- Ky McKeon
3MW’s All Conference Team:
1. Arizona Overcomes Adversity
Oregon may have repeated as the Pac-12 champs, but the real success story is in Tucson (a place where Bobby Hurley thinks teams go to win.). The Wildcats overcame a slew of injuries and missing personnel to finish 16-2 in the conference (tied with Oregon for first), and 27-4 overall. First, there was the tragic ACL tear suffered by burgeoning talent Ray Smith prior to the start of the season, and then there was that weird steroids thing that kept star player Allonzo Trier sidelined for 19 games.
The lion’s share of the credit is due to the brilliance of Sean Miller, who is quickly building a reputation as one of the best coaches in America. The Cats’ supporting cast stepped up in a big way sans Trier, with Lauri Markkanen, Rawle Alkins, Kobi Simmons, Kadeem Allen, Dusan Ristic, and Parker Jackson-Cartwright all exceeding preseason expectations. Markkanen especially was a revelation at the forward spot, but more on him down below.
2. Freshmen Dominate
The Pac-12 freshmen were the talk of the proverbial town this season. Markelle Fultz, the projected #1 pick in the NBA draft, was excellent at Washington this season in spite of his team’s woes. Lonzo Ball (projected #2 pick) and T.J. Leaf (projected Lottery pick) propelled UCLA to their best season since 2008, and the aforementioned Markkanen (also a Lottery pick) kept Arizona afloat without Trier. Let’s also not forget Payton Pritchard from Oregon and Charlie Moore from California; the two point guards turned in great seasons for their respective teams and should be stalwarts in the conference for years to come.
3. Lorenzo Romar does Lorenzo Romar Things
I don’t know whether the plight of Lorenzo Romar at Washington is hilarious or hilariously sad. Pending something extraordinary, this marks the sixth straight year Romar and the Huskies have missed the NCAA Tournament despite having six (6!!!) first round draft picks in that time span. That doesn’t even include Nigel Williams-Goss and Andrew Andrews. To make matters worse (aka more hilarious), Washington inked the #1 player in the class of 2017 this offseason in Michael Porter, Jr. If Romar’s pants weren’t already on fire after this season, they’ll be able to carry their own Solar System (Sun joke) after his squad misses the Dance yet again next year.
4. Paltry Pac-12
This was a down year for the Pac-12. The conference ranked 6th amongst the Power Six leagues and is trending to send only four teams to the NCAA Tournament after sending seven last season. While Oregon, UCLA, and Arizona are all awesome and legitimate title contenders, the rest of the conference is milder than Bingo night at a retirement home for nuns. Utah, California, and USC are all squarely on the bubble, with the Trojans looking like the only “safe” team at the moment. Colorado disappointed on a major scale, Romar barfed on his talented (but young) Washington squad, and Oregon State may be the worst Power Six team of all time.
The tournament tips off Wednesday, March 8th, and concludes on March 11th. The entire tournament is played at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the future home of the Vegas Golden Knights.
Projected Tournament Teams and Seeds
1. Oregon: 2-seed
2. UCLA: 3-seed
3. Arizona: 4-seed (could be a 3-seed)
4. USC: 11-seed
5. California: Next Four Out
The seed lines above are based on my latest bracketology. Oregon, Arizona, and UCLA could all end up on the 2-seed line when it’s all said and done, but I think we’ll see only one Pac-12 team on that row come Selection Sunday (Oregon). UCLA and Arizona likely fall in on the 3-line depending what happens in the Conference Tourney.
USC is hanging on to their bid for dear life. A first round loss to Washington could burst their bubble. While we’re on the subject on USC, I’d like to shamelessly point out that Chimezie Metu won the Most Improved Player award this season. Here’s an excerpt from my preseason preview:
California needs some help. The Bears need to beat Oregon State and Utah to be considered for the Tourney, and may even need to knock off Oregon.
Dark Horse Team
Hands down, the dark horse squad in this tournament is Colorado. The Buffs were picked 5th in the preseason media poll (and by 3MW), but underachieved to an 8-10 conference record, good for a 7th place finish. After losing their first seven conference games, the Buffs have won 8 of their last 11, peaking at just the right time. They’ve proven they can beat top teams with wins over Oregon, Xavier, Texas, and Cal, but they’re also vulnerable to the basement dwellers (see Washington and Washington State losses).
D-II transfer Derrick White has been this team’s best player all year, and is capable of putting up 25 to 30 points on any given night. With George King, Xavier Johnson, and Wesley Gordon, the Buffs are a strong rebounding team, and take care of the ball with White running most of the point duties. Guarding the perimeter has been the key issue nagging the Buffs all year, which can spell disaster against teams such as UCLA and Oregon. Don’t be surprised though if the senior-laden Buffs pull off an early round upset and crash the conference semis.
(9) Stanford defeats (8) Arizona State
(5) California defeats (12) Oregon State
(7) Colorado defeats (10) Washington State
(6) USC defeats (11) Washington
(1) Oregon defeats (9) Stanford
(5) California defeats (4) Utah
(2) Arizona defeats (7) Colorado
(6) USC defeats (3) UCLA
(1) Oregon defeats (5) California
(2) Arizona defeats (6) USC
(2) Arizona defeats (1) Oregon
If Arizona wins this Tourney, a 2-seed is in their future. The Ducks would likely also stay on the 2-line. UCLA is vulnerable due to their defense, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team catch them sleeping in this bracket. A loss to USC may put the Bruins back on the 4-line.
Arizona State has defeated Stanford twice this season, but I’m doubling down on my yearlong theory that Stanford should be a good team. The Cardinal are so experienced and are a very good defensive squad.
It was a tough year for the Apple State, especially tough if you’re the Huskies and realize that Washington State finished higher than you in conference play.
Am I worried about the Beaver(s)? Yes, yes I am worried about the Beaver(s).