3MW’s All Conference Team:
Player of the Year: Tres Tinkle, R Jr., Oregon St.
Coach of the Year: Mike Hopkins, Washington
Newcomer of the Year: Luguentz Dort, Fr., Arizona St.
Freshman of the Year: Luguentz Dort, Arizona St.
1. One Bid League???
A nightmarish non-conference run for the Pac 12 left many concerned the league might only get two or three bids, and those worries were magnified when teams like Arizona and Arizona St. droppednumerous damaging games against conference foes. Only Washington and Arizona St. have any sort of hope at earning an at-large, and both of those teams have considerable holes in their resumes. For the Huskies, it's a lack of any real needle-moving wins (best victories are @ Oregon and @ Colorado). For the Sun Devils, it's an alarming propensity to lose seemingly simple games to non-tournament teams (home to Utah, Stanford, Princeton, and Washington St.). Should Washington take the title in Vegas and Arizona State bows out unceremoniously in the quarters against UCLA or Stanford, the Pac 12 essentially becomes the WCC. Bad times for Larry Scott!
2. Sinking Ships
Several storied programs took the path of the Titanic this year, as UCLA, USC, and Arizona tumbled into the bottom half of a bleak “conference of champions.” The Bruins canned Steve Alford halfway through the year and have been actively looking for a replacement, while USC and Arizona have had their own struggles on and off the court as the FBI investigation heats up. Can any of the three use the Pac 12 Tournament as a launching pad towards rebirth? Or will they bow out meekly, as all three largely have away from home this year?
3. Sun Devil Dichotomy
Arizona State, for my money, has the single most perplexing at-large resume in college basketball. Advanced metrics like the NET (67) and KenPom (62) aren’t huge fans of Bobby Hurley’s bunch, but they do have several large wins over tournament teams to lean on (Mississippi State and Utah St. on a neutral, vs. Kansas and Washington). They’re an incredibly impressive 11-5 against Q1 and Q2 opponents, but they’re somehow only 10-4 against Q3 and Q4. How is that even possible? Yes, they’re a young-ish team, but that kind of erratic play makes them nearly impossible to evaluate. The committee has long shown a bias towards teams that have earned “big wins,” but will the era of the NET usher in a new standard against teams who simply play to their competition, no matter who it is?
Note: It was a complete accident that Storyline 1 was a question, and then Storylines 2 and 3 ended with questions. But honestly, it’s appropriate, because the Pac 12 is just one giant “?” this year.
Super clean and straightforward: 12 teams in Las Vegas, the top 4 get byes, no re-seeding. Oh, and you won’t get to watch most of the games because they’re on Pac 12 Network, the Bermuda Triangle of TV channels. Perhaps that’s for the best this season…
Best Team and Projected NCAA Tournament Seed
Calling anyone a "favorite" in the Pac 12 feels gross, even though Washington won the league by 3 full games. Turns out that if you lose to Cal, it's difficult to get excited about you! Even so, the Huskies were the Pac 12's clear best team, and the 2-3 zone gives them a weapon that's difficult to play against on short prepartion (and Matisse Thybulle is a cheat code).
Because winning the Pac 12 was a less-than-impressive feat this year, the Huskies' seed is all over the place. They're probably in (even though the resume has serious flaws), but bracketmatrix.com has them anywhere from a 7 to an 11 seed, showing the massive volatility their stock has. Sweeping through Vegas would probably put them on the high end of that range, while an early loss would push them perilously close to the bubble (and talented but erratic squads in USC or Arizona await in the quarterfinals).
Dark Horse Team
Everyone else. Seriously, I could make a case for pretty much every team - even Washington State (the Cougars have a senior star in Robert Franks, and they swept the Arizona schools on the road) or California (the Bears just won 3 straight to close the year, including the above-mentioned Washington win). So yeah...it's WIDE open.
I'll hedge my bets by taking an entire state instead of just one team - give me both members of the Beaver State! Both Oregon and Oregon St. have reason for optimism: despite being the 6 seed, the Ducks narrowly trail Washington as the Pac 12's best team per KenPom, while the Beavers have the conference's best offensive player in Tres Tinkle. Both coaches are solid, as well, even though Altman has struggled mightily to blend freshmen and transfers into a cohesive unit over the last two years. Perhaps this March is when the magic will finally click?
(8) USC over (9) Arizona
(5) Colorado over (12) California
(7) UCLA over (10) Stanford
(6) Oregon over (11) Washington St.
(1) Washington over (8) USC
(4) Oregon St. over (5) Colorado
(2) Arizona St. over (7) UCLA
(6) Oregon over (3) Utah
(4) Oregon St. over (1) Washington
(6) Oregon over (2) Arizona St.
(4) Oregon St. over (6) Oregon
This thing is going to be weird, so I went a little weird…