March is a time of basketball related rejoicing. The NCAA Tournament starts midway through the month, but in the early weeks we get a flurry of fantastic college basketball with the various conference tournaments which will help decide the field for the Big Dance. I’m going to take a look at each conference, try (almost certainly unsuccessfully) to pick the winner, and determine whether anyone from that conference can make some noise, come Tourney Time. So with that, onward and upwards amigos!
The PAC 12 is undeniably the weakest of the Power Five conferences this year, and honestly I’d take the Mountain West over them every day of the week as my west coast conference of choice. Arizona has every bit of a chance to make the Final Four as any of the other powerful contenders. And I guess Utah is everyone’s sleeper pick to make a Final Four… but on whole the conference has been trash. Let’s take a look.
So let’s start with the obvious. Arizona is good. Really really good.
They’re obviously the class of this lead and have at least a chance at winning a national title this year. Stanley Johnson is an absolute stud freshmen and gives Arizona somewhat of an added scoring threat that they may have lacked last season. Add to that the fact that big men Brandon Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Kaleb Tarczewski are all back, and it seems almost obvious to me that this year’s Arizona squad is even better than the team that went to the Elite 8 last year. This is a Final Four caliber team if ever there was one, and only a horrendous draw coupled with a miserable shooting effort or something could derail the Wildcats this year. With that said, they should absolutely also win the Pac-12 Tournament this week, but let’s take a look at some of the possible contenders to upset them.
First and foremost among these challengers is Utah. They’ve been lots of peoples sleeper pick to make a Final Four, but I for one have been extremely skeptical all season long. Early season in the non-conference their main claim to fame was a win over then #8 Wichita State, and while Wichita is still certainly a good team this year, they aren’t nearly as good as last year’s team and that #8 ranking was certainly too high. They’re definitely a top 20 team, but not top 10. Moreover, Utah’s other big games in the non-conference were a loss to then #16 San Diego State who has since proven that they too weren’t as good as their early ranking, and a loss to #10 Kansas. So they played 3 ranked teams and went 1-2… not that impressive. Moreover, once they got into conference play they didn’t manage to grab a single impressive win, losing in both their games against Arizona (Utah and Arizona are the only 2 ranked Pac 12 teams this year as the Pac 12 is hideously down this season. In short, then, I don’t really feel like Utah proved anything to us about how good they might be in the non-conference or in conference play. They just look to me like a good team that beats up on bad teams (ESPECIALLY the bad teams in their own conference) so I have no idea why they’re supposed to be a lock for the Elite 8.
Don’t get me wrong… the talent is obviously there with this roster… Delon Wright is really good, and as a team the Utes have been playing spectacular defense. However, I simply haven’t seen enough from them to trust them and pencil them into my Elite 8. That being said, I do believe in them a lot more now than I did 2 weeks ago, primarily because of their February 26th dismantlement of Arizona State. The Utes beat ASU 83-41… yes… the margin of victory (43) was greater than the total number of points ASU scored (41)… Good lord …
Not only that, it was 41-9!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IN THE FIRST HALF!!!! ARIZONA STATE COULDN’T EVEN SCORE 10 POINTS AGAINST THIS UTAH DEFENSE!!!!! That win was undeniably jaw dropping, and if that is the real Utah team, then I totally buy them as a Final 4 team. So I’m fully aware that the ability is there. THAT team is probably the best team in the Pac-12. The only problem is I only saw that team once (I guess twice if you count their beatdown of UCLA as well) all year, so I’m awfully scared about trusting them.
The next Pseudo contender on the west coast is Oregon. Oregon under Dana Altman the last couple seasons has put together some really impressive teams by scavenging transfers from other programs, and mashing together enough depth to make a Tournament run, even if their roster was somewhat disjointed. This year, however, it seemed like it was all over and they were going to have to sit down and rebuild like normal people. They opened the season as they opened the season 14-7. However, in their last ten games they’ve ripped off a 9-1 mark to force themselves all the way up to #3 in conference with a 23-8 record. They’re as hot as anyone coming into the Pac-12 tournament and could definitely make a run into the Tourney finals. However, I’m not convinced they deserve and at large bid, so it might be win the Pac-12 tourney or bust for them, and they’re not even close to good enough to knock off Arizona. Joseph Young is really good, and maybe they do it, but I’m beyond skeptical.
