The Projected Favorite Teams
#1 Washington Huskies - Mike Hopkins’ squad have been atop the league all-season and are the only sure lock to make the NCAA Tournament, despite how their next week of basketball goes. However, the Huskies will be the hunted team out there and have lost two of their last four overall.
#2 Arizona State Sun Devils - The Sun Devils are barely in the big dance at the moment and with some more bid-stealers expected to show up in the next few days, they can’t rest comfortably on their resume. No group should play hungrier in the Pac-12 Tournament than Arizona State.
#4 Oregon State Beavers - Oregon State has scratched and clawed their way all-season long but a series of confounding letdowns have left them headed towards the NIT. If a veteran Beavers cast wants to return this program to the big dance, they’ll have to find their flow offensively.
#8 USC Trojans - With a star player as prolific as Bennie Boatwright, any game can be USC’s to win at the drop of a hat. The Trojans have a brutal path though, with Arizona in the opening round on Wednesday and potentially Washington in the second round, just 24 hours later.
#9 Arizona Wildcats - I’m still confused how the wheels fell off the wagon for Arizona because there’s been times where this group has looked just as strong as any other Wildcats team in the past few seasons. Sometimes though, the outside noise can make the internal group stronger.
The Most Intriguing Players
Sedrick Barefield (Utah) - The best player in the league just about nobody talks about, Utah’s Sedrick Barefield is one of the many difference makers lighting it up for an underrated Utah team. Barefield averages 17.2 points and 3.8 assists per contest for the third-seeded Utes.
Bennie Boatwright (USC) - He’s got a deep array of post moves and a long-ball stroke that’s hard to cool off when it heats up. If I was starting a team composed of Pac-12 players, USC’s Bennie Boatwright might be one of my top three picks. The 6’ 10” forward seems ready to go out on top.
Luguentz Dort (Arizona State) - It’s not that Luguentz Dort isn’t a known commodity yet, but he’s probably still a bit unheralded in terms of his national spotlight. Leading Arizona State to a sure-fired spot in the NCAA Tournament could give him the chance needed to shine on the biggest stage.
Robert Franks (Washington State) - The leading scorer in the Conference of Champions at 22.1 PPG, Franks will be hitting the floor knowing that any game for the Cougars could be his last. His 37-point effort against Oregon State on Saturday proved he’s not ready to go quietly.
Jaylen Nowell (Washington) - A sophomore who logs heavy minutes for Washington, Jaylen Nowell has been arguably the league’s most consistent guard this year. Alongside lengthy back-court partner Matisse Thybulle, Nowell has taken on the role of the Huskies’ most crucial piece.
KZ Okpala (Stanford) - A future professional-level player, there’s something about KZ Okpala that just made me include him in this list of guys that may alter the chalk-projections of this tournament. Don’t sleep on Okpala to single-handedly deliver the Cardinal a win...or maybe more.
Tres Tinkle (Oregon State) - I’m still using my homer-ism to select Tres Tinkle for the league’s Player of the Year, but in reality, there’s no reason to think that vote would be any kind of bias. Tinkle has been the blend of scoring and leadership needed for the Beavers to remain in the fight.
The Storylines To Follow
One Bid Potential - If #2 Arizona State was to lose to either #7 UCLA or #10 Stanford in their first game on Thursday, there’s a good shot that the Sun Devils could be sweating out Selection Sunday. A defeat would push Bobby Hurley’s squad to 21-10 overall with losses at the hands of Princeton, Vanderbilt, Stanford and Washington State on their resume.
The End Of Careers - Unless Washington State somehow claims a Pac-12 Tournament title, the league will be saying goodbye to swingman Robert Franks, whose vastly improved over his time in Pullman into an NBA prospect. Additionally, beloved players for their individual fan-bases such as Stanford’s Josh Sharma and the USC duo of Bennie Boatwright and Shaqquan Aaron will likely playing their final contests for their teams as well this week.
Comprehending Arizona - Usually at this time of year, Arizona is the talk of the league for all the right reasons in terms of their dominance on the hardwood. However, this time around, the Wildcats head into the Pac-12 Tournament on the heels of two straight losses and just a few weeks removed from a seven-game losing skid. On top of all that, Sean Miller’s strange “thank you for everything” to the fans might mean that the fallout from the NCAA corruption scandal could be falling at the head coach’s doorstep very soon.
What To Remember
Seven of the total eleven games (between the Pac-12 Network and ESPN) in the tournament will be called by none other than greatest single talent in the history of broadcasters, Bill Walton.