Selection Sunday is behind us, and the Pac-12 secured an impressive five spots in the NCAA Tournament — largely thanks to Oregon State stealing a bid with an unprecedented Pac-12 Tournament victory. Now that we have the draws, I’m going to give my analysis of all five teams’ Tournament outlook.
The Contender: Colorado
The Buffaloes are slated to take on a Georgetown team that has been the story of March thus far. After being picked in the preseason to finish last in the Big East, the Hoyas shocked the nation, upsetting teams like Villanova and Creighton to secure a Big East Tournament Title. Because of this, basketball fans are high on the idea of the 12th-seed Hoyas taking down the fifth-seed Buffaloes.
Here’s where I stand. I think Colorado will not only beat Georgetown, but will also be the only Pac-12 team to make the Sweet 16. Sure, this Colorado team is coming off of a tough loss to Oregon State in the Pac-12 Tournament finals, but that doesn’t defeat the fact that this is an experienced and talented team that is made for March. Colorado’s starting five consists of all upperclassmen, led by senior guard McKinley Wright. Wright is, in my opinion, the best player in the Pac-12, and he is the veteran leader that teams wish they had in March. From Wright’s dominance on both ends of the floor to the lockdown Colorado defense to stellar perimeter shooting, this Buffaloes team will be tough to beat.
Prediction: Colorado will bow out in the Sweet-16.
The Dud: UCLA
Buzzer-beaters have not been friendly to the Bruins. Whether it be Stanford senior forward Oscar da Silva’s game-winner on January 23rd or USC graduate guard Tahj Eaddy’s on March 6th, this UCLA team couldn’t finish on multiple occasions. In fact, its inability to close out games translates to the season on the whole—the Bruins ended the year on a four-game losing streak with a loss to Oregon State in their opening Pac-12 Tournament matchup.
UCLA is now set to take on Michigan State in a first four matchup, and I would be shocked if it won. While Michigan State has not looked strong all season, wins over Michigan and Ohio State (one and two seeds respectively in the NCAA Tournament) highlight its resume. Junior forward Aaron Henry is immensely talented and will prove too much for this UCLA team.
Prediction: Michigan State takes down UCLA in the First Four. However, if the Bruins escape their opener, I think they will defeat BYU in the Round of 64 before losing to Texas.
The Bad Draw: USC
This USC team is good enough to win a game in the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately for the No. 6 seed Trojans, they are facing off against the winner of Wichita State vs. Drake in a play-in game.
Here’s why I think USC has a bad draw: Drake is an incredibly good team. The Bulldogs’ near flawless season includes a win over Loyola-Chicago, and the only reason they are even in a play-in game is because they lost to Loyola-Chicago in the finals of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. What I love about Drake is its balance, with five players averaging double-figure scoring and two more close behind. Of those leading seven scorers, only one, sophomore guard Joseph Yesufu, is an underclassman.
While USC has proven itself on many occasions, the Trojans have had too inconsistent of a season for me to believe they will beat Drake. On one day, they’ll take down BYU by 26, but on another, they’ll fall to Utah or go to overtime against UC Riverside. Additionally, the Trojan backcourt is lacking, and while Eaddy has been phenomenal recently, I don’t have faith in sophomore guard Ethan Anderson or junior guard Drew Peterson.
Prediction: USC loses to Drake in the Round of 64. However, if Wichita State beats Drake in the play-in game, I think USC has a favorable matchup and will advance to the Round of 32.
The Underdog: Oregon State
We all want the Beavers to be the Cinderella story of the Tournament this year. After being picked to finish dead last in the Preseason Pac-12 Media Poll, Oregon State shocked everyone by winning the Pac-12 Tournament and securing an automatic bid. The Beavers were expected to be terrible, and justifiably so. Last season they graduated forwards Tres Tinkle and Kylor Kelley, who were the all-time leading scorer and 7-foot frontcourt leader, respectively. Despite these losses, Oregon State has achieved great success with little talent. Senior guard Ethan Thompson has had a phenomenal season to cap off his successful collegiate career, and sophomore guard Jarod Lucas has stepped up as a leader and a prominent scorer. Head Coach Wayne Tinkle has made something out of nothing, and it is truly a joy to watch.
With all of that being said, I don’t think Oregon State has what it takes to upset No. 5 seed Tennessee. The Volunteers are a very good, but very inconsistent, team. They hold wins over Colorado, Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas. Their losses to Kentucky, Auburn, Mississippi, and others are what pushed them down to a five seed in the tournament. Tennessee has enough young talent and senior leadership to get by an Oregon State team that has had an amazing run, but just doesn’t have the talent it needs.
Prediction: Tennessee beats Oregon State with ease.
The Lacking Frontcourt: Oregon
Oregon has one issue that I have addressed repeatedly this season—a small frontcourt. The Ducks don’t have a single player taller than 6-foot-6 in their starting lineup, and while they were able to win a regular season Pac-12 title regardless, that won’t fly in the NCAA Tournament. Oregon’s opening matchup, VCU, shouldn’t be too concerning, but in the Round of 32 the Ducks will face off against Iowa and 6-foot-11 senior center Luka Garza. Garza, who averages 23.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per contest, is widely considered to be the favorite for both the Wooden Award and the Naismith Award. Further, he is the Ducks’ worst nightmare down low, as he is a skilled and strong big man who will walk right over anyone Oregon puts in his way.
Prediction: Oregon beats VCU but gets blown out by Iowa in the Round of 32.