With four teams representing the Pac-12 in the men’s NCAA Tournament field (#2 Arizona, #3 Oregon, #3 UCLA and #11 USC) and seven teams brandishing the league’s logo on the women’s side of things (#8 Arizona State, #9 California, #10 Oregon, #2 Oregon State, #2 Stanford, #4 UCLA and #3 Washington), it’s safe to say that there’s no reason to fret about the current state of basketball in the “conference of champions”.
However, after seeing how these teams have progressed through the opening rounds of their given brackets, it’s probably a more accurate statement to claim that the Pac-12 may be having the “March of all March-es” at the moment, with just three of their eleven teams (Men’s - USC / Women’s - Arizona State, California) no longer dancing heading into the Sweet Sixteen. That means that eight (yes eight!) programs from both the men’s and women’s side will be competing in the upcoming Sweet Sixteen round this week. Additionally, the conference as a whole has gone a stunning 18-3 overall, as they navigate through both fields.
In both the men’s and women’s brackets, the Pac-12 also has it’s fair share of championship-caliber teams, led by a duo of powerful #2 seed in the women’s teams from Oregon State and Stanford. The Beavers, who were the Pac-12 Regular Season Champions, and the Cardinal, who claimed the conference’s post-season title, both will match-up with the respective #3 seeds from their bracket later on in the week. Washington, a trendy pick as a late, also has the potential to make a run to the Final Four, on the heels of high-scoring star Kelsey Plum, while UCLA and Oregon could also be placed in the conversation under “dangerous and lurking” teams. However, even with another victory, both the Bruins and the Ducks would at some point have to overpower #1 overall seed UCONN, which may be just too tall of a task for any team in the country at this point.
Over in the men’s bracket, the quest for a conference return to the Final Four for the first time since 2008 is still well-and-alive, with all three remaining teams (Arizona, Oregon, UCLA) holding legitimate shots in making it to the last weekend of the season. UCLA may have the hardest road left of the three teams, with Kentucky and potentially North Carolina standing in their path, while Arizona and Oregon will simply have to beat two of the tougher Cinderella teams in the field, Xavier and Michigan respectively, and then you know, likely just knock off either #1 seed Gonzaga or #1 seed Kansas (or the frightening #4 seeds, West Virginia or Purdue, who would’ve then beat those teams). Isn’t March fun?
While the NCAA Tournament has been prime proving ground for both the men’s and women’s teams of the Pac-12, the status of the second-tier outfits who found their way into the NIT are not having the same type of fortunes. Three men’s teams (#1 California, #3 Utah and #5 Colorado) were all selected to play in the men’s NIT and none of the trio of schools found their way out of the first round. The Golden Bears were upset by #8 Cal State-Bakersfield in Cuonzo Martin’s last-game as Cal’s head coach, while Utah and Colorado were clipped both in five-point games, to Boise State and UCF respectively. So much for going on out a high note.
Although, I would be remiss not to mention that the both Washington State and Colorado have kept their seasons going in the Women’s NIT and at the moment, both teams are headed to the tournament’s Sweet Sixteen, which will be played on Thursday, March 23rd. The Cougars knocked off BYU and Wyoming to clinch a pivotal showdown at home against UC-Davis, while the Buffs slid past UNLV and South Dakota State to draw an ever-tough Iowa team on the road. If both Washington State and Colorado find ways to beat their next opponents, the duo would form the first head-to-head duel of the post-season between two fellow Pac-12 schools.