Submitted by Wayne Root on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 at 1:00 PM
What a difference a week makes! Heading into the semifinals of the Pac 12 tournament last weekend here in Las Vegas…
*Oregon fans (and many in the local media) were thinking a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament was within reach for the Ducks. If they won the Pac 12 tourney, their resume would certainly measure up with the best in the nation. Teams who watch a lot of basketball out West believed Oregon is better than Gonzaga.
*UCLA fans (and many in the local media) were thinking the Bruins would be in line for a #2 seed in the West if they won the tourney. Surely a sweep of Arizona and Oregon would impress the selection committee. And, at local sportsbooks, UCLA to win the whole Dance was a popular Futures bet. Who could stop this offense?
*Arizona fans still believed in their team, but many others had kind of given up on the Wildcats. They were annihilated in Oregon during the regular season, then lost a home game late in the campaign to UCLA. These guys “couldn’t win the big one,” so they started getting written off in many circles.
*Oregon lost starting forward Chris Boucher to a torn ACL. This is far from a one-man team…but any loss hurts at this level when you’re talking about the national championship. Oregon lost to Arizona without Boucher, and now isn’t seen as superior to Gonzaga, or many other elite programs in the brackets. Horrible luck at the wrong time.
*UCLA looked so bad (particularly on defense) in a nailbiter win over USC and a loss to Arizona, that it now seems impossible that their run-and-gun is going to work against top competition in the Dance. UCLA can put up high scoring totals vs. soft opposition. They’re likely to be in trouble late in close games otherwise.
*Arizona has such a friendly path to the Final Four…which is being held IN ARIZONA…that it’s now the Wildcats who are seen as the most likely team to cut down the nets. Can they win the big one? They just won two big ones over UCLA and Oregon in the Pac 12 tournament!
Arizona gets to start in Pac 12 territory in Salt Lake City. Assuming they win the 2-15 game over North Dakota as big favorites, they would face either St. Mary’s (who’s way overmatched vs. elite teams, as you saw three times vs. Gonzaga) or Virginia Commonwealth (who’s more like NIT quality this year anyway). The Sweet 16 round is in San Jose, California. Very friendly territory. Form holding through the brackets would mean an Elite 8 meeting with Gonzaga, the most vulnerable of the #1 seeds. If the Wildcats survive…the Final Four is at the Phoenix Cardinals football stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
I’m not by any means saying Arizona is a lock to go to the Final Four. There are still some issues with this team! But, they got a very friendly path compared to many other big name programs. Arizona has an easier path in the West as a #2 seed than defending champ Villanova does in the East as a #1 seed.
Frankly, Oregon has a pretty nice path in the Midwest region, if they can overcome the injury to Boucher. UCLA will find it much tougher to get out of the South as a #3 seed…because #1 and #2 in that region are North Carolina and Kentucky.
I should point out though, that many of the computer types don’t smile so brightly on the Pac 12 trio. Remember that the computers had Oregon, UCLA, and Arizona all much further down the ladder than the AP pollsters did through the regular season. The selection committee may be overrating all three Pac 12 powers with those seeds.
Of course, there’s a difference between winning games and covering pointspreads. Here’s how WAYNE ALLYN ROOT sees the pointspread outlook for these teams generally entering the Dance.
*Even though Arizona has a friendly path, I think they’ll generally be overpriced by the marketplace. That may not matter until later though because the slate is so friendly. The Wildcats weren’t a great pointspread team down the stretch.
*Oregon’s injury situation may not really bite them until the second week. If they beat Iona, they’ll draw either Creighton or Rhode Island. Manageable matchups out of the gate. I will likely fade Oregon once they run into top caliber opposition.
*UCLA’s outlook will depend very much on each matchup. They can run away and hide from soft defenses, or inconsistent offenses. But, they can get bullied by smart teams who know how to work for good scoring opportunities. I could see myself having a PINNACLE release on or against UCLA depending on each matchup.
I’m looking forward to seeing those three in the Dance. Other teams from this part of the country are also in action. USC from the Pac 12 is in one of the Wednesday play-in games. Cal-Davis plays earlier Wednesday in another play-in. Nevada impressed a lot of people storming through the Mountain West tourney last week here in Vegas. Are they ready for Iowa State? I’m sure I’ll be talking a lot about Gonzaga in the coming days. Maybe St. Mary’s too if they stun Arizona.
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