The Pacific-12 Conference finished third in the efficiency rankings for college basketball this year, trailing the Big XII and the B1G. Overall, in fact, the B1G was tremendously better than every other conference in the country. However, with the dust settled from the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, it’s the Conference of Champions that looks pretty strong.
The USC Trojans are the best-rated team from the conference still alive, although they did not win the regular-season or the conference championship. Those honors went to the Oregon Ducks and the Oregon State Beavers, respectively. In fact, USC lost in the conference tournament to the Colorado Buffaloes, and the Buffs didn’t make it to the Sweet 16.
The fourth team from the Pac-12 to reach the Sweet 16 is the UCLA Bruins, who escaped the First Four with a stunning comeback over Michigan State, only to advance even further with two victories. It’s scary to think the conference could have had five teams get this far, if Colorado had been able to play a bit better.
However, it’s key to note here that the Trojans and the Ducks have to play each other next, meaning only one of them can advance to Elite 8 this weekend. USC is a four-point favorite based on sabermetrics, but as we have seen in the past, you don’t want to underestimate Oregon ever in March Madness.
Similarly, the upstart Beavers have to face Loyola-IL next, and the Ramblers are a seven-point favorite against Oregon State. The Beavers finished the regular season just 14-12 overall and 10-10 in conference play before ripping off three big wins in the Pac-12 Tournament to get to the Big Dance. Oregon State kept rolling with double-digit victories over Tennessee and Oklahoma State to get here. No one should sell that momentum short, either.
The Bruins have a tough matchup against Alabama next, and UCLA is currently a four-point underdog. But again, since losing to the Beavers in overtime to start the conference tourney, the Bruins have been rolling on strong. The overtime victory over the Spartans has galvanized UCLA, even if the Crimson Tide look very strong overall.
In all likelihood, only the Trojans will advance, and they will have to face Gonzaga in the Elite 8 if they do—the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and currently undefeated on the season overall. The NCAA Committee really shafted USC with a 6 seed as the team is one of the five best teams left in the tournament. But those are the breaks.
No matter what happens, it’s clear the Pac-12 is still a very strong basketball conference, as always.