One of just two teams is going to make it out of Las Vegas this weekend, and both have legitimate and reachable NCAA title goals over the next month.
On paper, however, the Pac-12 tournament should be relatively straightforward.
Pac-12 tournament basics
Pac-12 tournament bracket
UCLA, Arizona run top-heavy Pac-12
The Pac-12 has a pair of legit title contenders. Outside of that, however, there isn’t much.
UCLA and Arizona have both mounted strong campaigns and have hung around the top 10 for most of the season. They seem on track for a rematch of last year’s title game in Las Vegas, and both look capable of mounting big NCAA tournament runs. Jaime Jaquez led UCLA to a 10-game winning streak to close out the regular season, and dropped 22 in a win over Arizona on Saturday.
Unless something goes terribly wrong for either the Bruins or the Wildcats, the two seem poised to meet up in the title game for a third matchup this season. Considering the regular season series was decided by single digits each time, the repeat battle should be a lot of fun. The only caveat is that the Bruins are without Jaylen Clark, who suffered a lower leg injury in that season-ending win over Arizona. He'll miss at least this week, according to UCLA coach Mick Cronin.
On the bubble: Arizona State needs help
Arizona State enters the Pac-12 tournament right on the bubble, and how it ended the season didn’t help any.
After a wild buzzer-beater to beat Arizona, the Sun Devils lost two straight games to UCLA and USC. Their conference résumé isn’t that impressive, as they fell to both the Bruins and the Trojans twice and split with Arizona. Outside of the rather lucky win over the Wildcats, their big résumé wins date back to last fall which, while impressive, feel like forever ago.
If Arizona State is going to make the NCAA tournament, it will have to beat Oregon State in the opening round and then upset USC on Thursday. Anything shy of that at best keeps the Sun Devils on the bubble, and at worst sends them to the NIT.
Sleeper Pick: USC
If it’s not UCLA or Arizona, it has to be USC.
And that’s not a slight to USC, it’s just that the rest of the conference drops off after that.
The Trojans are likely in the NCAA tournament already, but a substantial run would solidify that and boost their seeding, which didn't look great as of Monday. In order to pull this off, however, the Trojans will likely have to get past Arizona — which they lost to twice already — after making it out of the first round. While the Los Angeles rivalry would be a fun title game, the Bruins are undoubtedly in a better position there. The only other teams in contention would be Arizona State and Oregon, but that admittedly feels like a long shot.
But hey, UCLA’s last loss this season came at the hands of USC back in January. Boogie Ellis has had a solid season, too, and averaged almost 27 points in the Trojans' last five games. It’s certainly possible Ellis and the Trojans could get past UCLA once more.
Our Pick: UCLA over Arizona
The Bruins haven’t lost since mid-January, and they just handled Arizona at home. They’ll get Arizona this time and avenge last year’s loss in the title game in Las Vegas.