The annual Pac-12 Conference tournament is slated to begin on Wednesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. All 12 teams will participate in the win-or-go-home affair, with the winner receiving an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
It presents a chance for teams that are perceived to be on the bubble to cement their place in the big dance, or teams that are completely out of the at-large picture to sneak into the NCAA Tournament.
On Wednesday, the first day, the teams seeded 5-12 will compete, while the top four seeds -- Oregon, Utah, Cal, and Arizona -- receive a bye and will play their first games on Thursday against the opening round winners.
All four opening round games will be televised on the Pac-12 Network, and here's the schedule, along with a brief preview and predictions:
No. 9 Stanford Cardinal (15-14, 8-10) vs. No. 8 Washington Huskies (17-13, 9-9), 1 PM MST
The first game of the day features two teams with contrasting styles. The Huskies, who feature the conference's leading scorer Andrew Andrews, are the highest-scoring team in the Pac-12, while the Cardinal play a methodical style, and score the fewest points per game. And if you're a fan of 3-point shooting, this game might not be for you since both Washington and Stanford are the the absolute bottom of the conference in 3-point percentage this season.
These teams matched up just once this year, with Washington coming away with a 64-53 win in Seattle.
The winner will play the Oregon Ducks.
Prediction: Given that this is an 8-9 matchup, it could very well go both ways, but I think the Huskies get it done. It helps when you have Andrew Andrews on your side, who is coming off of a 47-point outing against Washington State.
No. 12 Washington State Cougars (9-21, 1-17) vs. No. 5 Colorado Buffaloes (21-10, 10-8), 3:30 PM MST
Considering that Colorado is likely to be an NCAA Tournament-bound team and Washington State lost all but one of its conference games, it would seem like this game would be too one-sided to be worth watching, but these two teams faced each other twice this season and Colorado only won the two games by a combined 12 points.
Plus, Colorado hasn't fared well away from home this year, as it went 2-7 away from Boulder in conference play. Still, Washington State has lost 16 games in a row.
The winner of this game will play the Arizona Wildcats.
Prediction: As much as Arizona fans would like to see Washington State win so they don't have see Josh Scott wreck havoc on the Wildcats' front line again, Colorado is sure to win this one, though the margin of victory might wind up being closer than you'd think.
No. 10 UCLA Bruins (15-16, 6-12) vs. No. 7 USC Trojans (20-11, 9-9), 7 PM MST
On the surface, this would appear to be the most intriguing game of the day -- two cross-town rivals with talented rosters -- but both teams trended downward as conference play progressed. UCLA ended the season on a four-game losing streak, while USC, a team that once was atop the conference, has lost four of its last five.
Still, if one of these teams can catch fire at the right time, they have the talent to win the tournament. Also, Bryce Alford is bound to do something ridiculous, so that, alone, is worth watching.
The winner will play the Utah Utes.
Prediction: USC hammered UCLA both times these two teams played each other this season, but I actually have the Bruins taking this one. As unimpressive as UCLA has been in the regular season in the past couple seasons, it somehow finds a way to turn things on in the postseason, and I don't doubt that the current team has the talent to repeat that. And if the Bruins do win, there's a good chance it will be via a clutch shot from Bryce Alford.
No. 11 Arizona State Sun Devils (15-16, 5-13) vs. No. 6 Oregon State Beavers (18-11, 9-9), 9:30 PM MST
The Beavers are another "dark horse" team in this tournament, in my opinion, but first they'll have to find a way to beat ASU. In late-January, the Sun Devils roasted the Beavers, defeating them by 18 at the Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe. But Gary Payton II scored just two points in that game, so it was kind of an anomaly. Speaking of Payton, he just won the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award, and he's not too shabby on the offensive end, as he's scored in double figures in his last nine games.
The Sun Devils do shoot a lot of 3-pointers -- the most in the conference, actually -- and even though they're in the bottom half in 3-point percentage, all it takes is one hot shooting day to pull off an upset. ASU shot 11-24 from behind the arc when they beat Oregon State earlier in the season.
But Arizona State has lost five of its last six, and Oregon State has won three of its last four.
The winner will play the California Golden Bears.
Prediction: I wouldn't expect Payton to struggle the way he did against ASU last time, and the Beavers usually do a good job of defending the 3-point line, holding teams to a 32.7 shooting percentage from that range, so I think Oregon State will avenge its early season loss to ASU.