Every week during men’s basketball season, our sports staff will discuss different topics surrounding an upcoming game(s). Today, sports reporters Hayden Kim, Madison Guernsey and Ryan Kostecka discuss the Pac-12 tournament, which starts this afternoon.
1) How will the Ducks fare in the Pac-12 tournament?
Kim — The Ducks may be entering the Pac-12 tournament as the seventh seed, but their recent seven-game winning streak has shown that they are more than capable of running the table and winning the tournament. Excluding Colorado, Stanford and California, the Ducks have beaten every Pac-12 team this season and it’s going to be a mere matter of how much momentum they can carry over from their recent streak.
Guernsey — As hot as Oregon is, it isn’t far-fetched to believe they can run the table in Las Vegas and win the Pac-12 tournament for the second straight season. They should blow past in-state rivals Oregon State and win another wire-to-wire game over UCLA, who got blown out by Washington State in their regular season finale. The semi-finals of the tournament are where I think Oregon runs into trouble with Arizona State. The Sun Devils have lost four of their last six games but have a well-balanced team led by guard Jahii Carson and big man Jordan Bachynski. The Ducks will play well but will simply run out of gas. But by that point, they’ll have more than secured an NCAA tournament berth.
Kostecka — This a tough call, especially since Oregon’s the hottest team entering the tournament. Oregon might even be the best team in the Pac-12, seeing that they just beat UCLA and the two Arizona schools the past two weeks. Though I think Oregon’s magical run ends in the second round to UCLA. The Ducks were lucky to escape Los Angeles with a win but since the Bruins will have their two best players —Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson— in the rematch, I expect Oregon to be bounced early and to see their winning streak end at eight.
2) What is the key(s) for the Ducks to go deep in the tournament?
Kim — It may come off as cliché, but the keys to Oregon’s success will be based on defense and rebounding. Offense has been relatively consistent for the Ducks this year, so it’s going to come down to their performance in the paint and on the defensive end. If the Ducks can match their level of play in these past seven games, they should be in good hands.
Guernsey — The key is to play the way they’ve been playing during their seven-game winning streak, especially in second halves. In six of Oregon’s past seven games, they’ve scored more points in the second half than in the first, often after trailing or holding a slim lead at the break. The Ducks have also been shooting the lights out from the field, posting percentages of 40 or better six times and 50 or better twice. Mike Moser also needs to continue being an animal on the boards while Waverly Austin alters shots in the paint.
Kostecka — Depth, depth and more depth. In order to win the tournament, the Ducks will have to win four games in four days, a tall task for any team in the country. It’s going to be so hard to still have legs available come the semifinals and finals so the better that Oregon’s reserves play, the more rested the starters will be. That means that Dominic Artis, Jalil Abdul-Bassit, Elgin Cook and Ben Carter are going to have to play well in the first two rounds to make sure Johnathan Loyd, Joseph Young, Mike Moser and Co. are well-rested for the stretch run.
3) Which team is a sleeper to win the tournament?
Kim — As the seventh seed, Oregon is the sleeper to win the tournament. Though the Ducks were at one point ranked in the top 10 nationally, their inconsistency has held them from any ranking to reflect their talent and ability. With their wins against No. 3 ranked Arizona and UCLA, the Ducks are the clear sleepers in this year’s tournament with a bottom half seeding.
Guernsey — I wouldn’t call Oregon a sleeper given their third place finish in the conference, but based purely on their seed, they’re a major sleeper. Besides the Ducks, Arizona State has the best chance to shake things up and be the unexpected team to take home the hardware.They’ve been consistently in the top tier of the conference for much of the season but haven’t garnered much attention due to the remarkable success of another team in Arizona.
Kostecka —Utah is my sleeper pick to win the tournament, if they can get by Washington and Arizona in the first two rounds. Delon Wright might be the best all-around player (offense and defense) in the conference while Jordan Loveridge is a very capable scorer as a big man. They provide a tough one-two punch, and the rest of the team follows suit as a scrappy squad that can make anything happen. I can see the Utes winning it all and cutting down the nets or see them bounced out by Washington in the first round. Regardless, they’re my sleeper choice.
4) What are your predictions for how the tournament will play out?
Kim — I am predicting that the Pac-12 title game will be between Arizona and Oregon in one final matchup. Who will come out on top? I believe the Ducks are capable of pulling out one more upset and it is purely based on their recent play in mixture with the loss of Brandon Ashley. Though Arizona is clearly a top five team without Ashley, they have looked beatable without him and the Ducks are the recent example of this. Arizona may still be the better team individually, but there is no reason why the Ducks’ season-ending momentum won’t be enough to end with a 2-1 advantage season series over the Wildcats.
Guernsey — Speaking of the other team in Arizona, the Wildcats will win the Pac-12 tournament, as expected by many. Pac-12 player of the year Nick Johnson and freshman of the year Aaron Gordon are surrounded by exceptional players as well as conference coach of the year Sean Miller. Arizona will defeat Arizona State in the finals to begin what should be a very long NCAA tournament run, as long as they hit their free throws. Arizona is a sub-par team from the free throw line at 65.9 percent. Johnson and Kaleb Tarczewski are the only two players who shoot better better than 70 percent, while rotation guys like Gordon (44.7 percent), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (63.9 percent) and T.J. McConnell (63.4 percent) all struggle to consistently convert. Free throws are Arizona’s one and only Achilles heel, but it’s something to be aware of in the Pac-12 tournament and beyond.
Kostecka — Prior to cutting down nets after the West Regional Final of the NCAA tournament, Arizona is going to be cutting down the nets in in Las Vegas as Pac-12 tournament champions. While the Wildcats don’t have the greatest amount of depth, their overall talent is far superior compared to anyone in the tournament. Gordon will lead a defense that will suffocate opponents while being named as the tournament MVP. I think Arizona will beat UCLA in the championship after limiting Adams and Anderson and forcing someone else to beat them.