Two Pac-10 teams are NCAA locks; UW, seven others scramble to find the magic
No matter what happens at the Pac-10 Tournament, Arizona and UCLA will advance to the NCAA Tournament. They’re good enough. They’ve proved it.
For Washington, not so fast. It wasn’t so long ago that most people considered the Huskies a likely entrant into the 68-team field, even as high as a No. 4 seed. But a 5-6 finish to the regular season, including going 1-2 at home in the final week, has altered the game plan.
Now begins the debate. Do the Huskies have to win it to get into the Tournament, as they did last year? Can they just get into the championship finals? What if they lose early? NCAA or NIT?
Their first challenge may be their toughest against rival Washington State, the only team to beat them twice this season.
It’s hard to beat a team three times in any sport,” UW junior guard Isaiah Thomas said.
There is some truth to that. They knew each other well, what worked and what didn’t. Teams adjust and adapt.
However, if it is so difficult to beat a team three times in a year, the Huskies will need to prevent one team from doing it to them while they have to go out and do it to another. Should the Huskies beat the Cougars Thursday night, their likely semifinal opponent will be UCLA, a team they’ve beaten twice for only the third time in school history.
While the Huskies’ task is clear, so is the Cougars. They have plenty of motivation and confidence. They’ve handled the Huskies better than any team this season. They are on the cusp of getting into the big Tournament if they make a run in this one.
There are two other teams riding the fence and capable of winning it all, USC and California. The problem is those two begin tournament playing against each other. The winner then matches up against top-seed Arizona.
Let’s a look at the Washington matchup first, even though it will be the final game of the first round, Thursday at 8:40 p.m. The rest of the games follow in order of day/times played.
NO. 3 WASHINGTON VS. NO. 6 WASHINGTON STATE
When: Thursday, 8:40 p.m. Winner: Plays winner of UCLA vs. Oregon/ASU, Friday, 8:40 p.m.
Record: Overall: 20-10; Conference: 11-7; Away: 6-8
NCAA probability: 60 percent. May need to get to the championship game, which means beating UCLA for a third time.
Last 10: 5-5
Big wins, good losses: Beat Arizona (85-68), UCLA (twice, road 74-63; home 70-63). Lost to Kentucky (74-67), Michigan State (76-71), at Texas A&M (63-62), at Arizona (87-86).
What’s getting them in: This team can score, the second-highest scoring team in the nation at 85.4, nine points better than any other team in the conference. It’s just a matter of finding the hot hand from the outside. Lately, it has been C.J. Wilcox, but Terrence Ross, Scott Suggs and Thomas have taken the spotlight. They have a strong inside presence, first in rebounding and second in blocks. Their uptempo style is tough to contain. Everyone gets involved, proven by their lead in assists.
What’s keeping them out: They have trouble with certain zone teams and deliberate styles. WSU certainly is one team has gives them trouble offensively, confusing them with switching zone defenses. The Huskies are inconsistent. The key will be how well they play defense. They are ranked eighth in scoring defense at 70.9.
The latest: In their past three games, the Huskies have made 16 of 58 attempts (13.8 percent) from behind the arc, including 2-for-16 Saturday against USC.
Record: Overall: 19-9; Conference: 9-9; Away: 8-7
NCAA probability: 55 percent. Will need to win the tournament title.
Last 10: 5-5
Big wins, good losses: Beat Gonzaga (81-59), No. 15 Baylor (77-71), Washington (twice, home 87-80; road 80-69). Loss to Kansas State (63-58), UCLA (58-54 in OT), Arizona (65-63).
What’s getting them in: All their suspended players are back for now. But there are still three days before they play. Guard Klay Thompson, the Pac-10’s leading scorer (21.4 ppg), will be under scrutiny coming off his suspension for marijuana possession. He may respond positively to the negativity. The team did remarkably well without him and point guard Reggie Moore (injured ankle) against UCLA (58-54 loss in OT). Brock Motum stepped up with a solid game. It was an excellent coaching effort by coach Ken Bone. The Cougars can score, third in the conference at 73.3, as well as fourth scoring defense at 66.3.
What’s keeping them out: The Cougars are not a good rebounding team, although DeAngelo Casto has had a strong second half to the season. They have four players 6-foot-10 or taller but none is a skilled rebounder. They are last in offensive rebounds at 9.4 per game. The Cougars have to win three in a row to advance. They have not won three consecutive since late December. They have only won two in a row twice since then.
The latest: Will Moore’s injured ankle be ready for play Thursday? Bone says Moore could practice Monday afternoon. Also, Thompson’s status for Thursday will be determined by Tuesday, according to Bone.
