Steep climbs face Huskies, Cougars in Pac-12 Conference hoops tourney Wednesday. But hey, it’s Las Vegas. Long shots do come in . . . don’t they?
LAS VEGAS – Welcome to Sin City, where sleep is deemed optional.
Of course, when seven college conference basketball tournaments (four men’s, three women’s) are being held in town during the same week, sufficient shut-eye is an elusive goal amid the collective din of tens of thousands of hoops-happy revelers.
Nevada is one of 49 states that have greeted the arrival of March Madness with considerable fervor. In the Evergreen State, however, March Madness has been downgraded to March Mad. The dismayed faithful include supporters of Washington and Washington State, two of the eight teams that see action Wednesday in the opening round of the Pac-12 Tournament at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The Huskies and Cougars, of course, have not won nearly enough games to please the locals. The outrage in Pullman is understandable, since the Cougars have won but 23 games in two years. The Huskies, however, have AVERAGED almost 23 wins over the past six seasons.
Still, some fans are questioning the worth of longtime Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar. After all, he’s only guided Washington to six NCAA tournaments since 2004, including three Sweet 16s. He’s only coached five conference champions (regular season or tournament). He’s only put his team in position to make a seventh post-season appearance in a row.
If Romar is feeling some heat, it is nothing compared to the bonfire that WSU fans have lit beneath the feet of Ken Bone.
Bone, Romar’s good friend and former assistant, has been handed a blindfold and a cigarette as he walks the plank on the Las Vegas Strip. Wednesday night, Bone will attempt to coax a rare victory out of his talent-challenged bunch while keeping one eye on the basketball court and one eye on the nearest exit, where WSU athletic director Bill Moos not-so-patiently waits with pink slip in hand.
Or so one presumes. Bone is owed $1.7 million on the remaining two years on his contract, but Moos – who says WSU athletics might finish more than $10 million in the red this fiscal year – has repeatedly screamed from the mountain tops that he will not hesitate to send Bone packing if that is what he deems best, regardless of cost.
Geesh. As votes of confidence go, that’s weaker than getting France’s support in a war.
Our state’s representation in the Pac-12’s semi-big dance figures to be brief, but the tournament as a whole offers all sorts of intrigue.
Top seed Arizona (28-3), the only Pac-12 team still in the Top 25, is favored. However, the fourth-ranked Wildcats came back to the herd a bit after power forward Brandon Ashley was lost for the year with a foot injury last month. Arizona is one of the nation’s premier defensive teams, but lacks great shooters.
Second-seeded UCLA (23-8), despite a wretched performance in a blowout loss at Washington State Saturday, is loaded with athleticism. No. 3 seed Arizona State (21-10) has big-time game-changers in point guard Jahii Carson and 7-foot-2 shot blocker Jordan Bachynski.
Fourth seed California (19-12) can pound it inside or bury shots from the perimeter. Fifth seed Colorado (21-10) lost much-needed talent and swagger when backcourt star Spencer Dinwiddie went down with a knee injury. Sixth-seeded Stanford (19-11) can be inconsistent, but had enough skill to beat Arizona.
The seventh-seeded Oregon Ducks (22-8), sensational early and abysmal later, stretched their winning streak to seven with Saturday’s impressive win over Arizona. Eighth seed Utah (20-10) might lead the league in grit.
The ninth-seeded Huskies (17-14) always have a chance when C.J. Wilcox gets hot from 3-point land, and young guards Nigel Williams-Goss and Andrew Andrews are finishing strong. Oregon State (16-14), seeded 10th, boasts conference scoring leader Roberto Nelson.
Washington State (10-20) has been borderline unwatchable much of the season, but DaVonte Lacy plays with pride and scores 19 a game for the 11th-seeded Cougars. USC (11-20) is seeded 12th and . . . and . . . well, that’s about all that needs to be said about the sordid Trojans.
Wednesday’s games, televised on the Pac-12 Networks, match Utah and Washington at noon, Colorado and USC at 2:30 p.m., Oregon and Oregon State at 6 and Stanford and WSU at 8:30.
The Huskies split with Utah this season, winning 59-57 at home and losing 78-69 in Salt Lake City. Stanford handled WSU with ease in both meetings – 80-48 in Palo Alto and 69-58 in Pullman.
If the Huskies beat Utah, their reward is a quarterfinal showdown Thursday with Arizona (noon, Pac-12 Networks). The Wildcats beat Washington 71-62 in league play in Tucson.
A Washington State victory over Stanford would set up a Thursday quarterfinal with Arizona State (8:30 p.m., FOX Sports1). The Sun Devils thrashed WSU 66-47 in their one showdown this season.
Despite having just one team in the Top 25 (Oregon came in 28th in the voting), the Pac-12 leads all conferences with seven teams in the top 55 of the NCAA’s Ratings Percentage Index (RPI). ESPN bracketology guru Joe Lunardi predicts six Pac-12 teams are destined for the NCAA tournament: Arizona (as a No. 1 seed), UCLA, Arizona State, Stanford, Oregon and Colorado.
The 68-team NCAA tournament field will be announced at 6 p.m. Sunday on CBS. Sportsbook.com gives 15-2 odds on Arizona winning it all, behind only Kansas (6-2) and Florida (11-2).
Sportsbook.com has established championship odds for 54 of the 345 NCAA Division I teams, including Gonzaga at 125-1. Oregon (75-1), UCLA (90-1), Stanford (250-1) and California (500-1) are l-o-n-g longshots out of the Pac-12, but the longest of the listed long shots – No. 54 with the oddsmakers, No. 1 in your purple hearts – is Washington at 5,000-1.
No doubt a Dawgs diehard or two will wager a buck or three on Washington going all the way. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, right? That certainly applies to any cash wagered on the Huskies winning the national championship.
Washington is a 5½-point underdog against Utah. Stanford is favored by 10½ over WSU. It remains to be seen if the Huskies and Cougars can hit the jackpot and advance to the quarterfinals.