It’s March, and that means it’s time for all the conference tournaments that lead into the big one. The PAC-12 tournament promises to deliver some great entertainment. Three top-ten teams, #3 UCLA, #5 Oregon, and #7 Arizona, are expected to bring the biggest thrills. However, other programs like USC and Utah could make some noise as well. Here are the three stories that you should be up to date on heading into the conference tourney.
Markelle Fultz Sitting Out
Washington’s star player, Markelle Fultz, will not be participating in the PAC-12 tournament. He missed five of the last seven games for the Huskies with a sore knee, and his status for the tournament was up in the air until it was announced he would not play. The decision is reminiscent of several college football players, most notably Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and LSU’s Leonard Fournette, who chose not to play in their bowl games to avoid aggravating injuries sustained earlier in the season. Fultz is considered the most likely to be taken first overall in the 2017 NBA Draft; any further injury would tank his stock. In games played without Fultz, Washington is 0-5 and never scored more than 71 points. Their first game is against USC, who is averaging nearly 79 points per game. Fultz may still have the biggest impact on this game despite not playing.
Lonzo Ball Looks to Impress
Another potential top-10 draft pick is UCLA’s Lonzo Ball. The highly-touted freshman has helped lead UCLA to a very successful season. He is averaging 14.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 7.8 assists per game. He is also getting two steals per game, showcasing his defensive capabilities as well. While TJ Leaf and Bryce Alford have scored more, Ball has been the orchestrator for the Bruins all year. Yet, not everyone is sold on his game just yet. Ball even said after the regular season finale that the season was just starting for him. Ball won’t take the court until Thursday, where he’ll play against the winner of USC vs. Washington. However, we can probably expect Ball to put on one heck of a show.
Can the Trojans Rise to the Top?
All of the focus is on Oregon, UCLA, and Arizona right now, and that’s just the way USC coach Andy Enfield likes it. Enfield made a name for himself by leading 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast to the Sweet 16 in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. This year, Enfield’s Trojans have been impressive; they won their first 14 games on their way to a 23-8 record. Unlike the other three big teams, USC must fight for a spot in the NCAA tourney. They have a talented roster, particularly in the likes of Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu. USC drew a favorable matchup against Washington without their best player, but the Trojans’ side of the bracket means any hopes of reaching the championship game likely go through both UCLA and Arizona. Perhaps the pressure and bright lights of the conference tournament can motivate USC to elevate their game to a new level.
The PAC-12 tournament begins Wednesday at 12 PM PT with 8 Arizona State vs 9 Stanford.
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