NO. 8 STANFORD VS. NO. 9 OREGON STATE
When: Wednesday, 6:10 p.m. Winner: Plays Arizona, Thursday, 2:40 p.m.
Record: Overall: 15-15; Conference: 7-11; Away: 4-10
NCAA probability: 15 percent. Will need to win the tournament title.
Last 10: 3-7
Big wins, good losses: Beat Washington (58-56), DePaul (81-74 in OT), at Virginia (80-61). Lost at Arizona (67-57).
What’s getting them in: It’s quite a young team starting all underclassmen that has been developing, improving and pulling together as the season progressed. Guard Jeremy Green has been carrying the team, averaging 20-plus points a game over the past nine. This is a fundamentally strong team, especially in the gritty areas of rebounding and defense. Stanford is second in scoring defense at 64.7 points per game and second in defensive rebounds at 31.8.
What’s keeping them out: The Cardinal has had trouble scoring, averaging just 66.4 points per game, ninth in the conference. They are seventh in field-goal percentage at 43.2 and last in three-point percentage at 37.5. They also have a poor assists-to-turnover ratio at 0.9, ninth in the league.
The latest: There are grumblings on The Farm over the way the Cardinal finished, losing five of final seven games, including a lackluster effort Saturday in a 74-55 loss to rival Cal.
Record: Overall: 10-19; Conference: 5-13; Away: 1-12
NCAA probability: 1 percent. Will need to win the tournament title.
Last 10: 1-9
Big wins, good losses: Beat Washington (68-56), Arizona (76-75), Illinois-Chicago (74-54). Lost to UCLA (home 62-57; road 69-61).
What’s getting them in: If the Beavers are going to win it, they’ll need to steal it. They are second in the nation in steals at 9.7 per game. They are led by guard Jared Cunningham, who has the sophomore school record with 77, already among the top 10 all-time in the Pac-10 for a single season. The Beavers are quick and aggressive but don’t have much of an inside presence. They have surprised both the Huskies and Wildcats.
What’s keeping them out: The Beavers biggest issue is defense. They can’t do it well. They are last in scoring defense at 72.6 per game, last in field-goal defense and last in three-point defense.
The latest: OSU coach Craig Robinson benched five players Saturday, including Cunningham, for missing curfew. All five are expected to play in the tournament’s opening game.
NO. 7 OREGON VS. NO. 10 ARIZONA STATE
When: Wednesday, 8:40 p.m. Winner: Plays UCLA Thursday, 6:10 p.m.
Record: Overall: 14-16; Conference: 7-11; Away: 3-8
NCAA probability: 5 percent. Will need to win the tournament title.
Last 10: 4-6
Big wins, good losses: Beat Washington (81-76). Lost at Virginia (63-49), Duke (98-71), Missouri (83-80), UCLA (74-64).
What’s getting them in: The Ducks’ only chance is if E.J. Singler turns into Kyle Singler, his older brother and Player of the Year candidate for Duke. E.J. is not quite the same player. What works in the Ducks favor is they start a lot of experience. They have been through this routine. The Ducks take care of the ball as well as take their share from opponents, second in the conference in steals at eight per game.
What’s keeping them out: They haven’t beaten any team of significance all season. Well, the Huskies. They don’t shoot well, 41.9 field-goal percentage, last in the league. And they don’t rebound well. Not the best combination if they hope to win four consecutive. They could beat last-place Arizona State but their reward will be UCLA.
The latest: Joevan Catron had a career-high 28 points against Arizona Saturday, becoming the 30th player in school history to reach the 1,000-point plateau.
Record: Overall: 12-18; Conference: 4-14; Away: 4-11
NCAA probability: .5 percent. Will need to win the tournament title.
Last 10: 3-7
Big wins, good losses: Beat Washington State (71-69). Lost at Baylor (68-54), St. John’s (67-58), UCLA (73-72 in OT).
What’s getting them in: The Sun Devils are long shots, literally. Their only hope is long-range shooting from players such as Rihards Kuksiks and Ty Abbott, who have combined to put in 141 three-pointers this season. They rank in the top five in school history for three-pointers made. It’s a team that averages just 62.9 points but gives up just 67.1.
What’s keeping them out: The Sun Devils rank at the bottom in all the areas they should rank at the top, scoring, rebounds, field-goal percentage. They haven’t beaten anyone of note this season.
The latest: The Sun Devils put up a season-high 40 three-pointers against Oregon State Saturday, making a season-high 17; Abbott was named Pac-10 Player of the Week.
NO. 4 USC VS. NO. 5 CALIFORNIA
When: Thursday, 12:10 p.m. Winner: Plays winner Arizona vs. Stanford/Oregon, Friday, 2:40 p.m.
