- 'FBI Frenzy': The FBI fatigue is really starting to set in, so let's skip the long winded explanation of all the events that transpired and the looming implications for the programs involved. But despite all the off-the-court distractions and game-to-game lineup turnover, it was indeed Arizona and USC who wound up on the top-2 spots in the final standings when it was all said and done.
Think about this for a second: it was just over a week ago that Lorenzo Romar was standing in as head coach and Allonzo Trier was sitting on the bench in a tracksuit relegated to glorified cheerleader when Arizona lost to Oregon in a tough OT battle. Fast forward to the here and now: Miller has resumed his full-time head coaching duties, Trier has been cleared by the NCAA, and the focal point of the bombshell 'pay-for-play' allegations, Deandre Ayton, continues to dominate Pac-12 frontlines unfazed and undeterred by any NCAA eligibility restrictions. While the defensive inconsistencies must be corrected if they want to be taken seriously as a Final 4 contender, Arizona has, in many ways, been resurrected just in time for the final stretch run. Is it possible the Wildcats are officially underrated again?
- 'Putrid-12': There's no reason to sugarcoat this. If you buy-in to Ken Pomeroy's conference rankings methodology, this was the league's worst showing since 2011-12 when the 'Pathetic-12' essentially force fed the Selection Committee two teams to represent the conference (11-seeded Colorado and 12-seeded Cal).
As is stands today, the 2nd best at-large contender behind Arizona is in-state rival Arizona State, who has cooled off significantly after their lava-hot start in the non-conference. The Pac-12 could still squeeze in 4 teams, but any early exits by the top seeds this weekend in Las Vegas could produce a situation which rivals the stink we saw in 2012 (when the conference champion didn't even make the tournament!)
Moving the Pac-12 championship venue from the vacant, cavernous Staples Center to a smaller, more intimate venue in Las Vegas was a home-run decision. It was borderline painful to watch the early round games in years past when roughly 5% of the Staples Center lower bowl would be filled. This will be the 2nd year in a row that the tourney is held in T-Mobile Arena.
What to Watch:
- Arizona State, UCLA and USC are the three squads with the most to lose this weekend - a 'one-and-done' outcome for any of them could alter their postseason fate to an NIT team.
Who will win:
- Arizona: It'd just be fitting that with all the hoopla surrounding the UofA program this year, Sean Miller is the one who ends up climbing the ladder and cutting down the nets at T-Mobile Arena this Saturday.
If not them, then...
- UCLA: Aaron Holiday has not gotten near enough love for the season he's having in Westwood. The Bruins offense is once again as prolific, and he's the engine that makes everything go. His long-range precision and relentless pursuit of the rim in transition (which generates a ton of trips to the charity stripe) has manifested into one of the most impressive offensive seasons of any guard in America, given how efficient he's been at such a high usage rate. Holiday simply shredded USC in both meetings this year, and there isn't a guard on Arizona who can check him consistently (ok, maybe Rawle Alkins). If the Bruins can advance to the semis, I'll take my chances with the team that was 3-0 against the league's top-2 teams in the regular season (two of those wins came on the road).