With Oregon men’s basketball eliminated from March Madness, there are three teams in the conference that have a solid place in the bracket.
On its senior night last Saturday, No. 2 Arizona beat California to become the 2021-22 Pac-12 Conference champion. About a week later, they defeated UCLA in the finals of the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. The Wildcats hold the No. 1 seed in the South Region when the tournament begins this week.
Arizona has been consistent from start to finish this season, going 31-3 with losses to No. 9 Tennessee, No. 11 UCLA and Colorado. The Wildcats are a perfect 20-0 at home and hold a stellar conference record of 18-2.
Freshman goaltender Benedict Mathurin has been the star of the Wildcats throughout the campaign, averaging 17.3 points per game on 46.8% shooting in the regular season. Games like his 30-point performance against Illinois helped him be one of 15 nominees for the Wooden Award for Most Outstanding College Basketball Player.
Forward Azuolas Tubelis also averaged 14.7 points on 55% shooting, and center Christian Koloko averaged 11.8 points on 61.5% shooting this season.
The Wildcats will be on everyone’s radar heading into the tournament as they finished the regular season with three blowout wins, including a 20-point rout at USC. A few games later, they capped off the season with a 28-point win over Cal.
Last year, UCLA was one of March’s Cinderella stories, reaching the final four after starting the tournament as the 11th seed. This year, the Bruins are expected to make some noise in the tournament, seeded at 4, finishing the season ranked 11th with a 25-7 record overall and 15-5 in conference.
The Bruins were ranked in the top five for most of the season, going 16-2 in their first 18 games before hitting a rough patch in early February, losing three in four games.
Even with two losses to Oregon and one to Arizona State this season, UCLA still managed to build a solid resume.
On every metric on the NCAA team roster, the Bruins rank in the top 16, including a top-10 finish in both KenPom and BPI. Big wins against No. 2 Arizona and No. 8 Villanova also boosted their profile, as they have no losses below Quadrant 2. They are 11-6 against Quadrants 1 and 2.
The Bruins find their health and rhythm at the right time. They have won eight of their last ten and reclaimed star Johnny Juzang after missing three of five games before coming back against USC in their final regular season game.
Juzang leads the team in points per game with 16.7. Jaime Jaquez Jr. is second, with 13.3 points per game on 48% shooting. Tournament experience makes UCLA dangerous, with returning players like Juzang, Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campell trying to replicate last year’s run.
The USC No. 22 will also be in the tournament, but appears to be slipping at the wrong time. The Trojans started the season 13-0 and finished with a 26-7 overall record, going 14-6 in conference play.
The final four games of the regular season are a show of concern for USC’s tournament hopefuls. After going to overtime against the Beavers 3-27 and defeating Oregon by 1, the Trojans lost to No. 2 Arizona and No. 11 UCLA to finish third in the Pac-12. They then fell to UCLA again in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament.
Going just 1-4 against ranked teams this season, USC still has a solid foundation to succeed in March.
Forward Isaiah Mobley is a force in the paint, averaging 14.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. With Mobley, guard Drew Peterson proved to be a great player with 12.5 points per game on 46.4% shooting.
Peterson showed his ability to shine in big moments, winning a Game 3 in a hostile Eugene environment to cap a 20-point performance.
USC got a 7 seed in the pool and will face 10 seed Miami in the Round of 16.
Compared to other power conferences, the Pac-12 lacks the volume in terms of tournament teams. The three who got an offer will try to represent the conference with deep runs in the bracket.