There are years when the 1 and 2 Seeds dominate. There are years when a 4 or 5 Seed wins it. There are even years when a 9th Seeded Cinderella some how wins the Tournament and punches their ticket to the Big Dance. But there has never been a year when every team has a legitimate shot at winning the Tourney. And that's why this year's Pacific Life Pac-10 Tournament will be one of the most exciting and thrilling tournaments ever.
Last year, the USC Trojans won the Tournament. To start off the differences between this year and year's past, USC won't be playing in this year's Tournament due to some self-imposed sanctions. Second, this year's Number 1 Seed, California, was a 3 Seed last year and didn't make it out of the Quarterfinals. The last difference is that Oregon State will not be playing in the Tournament's Play-In-Game for the first tine since the Play-In-Game was introduced.
This year's Number 1 Seed, California, has had an interesting Pac-10 Season. They never lost more than two games in a row, but they were not what I would call "dominate" until the last week of February when they swept the Arizona schools. In my mind, I would say they are the favorites to win the Tourney, but others might disagree.
The reason this year's Tourney will be so great is that every game should be close and go right down to the wire. Just look at the 1st Round Matchups. Oregon vs Washington State might be the only blowout of the 1st Round, and that's only because it seems that Washington State has thrown in the towel. If Wazzu comes out firing though, it should be a great game.
If you watch ESPN and read the Bracketology experts, it seems that California will be in the NCAA's no matter what happens this week. To me, as long as California beats either Oregon or Washington State, they should be in. From there, things get dicey.
Both Washington and Arizona State are on the Bubble. Both team's RPI's are fairly decent, but Washington's inability to win on the road will hurt them come Selection Sunday. If both Washington and Arizona State win their 1st Round games, the two teams will meet Friday night in the Semifinals. The way I see it, the winner of that game will get the Pac-10's second bid into the Tournament. Talk about must see TV.
For the rest of the conference, the stakes are you win and you're in. I'd say Arizona has the best chance of playing Cinderella. They've proved that they can play with anybody in the Conference, and they have numerous players that can light it up from Three-Point Land.
Names You Should Know
Quincy Pondexter, Washington: Called "Qupon" in Seattle, the Huskies Forward has averaged 20.3 Points Per Game this season. Washington's Offense revolves around him, and when he is held to Single Digits the Opponent usually wins.
Klay Thompson, Washington State: The Cougar Guard averages 19.6 Points Per Game, along with 5.1 Rebounds. If the Cougars are to make any noise in the Tournament, they need Klay to light it up shooting wise.
Tajuan Porter, Oregon: Even though the Point Guard's play has dropped throughout the season, the Ducks will need Tajuan to step up if they are going to advance past the Play-In-Game. If anyone knows how to lead a team through their Conference Tournament, it's Porter. As a Freshman, Tajuan led the Ducks to the Championship in 2007. He also won the MVP of the Tourney.
Calvin Haynes, Oregon State: While Calvin only averages 12.7 Points a Game, it's imperative that his shot is in order if the Beavers want to compete with the up-tempo Huskies in the Quarterfinals. Haynes led the team through the CBI last year, can he do it again in the Pac-10 Tournament?
Jerome Randle, California: In my mind, the odds on favorite to win the MVP Award is Jerome Randle. Randle has averaged 18.9 Points and 4.5 Assists Per Game this season.
The overwhelming favorites to win this tournament have to be California and Arizona State. Both teams have fairly easy 1st Round Games (Cal vs UO/WSU, ASU vs Stanford) and both teams have the most talent from top to bottom. With that being said, both teams have shown some inconcistency this season, and they could prove vulnerable come the Semifinals.
The key for teams like Arizona, Oregon State, and UCLA will be to get some momentum going early in the games. When the calendar turns to March, the intensity is high and if a team gets a little momentum it can go a long way.
If the Golden Bears do meet up with Arizona State in the Finals, don't expect the result to be any different from earlier in the year. Plain and simple, the Sun Devils just don't match up well with Cal. ASU will need someone to upset Cal if they have a shot at winning it.
In the end though, my pick to win it all is Washington. They match up well with both Oregon State and their likely opponent in the Semifinals, Arizona State. They will also be looking for payback for the beating they took against the Golden Bears in Berkeley. But like I said, it's anyone's Tournament to take, and that's why it will be so fun.
The Bracket (All Times Pacific)
Wednesday, March 10
Play-In-Game (8 Oregon vs 9 Washington State) – 8:00 PM (FSN)
Thursday, March 11
Quarterfinals (4 Arizona vs 5 UCLA) - 12:00 PM (FSN)
Quarterfinals (1 California vs 8/9 UO/WSU) – 2:30 PM (FSN)
Quarterfinals (3 Washington vs 6 Oregon State) – 8:30 PM (FSN)
Quarterfinals (2 Arizona State vs 7 Stanford) – 6:00 PM (FSN)
Friday, March 12
Semifinal 1 – 6:00 PM (FSN)
Semifinal 2 – 8:30 PM (FSN)
Saturday, March 13
Championship –3:00 PM (CBS)