As February exits, and March enters this week, it’s time to start thinking about which PAC-12 teams will get an invite to the “Madness.”
ESPN’s so-called Bracketologist, Joe Lunardi, claims half of the teams in the league will get a bid to play in the NCAA tournament–though one or two of those sit squarely on the bubble.
So let’s take a closer look at which teams could represent the league in a few weeks.
Arizona, Oregon, UCLA
Arizona boasts the best overall record in the league with the top RPI of .6401. Their only four losses have all come against top-50 competition. They have won nine of their last 12 games, including three in a row. Their recent sweep of the Washington schools came in dominating fashion. With just three games left, the ‘Cats should earn a first-round bye in the PAC-12 tournament and a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament.
Oregon is the only other top-25 team in the PAC-12. Their .5906 RPI is a little low, ranking the Ducks at 49th in the country and fifth in the conference behind Arizona, Colorado, UCLA and California. Four of the team’s six losses have come against top-50 teams. They do have two wins against the top 25. A solid finish and a decent run in the conference tournament could bump these Ducks up to a four seed in the NCAA tournament. But the boys in Eugene could also give up the most ground, in terms of seeding, if they finish the season poorly.
UCLA checks in with the 42nd best RPI in the nation at .5968. The Bruins have won four of their last five, including difficult road tests at USC and Stanford. They do have one bad loss (sub-150 RPI) at home against Cal Poly which came on Nov. 25. UCLA has a chance to finish the season strong if they can protect home court against the Arizona schools and dispatch the wobbly Washington’s on the road. Those wins, plus a solid run in the conference tourney and the Bruins could also play their way to a top-five seed.
Colorado, California, Arizona State
Colorado claims the league’s second-best RPI of .6112 which is good enough for 29th in the country. The Buffalos are batting .500 against top-25 competition and have a winning record against the top-50. One loss that could haunt them down the road came on February 2 at the Jon M. Huntsman Center where the Utes nearly blew a 20+ point second-half lead. They do have good home wins against Arizona, California and Colorado State as well as a road win at Oregon. Of the bubble teams, Colorado is the least likely to burst. Games at Stanford and Cal this week are huge as well as the rematch with Oregon at home. The Buff’s should handle Oregon State easily in their final game of the regular season.
California is the hottest team in the PAC-12 right now and, if the streak continues, could play its way off the bubble and securely into the tournament. The Bears have won five straight including on the road at Arizona and at Oregon and at home against UCLA. They finish the season with three home games against Utah, Colorado and Stanford. I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t ride an eight game winning streak to the conference tournament where they may have little work to do, if any, to secure a spot in the field. If the selection committee asks, “What have you done for me lately?” Cal has plenty to show them. Lunardi lists the Bears as one of his last four teams in the field, but I would suggest they have as good of a resume, if not better, than either Colorado or Arizona State.
Arizona State easily has the most questionable resume of any of the PAC-12 teams currently in Lunardi’s field of 68. The Sun Devils’ RPI ranks 86th in the nation with two bad losses at Utah and at home to Depaul. They do have good wins against Colorado (twice), UCLA and California. ASU has only won two of its last five games, all against opponents in the bottom half of the league standings, except a win against Colorado. The team from Tempe will certainly get a chance to prove itself worthy over the next two weeks. ASU closes out the season on the road against UCLA, USC and Arizona. Win those and the Sun Devils may not have as much work to do in the conference tournament. But if they lose two of those games, which would be expected, Arizona State may need to advance to the conference championship, if not win it all, to feel comfortable on selection Sunday.
Stanford, USC, Washington, Utah, Oregon State, Washington State
Stanford is a team that could play its way onto the bubble with an impressive finish in the regular season and conference tournament. The Cardinals have the 65th best RPI in the country–better than Arizona State. Stanford hasn’t lost badly, but is just 6-6 in its last 12 games, 0-4 against the top 25 and 2-9 against the top 50. They close out the season with Colorado, Utah and California which will give them a chance to shine before they head to Vegas. Don’t gamble on the Cardinals getting a bid in the NCAA tournament though.
USC has been playing better basketball after firing its head coach. The Trojans would have to win the conference tournament to get an invite to the “Big Dance” given its 108th ranked RPI and sub-.500 winning pct. The team’s only bad loss came against UC Irvine and only have one other sub-100 loss.
Washington didn’t look to be a bottom-half PAC-12 team when it started conference play 4-0. Then the Utes visited Seattle and things haven’t really been the same since. The Huskies are just 3-7 in their last ten games since the Utah loss. As with USC, UW will need to win the tournament to play in the NCAA tournament.
Utah, Oregon State and Washington State are all trying to avoid being labeled the worst team in the league, though it’s difficult to distinguish between the three. No matter the outcomes of the final conference games, these three teams will find themselves as 10, 11 & 12 seeds in Vegas. A single win in “Sin City” would be an accomplishment for these clubs, let alone four wins en route to cutting down the nets at the MGM Garden Arena.