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PAC-12 Tournament 2012 Preview
By Matthew L. Lofton
This may be the most intriguing conference tournament this year. Why? This tournament may see the first time a major conference has only one bid to the NCAA Tournament. As a whole, this conference did nothing in the preseason to warrant much of a resume for an at-large bid. And with Arizona’s lost to up and down Arizona State this past weekend, I believe the only way the Wildcats can go dancing without the automatic is to get to the tournament finals, including a win over Washington in the semifinals.
Let us start with the regular season conference winner, the Washington Huskies. Give the Huskies credit for taking care of business in the PAC-12. Washington was 14-4 with really no bad losses. Unfortunately for UW, the only game against California resulted in a close loss and defeats at UCLA and Colorado take a little luster off the season. In the non-conference, close losses to Marquette and Duke help the reputation somewhat, but the Huskies were beaten badly at home to South Dakota State. While it will be hard for the committee to leave out the regular season winner of the PAC-12, that just might happen if the Huskies do not reach the tournament final.
The Huskies are led by freshman Tony Wroten, who is among five finalists for the Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year award. He leads the team with 16.3 points per game and has a respectable .450 shooting percentage from the floor. However, as a guard, Wroten has only made nine of 49 shots from the perimeter all season. There is not much experience behind him as the second-leading scorer on the team, Terrence Ross with 15.3 points per game, is only a sophomore. Washington, as a team, is not an overwhelmingly great shooting team but leads the conference with more than 40 rebounds per game (almost nearly three more than its next competitor) and leads on the offensive glass with an average of more than 14 per game. If the Huskies win the rebounding battles and just shoot percentage, this team should cut down the nets at the Staples Center on Saturday.
But do not count out California under former Stanford coach Mike Montgomery. The Golden Bears boast Jorge Gutierrez, who was named on Monday as both the PAC-12 Player and Defensive Player of the year. Gutierrez chipped in 12.9 points per game, 5.3 rebounds per game (as a guard) and more than four assists. As a senior, Gutierrez may be the leader of the team, but sophomore Allen Crabbe leads the team with 15.4 points per game.
As a team, California leads the conference by hitting 48.1% of all field goals and assists per game (more than 16). However, Cal let a chance at the PAC-12 regular season title slip away with losses at Colorado and Stanford. The normally great shooting Bears had one of the worst shooting nights of the season in a loss at Colorado. Coupled with poor shooting performances the game before at Utah and at Stanford, California rolls into the PAC-12 tournament having lost two of it last three with its lone win coming at lowly Utah. You could not write a better script at Cal’s likely opponent in the quarterfinals is Stanford, who was California’s last loss and kept the Golden Bears from a share of the PAC-12 title.
Welcome to the party Oregon. The Ducks were without the services of Joseph Devoe, the team’s leading scorer with 16.8 points per game, for the first six contests of the season. Losses at Vanderbilt and bubble-team Brigham Young ensued, but would Devoe have made the difference in a 14-point loss at Vanderbilt? While tie for second in the PAC-12 does not necessarily hurt the Ducks, a HOME loss to Oregon State really hurts. But the Ducks may come into the tournament as the hottest team with a four-game winning streak and winners of six of the last seven, including a win at Stanford. But, Oregon faces the unenviable task of probably playing Colorado in the quarterfinals. The Buffaloes split the season series in two hard-fought games.
Arizona has a shot, if not for only falling into a favorable tournament seeding. While two-seed California and Oregon might have to scrap and claw just to reach the semifinals, the Wildcats will get the benefits of a probable quarterfinals opponent it just beat in UCLA than a California team that UA beat a month ago in Berkeley. But the Wildcats are coming off an inexplicable loss to rival Arizona State and really have not played well since a Bay Area sweep in early February.
Team that does not get a bye to the quarterfinals I would watch out for: Stanford and UCLA. Stanford has thrown a monkey wrench into the proceedings all year in the conference race despite finishing as the seventh seed. UCLA gets a favorable draw against rival and the conference worst team in USC before facing Arizona, who is not coming into the tournament that strong. UCLA also just beat Washington to end the regular season.
Winner: Washington. I really think Washington may get upset, but looking at the brackets, things set up very nicely for the Huskies. And the Huskies are really the only team without a head-scratching PAC-12 loss.