With the drama in Tucson and roller-coaster of a regular season, the ‘Conference of Champions’ quickly materialized into the ‘Conference of Chaos’ in 2017-18. It all comes to a close this week at the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas.
During the regular season, no one team clearly distanced themselves from the field. Even Arizona, who won the regular season title outright, suffered losses from four different conference foes and faced unlimited turmoil throughout the year.
Seven of the 12 seeds weren’t decided until the final day of the season, with No. 2 through No. 7 being separated by just two games. The Pac-12 tournament should be considered wide-open while the majority of the field being ‘bubble teams’ adds even more intrigue. So what does ESPN700 think heading into Vegas?
Bill Riley (@espn700bill)
The voice of Utah Athletics Bill Riley is sticking to his guns, picking the Utes to run the table and punch their ticket to the big dance with a Pac-12 tournament victory. He’s weary of the Oregon Ducks, though.
Kyle Gunther and Ben Anderson both see Arizona defeating the Utes in the championship game with their dark horses being USC(Kyle) and ASU(Ben).
The games still have to be played, though, so we’ll take a team-by-team look at the upcoming Pac-12 tournament.
1. Arizona (24-7/14-4)
As the dust settles after the soap opera that was Arizona’s conference season, the Wildcats still emerge as the favorites in the Pac-12 tournament. A couple of weeks ago, the Wildcats were without star point guard Allonzo Trier, who tested positive for a performance-enhancing-substance. They were the subject of play-for-pay allegations surrounding their star center and head coach. Now, things have calmed down for the Wildcats and, at least until the seasons end, they seem to have some stability. Led by the monster that is DeAndre Ayton, Sean Miller and the Wildcats look like the favorites to repeat in Sin City.
2. USC (21-10/12-6)
The Trojans have won 20 or more in three straight seasons and have dominated at times this year, but thanks to some avoidable blunders, still find themselves resting squarely on the bubble heading into tournament play. A championship game appearance would probably remove any of that doubt, and USC has a chance to boost their resume by doing just that. The Trojans have already beaten each team on their side of the bracket and would avoid UCLA or Arizona until the final.
3. Utah (19-10/11-7)
The Runnin’ Utes finished the regular season as hot as anyone in the conference, winning six of their final seven games and clinching a first-round bye with the third seed. The scrappy Utes continue to fight under Larry Krystowiak’s guidance and, with a win or two in Vegas, could make an unlikely NCAA tournament appearance. They’re going to have to live and die by the three, especially considering the uncertain status of senior center David Collette, who rolled his ankle in the Utes senior night win over Colorado. Guard play is always an x-factor in tournament play and this won’t be an exception. Utah will rely heavily on the playmaking of senior guard Justin Bibbins – something he has delivered on as of late. A true bubble team, the Utes used that late-season run to stay in the conversation to make the NCAA tournament. They’ll surely need to make a run this week to have a shot at an at-large bid.
“Like the little Shelby(his Montana hometown) Divisional tournaments on steroids.”
No P.E.D.’s allowed, though. pic.twitter.com/D25lDBUqMc
— Porter Larsen (@Larsen_ESPN) March 7, 2018
4. UCLA (20-10/11-7)
The Bruins squeaked into the fourth spot and nabbed the last bye in the Pac-12 tournament. and will await the winner of Stanford/Cal. For a couple of reasons, UCLA might actually want to match up with the tougher Stanford team. The Bruins have played measurably better against stronger opponents this year, going 7-4 against the top seven teams and just 4-3 against the rest. UCLA has a strong case for the NCAA tournament, but could use a strong win or two to insure an at-large bid – a win against Stanford and trip to the semi’s would likely do just that.
5. Stanford (17-14/11-7)
The Cardinal finished conference play strong, going 11-6 over the toughest part of their schedule, but it just wasn’t enough to stay on the bubble after an embarrassing loss to Cal in January. Stanford will look to avenge that loss and keep their season alive against the Golden Bears on Wednesday. Daejon Davis and Reid Travis have played remarkably better since the Cal loss, and should have no issue dealing with them this time around.
6. Oregon (20-11/10-8)
The Ducks are looking to extends WSU’s tournament drought. The Cougars haven’t won a tournament game since 2009 – when it was still the Pac-10. They beat Oregon just last Thursday, though, in a game dominated by Cougar guard Malachi Flynn. If Oregon’s young trio of Payton Pritchard, Kenny Wooten and Troy Brown can answer Flynn’s attacks, they’ll be the favorite on Wednesday.
7. Washington (20-11/10-8)
UW and Pac-12 Coach of the Year Mike Hopkins seem to be on the outside, looking in on the NCAA tournament, making a run in the Pac-12 postseason their only hope of playing on. The Huskies went undefeated against the Pac-12’s top two teams in Arizona and USC, but they’ve struggled with middle of the pack clubs – something they’ll have to turn around in order to beat CU and keep their postseason hopes alive.
8. Colorado (16-14/8-10)
The Buffs upset then No. 4 ASU in an OT thriller early in the 2017-18 season. They’ll look to once again spoil the Devils party and send them packing on Wednesday. After a tough offensive finish to the regular season, CU will need to have someone step up and find a way to score points to stave off a talented ASU squad.
9. Arizona State (20-10/8-10)
The Sun Devils started the season hot and, thanks to a 12-0 non-conference schedule with wins over Kansas and Xavier, are likely to already have an at-large bid to the big dance according to most experts. A run in the Pac-12 tournament, though, would stymie any doubts. In order to do that, they’ll have to beat a hard-nosed Colorado team that split the season series with the Sun Devils. If ASU can use the week long break to return to early-season form, they’ll have a shot to make some noise in the desert.
10. Oregon State (15-15/7-11)
The Beavers are not fond of playing away from Corvallis. OSU has lost their last 22 games on the road. They’ll attempt to flip the script Wednesday when they meet up with UW. Oregon State has played the Huskies tough this season, splitting the season series and narrowly missing a season sweep of UW. For any hope of advancing, the Beavers will need to lean heavily on their ‘core four’ and hope to keep UW off the glass – something they’ve been able to take advantage of against Mike Hopkins’ 2-3 zone.
11. Washington State (12-18/4-14)
The Cougars are 3-0 in neutral-site games this year and beat Oregon(thanks to Malachi Flynn’s 28/8/5/4), their conference tourney opponent, less than a week ago. Junior forward Robert Franks was just named the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player. Those silver-linings give the Wazzu a little bit of hope heading into Wednesdays tip-off and provide a couple of bright spots in an otherwise mundane season. The Ducks are the more talented team though, and should have no problem dispatching WSU if they can figure out the 1-3-1 zone they gave them fits on March 1.
12. California (8-23/2-16)
The last-place Golden Bears have lost their last seven games and have been held to less than 55 points in the last three. It suffices to say that Cal isn’t exactly playing good basketball headed into the conference tournament. On the bright side for the Bears, they’ll face a Stanford team that they’ve already beat on the road. This isn’t the same Stanford team they saw on Dec. 30, however, and their chances of knocking off an improved Cardinal team again seems slim.
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