The field has been released and the tournament is ready to tip-off on Wednesday, March 8th from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Before it all gets going, we decided to do our preview of five players you need to keep an eye on who may emerge as game-changers and of course, why every team (yes, even California) has a chance to come out on top of the field.
5 Players Who Will Influence The Tournament’s Outcome
1. Oumar Ballo (Arizona): The former Gonzaga transfer has found his footing under Tommy Lloyd at Arizona and has emerged as one of the most forceful interior talents in the Conference of Champions. Ballo is more than the stats he delivers, as he can bury an opposing squad into foul trouble and constantly be a mismatch concern.
2. Keion Brooks (Washington): Brooks is a talented enough piece that on any given night, he can go toe-to-toe with just about any other talent in the Pac-12. If the Huskies get past Colorado, they meet up with the Bruins - who as you’ll read in Tyger Campbell’s write-up - will be down a key piece of the puzzle. Could Brooks play UCLA spoiler?
3. Tyger Campbell (UCLA): With Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Jaylen Clark not traveling with the squad to the conference tournament, the complexion of this Bruins team undoubtedly changes. Campbell now not only needs to be the consummate leader, but also pick up some of the slack left behind by Clark’s absence.
4. Boogie Ellis (USC): As much as I’m already a huge Boogie Ellis fan, to think that the guard hasn’t scored under 16 points in just about a month is near nonsense. The San Diego native is such a pure talent on the offensive end, I really think he could push Arizona into a very tough position to make a Pac-12 title game. Let’s see what Ellis can do next.
5. Will Richardson (Oregon): Throughout his time at Oregon, Will Richardson has chosen times where he just simply gets himself moving and can’t be stopped. He hasn’t done it anything wild as of late, yet the pressure and excitement of March is unlike anything else. If I saw Richardson across from my team on the floor, I’d be sweating it out.
Why Each Team In The Field Has A Chance To Win
#1 UCLA - Common Sense: The Bruins won the Pac-12 regular season by four games over Arizona and USC and they enter the field on a ten-game winning streak. There’s more reasons to believe in UCLA, then to not. Mick Cronin and company are rolling.
#2 Arizona - A Return To Form: The old belief is that defense often wins in March, yet when games get disjointed and you simply need players to make big plays on the offensive end, the Wildcats can. Arizona has gotten erratic defensively, but they always can score.
#3 USC - A Long, Strange Trip: A loss to Florida Gulf Coast began what looked ready to be a strange campaign for the Trojans. Andy Enfield settled the group and will get a third crack at Arizona (if they advance), a team they lost to twice during the regular season.
#4 Oregon - Dana Altman: Not a lot of quack fans visit BTD, yet you can’t deny what Altman does when March comes around. He’s made runs with lesser teams in the past and there’s some superb talent on this roster. Three-straight wins in their belt can only help.
#5 Washington State - The Preseason Hype Lives: Some teams need resets in March and don’t forget, this was a very well-liked team in the preseason. The Cougars have won six straight heading into the tournament and look ready to keep their year going.
#6 Arizona State - Bubble Trouble: Bobby Hurley is truly the cat with nine lives, as every time his team takes a punch that sends them to the mat, they just get back up. The Sun Devils are on the “outside looking in” for the NCAA Tournament, but still have hope.
#7 Utah - Battle Tested: I guess the best way to describe how Utah fell apart down the stretch is that they went through as brutal of a conference gauntlet as you could find. The Utes go right to a showdown with Arizona, if they hold off Stanford. More of the same.
#8 Washington - The Chance: Oh, the Huskies could do the rest of the league the biggest favor out there and make it to the second round and stun #1 UCLA. They could. Could. But if they allow 87 PPG like they’ve done over their last two games, they’ll need a miracle.
#9 Colorado - Roll Tad: Tad Boyle is Tad Boyle. He’s unassuming and rarely has the most talent, but the Buffs are usually an intelligent team who works to play the game the right way. Would that be a tougher out for a Bruins team looking forward? Just maybe.
#10 Stanford - Fresh Start: This really is a Cardinal group that simply never could get it going for a sustained period this year. Spencer Jones is now leading a group that’s offensively stagnant and just unexciting across the board. Could a fresh start change that?
#11 Oregon State - 2021: Wayne Tinkle took a team nobody expected much from and led them to a Pac-12 Tournament title and then the damn Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. Tinkle should gather the group to rewatch history unfold and believe it can again.
#12 California - Because It’s March: The Golden Bears haven’t won since early January and they enter the Pac-12 Tournament probably looking for a solid fight to end an abysmal season on. But it’s March. Crazy things happen. Nobody knows why. Go for it, Cal.