The 2014 Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament is set to begin at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Wednesday afternoon.
Who will take home the trophy? Here’s a breakdown of each team’s chances, ranked from least likely to most likely to win the tournament championship:
12. USC: The Trojans were just 2-16 in the Pac-12 in head coach Andy Enfield’s first season, and they were swept by their first-round opponent, Colorado, during regular-season conference play. They will be leaving Las Vegas early.
11. Washington State: The Cougars are coming off their biggest victory of the season, a 73-55 home win in their Pac-12 finale against UCLA. But on Wednesday, they’ll face a Stanford team that has already blown them out twice this season.
10. Washington: After an awful non-conference run, UW put together a respectable 9-9 record in Pac-12 play. But the Huskies have the misfortune of playing one of the hottest teams in the conference (Utah) on Wednesday – and if they survive that game, they get top-seeded UA in the quarterfinals.
9. Oregon State: The Beavers are perhaps the Pac-12’s most unpredictable team, beating teams like UCLA and Oregon while losing twice to Washington. Oregon is OSU’s first-round opponent, but the Beavers are catching their in-state rivals at the worst possible time, as the Ducks have won seven straight.
8. California: Cal looked like a lock for the NCAA Tournament before it lost four of its last six games. The Bears probably need at least one more quality win in order to secure a tourney bid – and while they may be able to do so, a team that hasn’t managed to win three games in the last three weeks doesn’t seem particularly capable of winning three in three days.
7. Arizona State: ASU went 16-1 at Wells Fargo Arena, including a double-overtime win over then-No. 2 UA. But the Sun Devils have lost five straight games on the road – and while the Pac-12 Tournament is played at a neutral site, ASU is just 1-2 in those situations this season, as well. They can beat any Pac-12 team on any given day, but until they can prove themselves away from Tempe, it’s easy to be skeptical of the Devils’ ability to make a deep tourney run.
6. Colorado: The Buffaloes, which look to be NCAA Tournament-bound despite losing starting point guard Spencer Dinwiddie to a season-ending injury two months ago, are looking at a likely second-round matchup against Cal, which just upended them in overtime last weekend. But even if the Buffs get past the Bears, No. 1 seed UA, which destroyed CU in both of their meetings this season, will likely await.
5. Stanford: Like their Bay Area neighbors, the Cardinal have struggled down the stretch, losing three in a row before squeaking out a one-point home win against Utah on Saturday. Stanford has a pretty decent-looking tournament draw, but with its recent issues and its lack of depth, it’s hard to imagine the Cardinal will put together a four-game winning streak in as many days.
4. UCLA: The Bruins finished second in the Pac-12 despite losing three of their last five games, including a blowout loss at Washington State on Saturday. There’s something just a bit off about UCLA, which has plenty of individual talent but hasn’t quite been able to put it all together. A second-round matchup against Oregon or Oregon State – both of whom have beaten UCLA this season – could either send the Bruins home early, or set the tone for a terrific tournament run. With this team, both scenarios are equally possible.
3. Oregon: Riding a seven-game winning streak, including an upset over UA at home on Saturday, the Ducks are the Pac-12’s hottest team. But they’ve still looked sloppy at times on defense during their streak. If the old adage that defense wins championships holds true, the Ducks will come up short – Oregon has allowed 73.7 points per game this season, the fourth-worst in the conference.
2. Utah: The Utes have lost eight games this season by four or fewer points (including three in overtime), but they’ve won six of their last nine – and while they’ve lost to the Wildcats twice, both games have been very close. Utah also has the added motivation of knowing it must win this tournament in order to earn an NCAA bid. If the Utes get by Washington in the first round, there’s a good chance that the winner of the Utah-UA quarterfinal matchup will be the eventual tournament champion. Seriously.
1. Arizona: The Wildcats are coming off a loss at Oregon, but they’re still one of the nation’s best teams away from home. UA is also the best defensive team in the conference, allowing 10 fewer points per game than any other Pac-12 squad. Road prowess combined with outstanding defense is typically a recipe for tournament success – and if the Cats can get by either Utah or Washington in the
quarterfinals (both teams played UA tough in the regular season), there’s a good chance they’ll run the table.