Who’s In and Who’s on the Bubble in Pac-12 Basketball?

Casey Sapio-USA Today Sports

Casey Sapio-USA Today Sports

Pac-12 basketball has done a good job of redeeming itself this year. After a miserable showing in the 2011-12 season, there have been at least two teams in the Top 25 all year long.

There have been some surprises this year, as well. In what was predicted to be a two-team race between the UCLA Bruins and Arizona Wildcats has since turned into a five-team race to the finish with the Oregon Ducks currently holding the top spot.

Who will be dancing come March and NCAA Tournament time? Nobody knows for sure, but with five games remaining in the regular season, here are my predictions of where every team will be spending their time after the Pac-12 Conference Tournament.

Arizona Wildcats: In

  • Record: 21-4, 9-4 Pac-12
  • RPI: 10
  • Strength of Schedule Rank: 15
  • Key Wins: Florida, Miami
  • Tough Losses: Cal, Colorado

The Arizona Wildcats basketball team lit the court on fire, winning their first 14 games including last-second victories over No. 4 Florida and No. 17 San Diego State in Hawaii.

They had reached as high as No. 3 in the AP poll, but have hit hard times lately, losing two of their past three games to Cal and Colorado.

Fortunately, their remaining schedule looks to be winnable with the only possible roadblocks being against UCLA at Pauley Pavilion and the regular season finale at home versus their in-state rival Arizona State Sun Devils.

Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament No. 3 or No. 4 seed

Oregon Ducks: In

  • duck hoopsRecord: 21-5, 10-3 Pac-12
  • RPI: 38
  • Strength of Schedule Rank: 121
  • Key Wins: Arizona, UCLA
  • Tough Losses: UTEP, Stanford

The Oregon Ducks started off the season like a team possessed. They whipped through their non-conference schedule going 11-2, with their only losses being to No. 22 Cincinnati and a triple-overtime heartbreaker to UTEP.

They won their first seven Pac-12 games, including wins over No. 4 Arizona and No. 24 UCLA, and seemed unstoppable until starting point guard Dominic Artis went down with a left foot injury. The Ducks lost three straight, but have rebounded to win their last three games, including a stunner over Washington State in overtime on Saturday.

Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament mid-range seed

UCLA Bruins: On the Bubble

  • Record: 19-7, 9-4 Pac-12
  • RPI: 41
  • Strength of Schedule Rank: 36
  • Key Wins: Missouri, Arizona
  • Bad Losses: Cal Poly, USC

The UCLA Bruins are an anomaly. They struggled out of the gate, losing to Georgetown and San Diego State at neutral sites, but their biggest embarrassment was the 70-68 loss to Cal Poly—at home.

After the loss to SDSU, the Bruins went on to win 10 straight, including an impressive overtime victory against No. 7 Missouri. They won their first five Pac-12 games and six of their first seven with a statement 84-73 win over the No. 6 Arizona Wildcats in Tucson.

They once again stumbled after that, losing two straight to Arizona State and USC in overtime. It seems as if they have recovered, having won three of their last four, and are only a game out of the conference lead.

They don’t need to win out to make the tourney, but they cannot lose more than one or add a bad loss to USC or Washington State.

Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament high seed

California Golden Bears: On the Bubble

  • cal hoopsRecord: 16-9, 8-5 Pac-12
  • RPI: 54
  • Strength of Schedule Rank: 35
  • Key Wins: Oregon, Arizona
  • Bad Losses: Harvard, Washington

The Cal Golden Bears are the giant killers of the Pac-12. They have won five of their past six games, including wins over two top 10 teams in Oregon and Arizona.

Cal won its first six games out of the chute before losing to Wisconsin, UNLV and Creighton. It finished its non-conference schedule at 8-4 with a paltry 4-3 record at home.

It lost four of its first seven Pac-12 games before it caught fire. Its remaining schedule looks easily winnable, with its biggest obstacle coming Thursday night at No. 23 Oregon.

If the Bears sweep Oregon and finish with 21 wins on the season, I can see them getting the invite to the dance.

Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament high seed

Arizona State Sun Devils: On the Bubble

  • Record: 19-7, 8-5 Pac-12
  • RPI: 70
  • Strength of Schedule Rank: 125
  • Key Wins: UCLA, Colorado (twice)
  • Bad Losses: DePaul, Utah

The Sun Devils are one of the biggest surprises this year coming out of the Pac-12. With the infusion of two former NBA coaches to Herb Sendek’s staff and the tremendous play of redshirt freshman Jahii Carson, Arizona State is having a renaissance.

The Sun Devils began the year on a tear and had one of the best starts in school history, starting 14-2. They won their first three Pac-12 games and six of their first eight, with their only losses coming to ranked teams in Oregon and Arizona. They dismantled the UCLA Bruins by 18 points and are a perfect 3-0 in overtime this year.

The bubble may have burst for the Sun Devils after losing three of their past four games, including a loss to a Utah that was 2-9 in conference play before it hosted the Devils.

Arizona State is on very shaky ground and will need to have big wins at home against the Washington schools as well as on the road in Los Angeles. Wins against UCLA and at Arizona will all but ensure a tourney bid.

Postseason prediction: NIT No. 1 seed

Colorado Buffaloes: On the Bubble

  • buff hoopsRecord: 17-8, 7-6 Pac-12
  • RPI: 21
  • Strength of Schedule Rank: 9
  • Key Wins: Baylor, Colorado St.
  • Bad Losses: Wyoming, Utah

The Buffs have the second highest RPI in the Pac-12 and the highest SOS rank; the tournament committee loves those numbers when it comes down to selecting at-large invitations. Unfortunately, they also frown upon teams with win-loss records such as the Buffaloes.

They finished their non-conference schedule with an admirable 10-2 record, losing to Wyoming and getting blown out at Kansas. They began Pac-12 play in Tucson against No. 3 Arizona and all but defeated the Wildcats until the officials waved off Colorado’s last-ditch three-point basket. The Buffs returned the favor, handing the No. 9 Wildcats a 13-point beatdown on Valentine’s Day.

If the Buffs win out, I can see them getting an invite, but playing at Cal and hosting Oregon will be difficult for coach Tad Boyle and crew.

Postseason prediction: NIT No. 1 seed

Outside Looking In

The remaining teams in the conference will have to win the conference tournament in order to punch their ticket to the dance as there is no possibility of them garnering at-large bids.

USC Trojans

  • Record: 12-14, 7-6 Pac-12
  • RPI: 102
  • SOS: 33
  • Remaining games: UCLA, Arizona, ASU, Washington and WSU
  • Postseason prediction: 14-17, 9-9 Pac-12, NIT mid-level seed

Stanford Cardinal

  • card hoopsRecord: 15-11, 6-7 Pac-12
  • RPI: 73
  • SOS: 42
  • Remaining games: Oregon, OSU, Colorado, Utah and Cal
  • Postseason prediction: 17-14, 8-10 Pac-12, NIT mid-level seed

Washington Huskies

  • Record: 14-12, 6-7 Pac-12
  • RPI: 84
  • SOS: 29
  • Remaining games: Arizona, ASU, WSU, USC and UCLA
  • Postseason prediction: 16-15, 8-10 Pac-12, NIT mid-level seed 

Utah Utes

  • Record: 11-14, 3-10 Pac-12
  • RPI: 166
  • SOS: 60
  • Remaining games: Colorado, Cal, Stanford, Oregon and OSU
  • Postseason prediction: 12-18, 4-14 Pac-12, CBI mid-level seed

Oregon State Beavers

  • Record: 13-13, 3-10 Pac-12
  • RPI: 172
  • SOS: 139
  • Remaining games: Stanford, Cal, Oregon, Colorado and Utah
  • Postseason prediction: 13-17, 3-15 Pac-12, no postseason

Washington State Cougars

  • Record: 11-15, 2-11 Pac-12
  • RPI: 188
  • SOS: 99
  • Remaining games: ASU, Arizona, Washington, UCLA and USC
  • Postseason prediction: 11-20, 2-16 Pac-12, no postseason

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