College Basketball Handicapping: Pac-10 Tournament Preview
by Matt Severance - 3/9/2010
This year’s Pac-10 Tournament should in a way be more fascinating than any in recent memory because it’s basically in the same boat as, say, the Horizon League or Sun Belt (or pick your mid-major conference) in that only the Pac-10 winner might reach the NCAA Tournament. That’s how down the conference is this season – it ranks eighth in conference RPI behind the five other BCS conference as well as the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West.
No major conference has sent just one team to the NCAA Tournament since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985 – the Pac-10 had six each of the past three years. But Pac-10 teams are just 2-13 against ranked out-of-conference teams this year.
Regular-season champion California has a decent shot at an at-large bid no matter what happens this week in Los Angeles. The Bears (21-9 overall, 13-5 in the Pac-10) entered the week No. 20 in the RPI. But that’s because Cal has a very strong strength of schedule having played Syracuse, Ohio State, New Mexico and Kansas in non-conference play. But here’s what bodes badly for the Bears and the conference: Cal lost all four of those games and none were all that close.
Still, Cal, which won the Pac-10 regular-season title for the first time since 1960, has opened as the +150 favorite on WagerWeb this week. The Bears will open on Thursday against the winner of the Pac-10’s lone tourney game Wednesday between Oregon and Washington State. Cal swept OU and Wazzu during the regular season. But then a dangerous game against probably Arizona, which opens against UCLA, would await. Cal senior guard Jerome Randle was named the Pac-10 Player of the Year this week, the first for the Bears since 2001. He was fourth in the conference in scoring (18.7 points per game) and second in assists and three-pointers made per game.
In reality, probably only three other teams “should” win the Pac-10 tourney, and they are seeds 2-4: Arizona State, Washington and Arizona.
The Sun Devils (+300 on WagerWeb to win) closed well by winning five of their final six (only loss to Cal). And they are good on defense, allowing just 58.1 ppg, the fewest ASU has allowed since 1948-49. Plus, the Devils have history on their side because Herb Sendek won Pac-10 Coach of the Year. Of the last 14 conference coaches to win the honor, all 14 coached that season in the NCAA Tournament.
Washington (+175) was ranked for a bit this season, leads the Pac-10 in scoring, and thumped Cal in Seattle. However, the Huskies, like most of these Pac-10 teams, are generally lousy away from campus. And while UW did close with a three-game road win streak, it came against three of the bottom teams in the conference. Neither Washington nor ASU has a signature win on its resume.
Arizona (+600) closed with a three-game winning streak and has shown signs it will return to power soon behind star freshman Derrick Williams (if he doesn’t go pro). But at 16-14 overall entering this tournament, the young Wildcats will have to win it to extend their national-best consecutive NCAA Tournament bid streak to 26. Look for Arizona to be in a tight game, as it is 4-2 in games in which the outcome came down to the last second. The Wildcats clearly have the best betting value on the board.
You can’t mention a Pac-10 Tournament without UCLA (+600). But the Bruins are headed for their third losing season since 1947-48 barring a miracle run to the championship (and then to the Sweet 16 in the NCAAs) in their hometown. And the area fans should be totally pro-UCLA because crosstown USC is not in the Pac-10 Tournament this year because of self-imposed sanctions. UCLA and USC last missed the tournament in the same season in 2004.
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