Welcome to Conference Tournament Week, college basketball fans. This week, the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament will tip off in the new T-Mobile Arena at the Las Vegas Strip. While this tournament won’t give us a cinderella NCAA auto-bid, it will give us a preview of some of the power these teams will bring to NCAA Tournament this year.
The Pac-12 this year is filled with three fantastic teams this year. Oregon and Arizona share the Pac-12 regular season title and are placed as No. 1 and No. 2 respectively in tournament seeding. The UCLA Bruins are the third seed. Below is a case for each of those three teams to win in Las Vegas.
1. Oregon Ducks (+170)
You can almost expect Oregon to be up here at No. 1. The Ducks are averaging 79 points per game. Plus, they’re playing great from long range, averaging 38.2% per game. Not to mention this team is also scoring more than 70% of their free-throws. To top this all off, Oregon holds the second best scoring margin in the conference at Plus-14.5.
Being placed at the No. 1 Seed for the tournament, thanks to a tiebreaker over Arizona, is going to prove to be very beneficial for Oregon. They are now placed on the opposite end of the bracket from Arizona and UCLA, avoiding any matchup with either of them until the championship game on Saturday.
2. Arizona Wildcats (+265)
The Arizona Wildcats are led this year by Lauri Markkanen and Allonzo Trier. The duo, if on the same page, can be one of the conference’s most lethal duo yet. Not to mention players like Kobi Simmons and Parker Jackson-Cartwright are adding to the depth of this Arizona team. The Wildcats are one of those teams that are spread out with talent.
In addition, this year the Wildcats are second in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, holding their opponents to only 64.3 points per game.
3. UCLA Bruins (+170)
The UCLA Bruins post the number one offense in the NCAA this year. They are scoring 91.3 points per game thanks to players like Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf, and Bryce Alford. And don’t be fooled by UCLA’s placement on the defensive side of the ball.
While the Bruins are 9th in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, allowing 75 points per game, their scoring margin proves it does not matter. The Bruins are scoring at a Plus-16.3 margin for first in the Pac-12.
A lot of these points scored by the Bruins, however, have come on second chance points. this is all from Bruins ability to rebound the ball. They are ranked second in the Pac-12 in rebounding offense, averaging 39.3 rebounds per game.
Players to Watch:
Arizona: Lauri Markkanen
What do you get when you give a seven-foot Finn a basketball? A Wooden Award Finalist, that’s what. Lauri Markkanen is the team’s No. 1 freshman averaging 15.2 points per game with a .428 three-point percentage.
But, ever since the return of Allonzo Trier to the Arizona line-up, Markkanen seemed to have taken a bit of a step back. He only posted one game with at least 20 points since then. And, in the last four games alone, Markkanen is 0-11 from beyond the arch.
This week, Markkanen should look to “co-exist” alongside Trier to create a super-threat in the tournament. And despite his recent struggles, he still remains to be a top first-round draft prospect this year.
California: Ivan Rabb
Consider Ivan Rabb to be the do-it-all guy for Cal. The six-foot-eleven Bay Area native averaged a double-double this season, posting 14.3 points-per-game and 10.6 rebounds-per-game.
Rabb is also scoring just slightly above .500 from the field and at .444 from long range. He may not be the greatest free-throw player for Cal, but Rabb is creating a lot of noise in the Bay Area. If there were to be a story of a potential upset, don’t be surprised if it’s Rabb alongside Jabari Bird in the semi-finals setting up Cal against Oregon.
Oregon: Dillon Brooks
It’s no surprise that Dillon Brooks has been making all the noise in Eugene this year. The six-foot-seven junior forward from Mississauga, Ontario is leading the team in points per game, at 16.
However, this kid is more efficient than anything else. Brooks is .526 from the field, .713 from the line, and .416 from three-point range. All this is just part of the reason why Brooks is yet another one of the Pac-12 players to be a finalist for the John R. Wooden Award.
UCLA: Lonzo Ball
There’s a reason why NBA Draft experts have Lonzo Ball as one of the top five prospects this year. This kid is just phenomenal. The six-foot-six Chino Hills native is leading the charge among freshmen this year, scoring 14.9 points per game, rebounding 6.2 times per game, and averaging 7.8 assists per game.
Expect Ball to capture most of the attention this week with the absense of Markelle Fultz for Washington. The spotlight will shine over this star freshman throughout the week as UCLA continues to move through the Tournament on Thursday, Friday, and maybe even Saturday.
Consider this tournament to be the hardest fought battle among three powerhouse teams anyone here will experience in quite a while. Arizona, Oregon, and UCLA will be the spotlight of the week. Each of them has a player to watch out for: Lauri Markkanen for Arizona, Dillon Brooks for Oregon and Lonzo Ball for UCLA.
My prediction for this tournament will be quite unorthodox (and semi-biased) because I’m not picking UCLA or Oregon to win it. So yes, that means I have the Arizona Wildcats claiming the Pac-12 Championship. And here’s why.
Arizona will be able to find some kind of groove with a true balance between Lauri Markkanen and Allonzo Trier. Also, Parker Jackson-Cartwright will continue his hot streak of great athleticism.
There’s also another point that goes unnoticed sometimes, and that’s the crowd. Las Vegas is just a six-hours drive from Tucson, and the Wildcat fans seem to be very well traveled and take over The Strip every year. They call it McKale North II. That will help Arizona get the edge this week.
The Pac-12 Tournament begins this Wednesday at 12:00 PM PT in Las Vegas, Nevada. Be sure to also listen to the West Coast Bias Podcast, where we also preview the tournament. On twitter be sure to follow @RobLeano1, who will be in Las Vegas providing liveshots of the tournament.