Record: Overall: 18-13; Conference: 10-8; Away: 6-9
NCAA probability: 50 percent. Need to at least get into championship game.
Last 10: 6-4
Big wins, good losses: Won at Washington (62-60), Tennessee (65-64), Texas (73-56), UCLA (63-52), Arizona (65-57). Lost to Kansas (70-68), Washington (73-67 in OT).
What’s getting them in: Look at the teams the Trojans beat this season: Texas, UCLA, Washington, Tennessee and Arizona. No other conference team can match that. The reason is because they have a balanced attack, good perimeter players along with monsters inside guys, 6-foot-10 forwards Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson. Guard Jio Fontan, who sat out the first 10 games after transferring from Fordham, ignites the attack. He’s fearless in the lane and a clever passer. The Trojans also are first in scoring defense, limiting the opponents to just 62.2 points per game.
What’s keeping them out: The Trojans are down to just seven scholarship players. That makes a three-wins-in-three-nights run almost impossible. They play a deliberate style, which will help, but they are going to wear down. USC almost has as many turnovers (329) as assists (351).
The latest: Trojans held the Huskies, the second highest scoring team in the nation, to just one field goal for an 11-minute span in the second half Saturday, and 60 points overall.
Record: Overall: 17-13; Conference: 10-8; Away: 6-7
NCAA probability: 20 percent. Will need to win the tournament title.
Last 10: 6-4
Big wins, good losses: Beat Temple (57-50), UCLA (76-72 in OT). Lost to Kansas (78-63), Notre Dame (57-44), San Diego State (77-57), at Arizona (twice, road 73-71; home 107-105 in 3OT), at UCLA (86-84).
What’s getting them in: Guard Jorge Gutierrez excelled the final dozen games. He’s getting help from guard Allen Crabbe, the Freshman of the Year, and the emergence of Harper Kamp. The Bears are in the top three in the conference in field-goal percentage, offensive rebounds, assists and assists-to-turnover ratio. It’s a well-coached team under Mike Montgomery, who knows how to prepare a team. Their tough schedule has given them a relatively good RPI (66).
What’s keeping them out: Like USC, the Bears are down in personnel so they will wear down. That will be most apparent on defense, an area they allow 72.2 points a game. That’s not a winning number.
The latest: Bears may have lost a recruit to UCLA, 6-5 guard De’End Parker reportedly withdrew his commitment Cal and now will play for the Bruins next season.
ARIZONA VS. (WINNER) STANFORD/OREGON
When: Thursday, 2:40 p.m. Winner: Plays winner of USC/California, Friday, 6:10 p.m.
Record: Overall: 25-6; Conference: 14-4; Away: 8-6
NCAA probability: 100 percent. Not even a first-round loss will keep them out.
Last 10: 8-2
Big wins, good losses: Beat Washington (87-86), UCLA (85-74), at North Carolina State (72-62). Lost to Kansas (87-79), at BYU (87-65).
What’s getting them in: Player of the Year Derrick Williams is tough to deal with at either end. He is second in the league in scoring at 19.1 and fifth in rebounding at 8.1. He also can drift outside and hit the three. The Wildcats, not unexpectedly, rank near the top in scoring, 76.6. They also rank high in free-throw percentage, scoring margin, field-goal percentage, three-point shooting and three-point defense.
What’s keeping them out: Nothing.
The latest: Saturday in the final home game, Wildcat fans chanted ”one more year” to Williams, a projected NBA lottery pick. This may be his second and final season in the desert.
UCLA VS. (WINNER) OREGON/ARIZONA STATE
When: Thursday, 6:10 p.m. Winner: Plays winner Washington/Washington State, Friday, 8:40 p.m.
Record: Overall: 22-9; Conference: 13-5; Away: 6-7
NCAA probability: 99 percent. Even a first-round loss shouldn’t keep them out.
Last 10: 8-2
Big wins, good losses: Beat BYU (86-79), St. John’s (66-59), Arizona (71-49). Lost to Villanova (82-70), at Kansas (77-76), at Arizona (85-74).
What’s getting them in: Their name. The East Coast perception of West Coast basketball has four letters UCLA, the school with 11 NCAA titles. But what’s important is this is a good team. The Bruins rank in the conference top three in field-goal percentage offensive and defensively. They have an imposing inside game with Reeves Nelson and freshman Joshua Smith from Kentwood High. The Bruins lead the league in blocks, with a near school record 169. Tyler Honeycutt is the team’s best shooter and clutch player.
What’s keeping them out: Nothing imaginable.
The latest: The Bruins held the Cougars to just 22 second-half/overtime points Saturday.