Even though they should have made it on their own merit anyway, the Oregon Ducks won the 2019 Pacific-12 Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament in Las Vegas last week to claim a third spot for the league in March Madness.
And, oh, how they did it!
The Conference of (real NCAA) Champions put on a great show in Las Vegas, as the Ducks won four games in four days to claim a No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Because the Selection Committee is so sketchy these days—Arizona State received a No. 11 seed and has to participate in a play-in game for the second year in a row—it was a relief to see Oregon claim the league’s auto bid.
The Ducks and the Sun Devils join the Washington Huskies, the regular-season champs of the Pac-12, in the Big Dance. For the other nine teams in the conference, it is back to the drawing board for 2019-2020. The league ended up seventh in the KenPom power ratings, and anytime it is not in the Top 5, that means it has been a hard year. Look for a lot of coaching changes in the league before next season starts.
Final Pac-12 Rankings
There was a shuffle at the top, as the preseason favorite to win the league finally asserted itself down the stretch, winning eight straight games to find itself atop our rankings. The Ducks earned this, despite all attempts of the national money machine to shun the Pac-12 and other leagues for the sake of fan-based revenue from the ACC, the Big XII, and the SEC.
(It’s almost like people in certain regions of the country have no lives except for rooting for college sports teams from schools they never attended. Weird!)
Here are the final 2018-2019 rankings, with last week’s position noted after the current record.
1. Oregon Ducks (23-12, 2): To win the tournament, the Ducks held Washington State to 51 points, Utah to 54 points, and Washington to 48 points. That is twice in one week the Huskies failed to score 50 points against Oregon. Give credit to Head Coach Dana Altman. He made adjustments, got his players to buy in, and this team is flying high right now. They could be a trendy pick to reach the Sweet 16.
2. Washington Huskies (26-8, 1): Since the 10-0 start to league play, the Huskies have gone just 7-4 overall, with five of those seven victories coming by a total of 16 points. Washington is stalling at the worst possible time, and it’s not just the Ducks that have their number. But hey, the Huskies can always admire that Pac-12 title banner they earned in the regular season this year. No matter what, it’s been a superb season.
3. Arizona State Sun Devils (22-10, 3): To the credit of the Sun Devils, they took the Ducks to overtime in the tournament semifinals, while scoring 75 points in the process. We know ASU can score, but can ASU play defense? Surprisingly, the team is rated nearly the same in offensive and defensive efficiency. Go figure.
4. Colorado Buffaloes (21-12, 4): The Buffs are one of the better teams in the country not to make the NCAA Tournament, and in the old days, finishing with 20-plus wins and a .500 record in a major conference would have been enough to get them there. Nowadays, no one knows what the NCAA selection committee is thinking. Dismantling the Beavers by 15 points in a key tournament quarterfinal got Colorado to the semis. Nice work.
5. Oregon State Beavers (18-13, 5): There is a clear drop between the No. 4 team above and Oregon State. After a season full of close losses, the Beavers just crapped out against the Buffs with so much on the line. To us, that says a lot about the players’ mental toughness and the head coach. It may be time for Wayne Tinkle to get flushed out of Corvallis. After five years, he clearly does not have what it takes to win.
6. USC Trojans (16-17, 7): Finishing the year on a 4-9 slide into mediocrity, the Trojans might also be looking for a new head coach. Six years with Andy Enfield, and USC has reached the NCAA Tournament just twice while never finishing higher than 49th in the KenPom rankings. Los Angeles should be a rich area for recruiting in basketball, so the the Trojans need to tap into that talent pool and right the ship here, quickly.
7. Arizona Wildcats (17-15, 6): The Wildcats were even worse than the Trojans down the stretch, losing 11 of their final 15 contests. Head Coach Sean Miller is probably on his way out, and when USC beat Arizona by 13 points in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament, it was quite embarrassing for the defending champs.
8. UCLA Bruins (17-16, 8): We know the Bruins need a new head coach, after firing Steve Alford earlier this season. The interim guy does not even want the job. Doh! UCLA should be one of the best jobs in the country, yet somehow it has come to this. The Bruins need to return to being the flagship basketball program of the West Coast, now that Gonzaga (!) has claimed that title for a few decades now.
9. Utah Utes (17-14, 9): Kudos to the Utes for finishing third in the conference regular season. Utah swept both UCLA and USC this year, too. However, this is the first time since 2013 that the team won’t finish the season with 20 victories, barring a miraculous run through the NIT or something. Is Head Coach Larry Krystkowiak in trouble, too?
10. Stanford Cardinal (15-16, 10): This team crashed and burned, losing its final three games to finish with a losing record. It is almost as if that one-point loss at home to Washington on March 3 sucked all the life out of the Cardinal. After that, Stanford lost at home to lowly Cal and then dropped a stinker to UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament.
11. Washington State Cougars (11-21, 11): Well, we know Ernie Kent is out at WSU. The Cougars do not have a rich hoops tradition, but current Virginia coach Tony Bennett once had the team flying high. Remember Klay Thompson? The challenge is not attracting an up-and-coming genius to Pullman. The challenge is keeping him there.
12. California Golden Bears (8-23, 12): Coming up five points short of a fourth consecutive win, the Golden Bears finished the season on a relative high note. What Cal does with this in 2019-2020 is the big question. Will Wyking Jones still be the coach? No matter what, the Bears will remember the wins over Washington and Stanford.
What to Watch For Next
As a No. 9 seed, the Huskies take on Utah State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday. Believe it or not, a win over the Aggies would be the best win Washington has posted this year, in terms of the KenPom ratings.
In one of those stupid 11-seed play-in games on Wednesday, the Sun Devils face St. John’s, a team that should not even be in the tournament (ranked lower than Colorado in KenPom, for example). Talk about hatin’ on the Pac-12!
Oregon faces No. 5-seed Wisconsin on Friday in March Madness, and everyone knows that the 5/12 matchups are traditionally where a lot of upsets happen. Considering the way the Ducks have been playing, this will be a trendy upset pick.
Fearless Prediction(s) of the Week
Our full NCAA Tournament bracket predictions (first version, since we know it will have to be re-done each week!) will be posted later today, but for now, we’re going to predict the Huskies will lose to Utah State, while the Ducks and the Sun Devils will win their first games.
And that’s a wrap.
Check back here frequently for new Pac-12 content … Baseball season is next!