NCAA Tournament: Pac-12 Outlook

Four representatives from the Pac-12 Conference were selected Sunday for the NCAA Tournament. All four regions feature a Pac-12 team; Arizona (West), Oregon (Midwest), USC (East), and UCLA (South). All four teams have the talent to go far in the tournament with the hope of reaching Phoenix for the Final Four. Here is an outlook of which teams have the inside track of making a trip to Phoenix.

Arizona (30-4) – No. 2 seed West Region

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In the Pac-12 Tournament Championship game, Arizona almost gave the game away to Oregon in the final minutes. Fortunately for Sean Miller, his team secured the win as the Wildcats avenged a regular season loss to the Ducks in Eugene. The win only gave Arizona a No.2 seed as Gonzaga was awarded the No. 1 seed after an almost perfect season. Arizona will open Thursday in Salt Lake City against North Dakota (22-9).

Playmakers Allonzo Trier, Lauri Markkanen, and Kadeem Allen must provide consistency for the Wildcats’ offense. All three made contributions to help propel the team over Oregon during the conference championship game. With the benefit of playing in the West region, Arizona should have home-court advantage as fans will indeed travel to support the team.

Should Arizona advance, the winner of the matchup of St. Mary’s and VCU will be next. The Sweet 16 will present the first challenge for Arizona. Maryland, Xavier, and Florida State are potential opponents who could give problems for the Wildcats.

Arizona would love to avenge another loss during the season to Gonzaga, but may unlikely happen. Notre Dame and West Virginia are the possible opponents Arizona could face in the Elite Eight should either team get to San Jose. Out of the four Pac-12 teams, Arizona has the best odds of reaching the Final Four.

But in previous tournaments, Arizona has been unable to perform when the time matters. The results have been early exits. With the talent on the current Wildcats’ team, momentum is on their side after winning the conference tournament championship.

Oregon (29-5) – No. 3 seed Midwest Region

Expectations were high entering the season for Oregon. After falling short of the Final Four last season, the Ducks were motivated to get back and reach the Final Four.

A huge blow came before the conference championship game against Arizona. Chris Boucher suffered an ACL injury in the semifinal game against Cal. He has been the Ducks’ stalwart defensively and has contributed significant points during games. The loss of Boucher for the rest of the season was devastating to the team. Oregon played admirably against Arizona but came up just short.

The road to the Final Four could be grueling for Oregon as the Midwest features powerhouses Louisville and Kansas. Louisville could be a potential Sweet 16 matchup and Kansas in the Elite Eight.

Oregon opens Friday against Iona (22-12) in Sacramento which could benefit the Ducks. Expect a contingency of Oregon Alumni and students in attendance as the Bay Area is abundant with Ducks’ fans. A lively affair could await Oregon next round should Creighton advance against Rhode Island. Ducks’ head coach Dana Altman previously coached the Bluejays and still has connections on the coaching staff.

A “next man up” mentality has been instilled with all Oregon Athletics. With Boucher out, Kavell Bigby-Williams has to be an impact player for the Ducks. Dillon Brooks will carry the load offensively but will need help from Tyler Dorsey, Jordan Bell, and Casey Benson. In the game against Arizona, Brooks’ did all he could but did not get enough offensive contributions from his teammates.

No matter the challenge facing Oregon, the goal is Final Four or bust. The team will rally and try to win every game for their fallen teammate Boucher.

USC (24-9) No. 11 seed East Region

The Trojans will be the first Pac-12 team in action Wednesday in one of the four play-in games. Providence is the opponent with the right to play SMU in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Friday. USC showed promise early this season after going unbeaten in preseason play. But when conference play began, the wheels began to fall off.

USC lost four of their first seven conference games before going on a five-game win streak. The streak was followed up with four consecutive losses before ending the season with wins over the Washington schools. At times, the Trojans have shown their competitive nature after beating the Bruins at home but have been inconsistent for most of the season.

Chimezie Metu leads USC in points per game and rebounds per game. His presence must be throughout the contests should the Trojans want to stay in the tournament. Chances are the Trojans tournament appearance will be short-lived. Plenty of calibers is in the East with Villanova, last season’s champion, the No.1 seed. Wisconsin, Florida, Baylor, and Duke are also in the East and have better chances than USC to advance.

Though fortunate of the Committee granting a spot to USC, the team should play with a chip on their shoulders to make the most of the opportunity. Unfortunately, this team is not deep enough to provide a threat and will likely be the first Pac-12 team out of the tournament.

UCLA (24-9) No. 3 seed South Region

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Time is now for Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Lonzo Ball to prove his worth to the Bruins. He has shown his capabilities of his dynamic play but not on a consistent basis. If he departs for the upcoming NBA Draft, making a run with UCLA in the tournament will solidify his chances of being a top-five pick.

UCLA has a steep path for a potential Final Four appearance. The Bruins open Friday in Sacramento against Kent State. Like Oregon, expect a significant contingency of UCLA fans in attendance. Expect the Bruins to advance to the Sweet 16 in Memphis.

The two roadblocks in the way for UCLA in reaching the Final Four are Kentucky in the Sweet 16 and North Carolina in the Elite 8. Both are potential matchups in which UCLA secured a victory on the road at Kentucky during preseason play. Despite falling to Duke in the ACC Tournament semifinals, North Carolina presents the biggest threat to thwarting UCLA.

Along with Ball, the Bruins will need TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford, and Isaac Hamilton to step up in big moments. If Ball cannot provide a consistent attack on offense, his teammates must pick up the slack. The Bruins have all the components to make a run in the tournament but must play tough the deeper the team goes.

Final Four Predictions: Villanova, Arizona, Oregon, North Carolina

Last season, my co-worker and I were left devastated after Buddy Hield propelled Oklahoma over Oregon in the Elite Eight. Even though the Ducks lost Boucher for this season, the team has all the tools to make a run. The Ducks are now determined to make the Final Four more than ever and will have Boucher cheering from the bench throughout the games. Oregon will find a way and breakthrough.

March Madness is on the horizon with upsets bound to happen at some point in the early games. Brackets will bust, and dreams will end. Sit back, relax, and let the madness begin.

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