Next comes the hilarious case of Steve Alford’s UCLA Bruins. Ohhhh how the mighty have fallen. UCLA sucks. They’re a crap basketball program still living off whatever fumes remain from the Wooden Era. Steve Alford is a good coach, but he’s punching above his pay grade here at UCLA and this season is the first time we’ve seen that. They have not once but THREE times this season been BLASTED by more than 30 points. UNC smashed them 78-56 (and UNC isn’t even that good this year…) Kentucky annihilated them 83-44 and Utah destroyed them 71-39… and I’m supposed to believe this team deserves to be in the NCAA Tournament? No thanks… They’re 19-12 and their only impressive win is over a Utah team that, as mentioned, I’m not even sold on yet… get them out of here. If they make the NCAA Tournament over Murray State (now looking for an at large bid after Belmont upset them last night) I’ll be absolutely livid.
Next on the palate of crap contenders is Stanford. Honestly I don’t even want to talk about them. They are so boring. At least UCLA is hilariously bad. Stanford just makes me want to take a couch nap. I didn’t want to see them make the Tournament last year either, and was incredibly mad to see them make the Elite 8 last year over Kansas. Hopefuly we won’t have a repeat of that this year. They were solidly blah all year long until the last few weeks when they have completely (and thankfully) collapsed. They’re 3-7 in their last 10 games and have a round 1 Pac-12 tourney matchup with Washington who I’ll get to in a second, and who will hopefully put this wounded gazelle out of their misery…
And hopefully the Huskies are the team to do it. Washington has infuriated me this year. This is a good team. Lorenzo Romar has build an EXCELLENT roster, and they started off the season proving just that. They ripped off 11 straight wins to open the season including wins over Tournament caliber teams in the form of UTEP, Eastern Washington, #13 San Diego State,and #15 Oklahoma. An EXCELLENT non-conference resume. But then, in the last game of the non-conference they lost to Stony Brook AND IT ALL WENT TO SHIT!!! 4 straight losses as they added 3 conference losses (in the terrible Pac-12 no less) to their non-conference loss putting them at a pedestrian 11-4. They seemingly stabilized by winning their next three AND THEN LOST TEN OF THEIR FINAL TWELVE GAMES!!!!! good Lord….
Ugh. Makes no sense. They have a true stud at PG in McDonalds all American Nigel Williams-Goss, and his back court mate Andrew Andrews (creative parents, I know) is very good as well. Add to that swing man Mike Anderson, Shawn Kemp Jr. at PF (son of Seattle SuperSonics legend Shawn Kemp… again… more creative parents) and STUD transfer center Robert Upshaw and I am COMPLETELY baffled as to how this team melted down like this. That is the second best starting five in the Pac-12 behind only Arizona and its not even close! I have no clue what went wrong here.
It’s possible that Romar is a good recruiter and horrendous coach, as he also managed to miss the tournament with a team that included both Terrance Ross, Tony Wroten, and CJ Wilcox. If that’s the case the Huskies are in a really rough spot. Romar has brought in the best talent U-dub has seen in their entire basketball history, and losing him would undeniably be a major blow to their recruiting efforts. Moreover, he’s a Washington man, playing for the Huskies in the late 70s so the urge to stay loyal will be strong, but this is just absurd. Washington should consistently be the 2nd best team in the Pac 12 year after year, and instead they’re 2nd WORST and underacheiving something terrible.
The other issue could be with star transfer center Robert Upshaw who was dismissed from the team in January. There were all sorts of issues with Upshaw at Fresno State which caused him to transfer to UW in the first place. Moreover, all sorts of questions swirled around why such a talented player would go to the smaller Fresno in the first place (whom he picked over UW in his initial recruitment). Fresno couldn’t handle him and decided his talent wasn’t worth it so they cut bait. Upshaw, however, because of his talent managed to fall upwards to a bigger, high profile program in the form of Washington who coveted him all along. However, as he sat out his redshirt year yet more rumors swirled that he was going to be dismissed from the team, had left the team, had stopped going to practices, and was an all around headache. Clearly that proved to be the case after his dismissal this year. However, I’m not certain it was worth it in ‘on the court’ terms as immediately after his dismissal UW had its spectacular plunge to the bottom of the Pac-12 standings. By all accounts there’s just too much chaos surrounding this team for them to do anything, but I’m holding out hope that they can do something exciting in this Pac 12 Tourney. But we all know they’re going to lose to Stanford in the opening round………..