by averaging 14 PPG. Peterson also leads the team in rebounds at six per game and in assists per game at 4.5. Reese Dixon-Waters has also been consistent in the backcourt next to Ellis, and he averages 10 PPG.
The Trojans’ athleticism will keep them in most games and that makes them potentially dangerous in March. They’d face Arizona State or Oregon State in the quarterfinals, then Arizona in the semifinals, and then potentially UCLA in the championship game.
Arizona State (+2000)
Arizona State is another team with athletes that could cause issues for the top teams in the Pac-12. They started the year very hot at 11-1, but have been very inconsistent recently with their lone highlight being a buzzer-beating win against Arizona. They need to win at least a few games in the tournament to feel safely off the bubble.
Arizona State’s defense has been their calling card this season, which is a first for the Sun Devils under head coach Bobby Hurley. On offense, Desmond Cambridge Jr. has been the best player for the Sun Devils this season, averaging 13.4 points a game. DJ Horne has been very good and consistent in the backcourt and is right behind Cambridge in scoring at 12.1 PPG. Frankie Collins has also been consistent at the point guard position, averaging 10.4 PPG and he leads the Sun Devils in assists per game at 4.4.
Arizona State’s defense could keep them in most games this tournament. They play Oregon State first, which should be an easy win, and then get a potential gauntlet of USC, Arizona, and UCLA if they went on a run.
The Pick: Arizona
Arizona and UCLA are the two best teams in the conference and two of the best teams in the entire country. With UCLA you’ll get defense, and with Arizona you’ll get offense. Arizona has the harder path to get to the championship game than UCLA does too.
However, Arizona is the pick to the tournament. Arizona’s dominated the Pac-12 Tournament since it moved to Las Vegas, and they won it just last year. If they play against UCLA again, they should be able to take advantage of UCLA’s lack of size. UCLA has a great backcourt, but Jaylen Clark is also injured, and we don’t know how healthy he’ll be and if he’ll play at all in the tournament, which is a huge blow for the Bruins. Arizona’s the pick with all of this in mind, and because they’ll have the best fan turnout of any school by far in Vegas. Arizona wins a very close game against the Bruins.
Follow Jake Faigus on Twitter - @Jake_Faigus
To get full odds on the Pac-12 and all conference tournaments, visit Betfred Sportsbook
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