2015 Pac-12 Tournament Expert Picks and Betting Odds
by Robert Ferringo - 3/10/2015
After a two-year Renaissance in which the Pac-12 was the most underrated league in college basketball, the conference has fallen on tough times. Much like the SEC and Big Ten, the Pac-12 has been dominated by one team, Arizona, who is so far head-and-shoulders above the mediocrity in the rest of the league that it hasn’t been very pretty to watch. But the Pac-12 Tournament offers one last chance for the second tier of this league to step up and take down the seemingly unstoppable Wildcats.
The Pac-12 conference tournament will be held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Play begins on Wednesday, March 11, and will conclude Saturday night in the championship game. Here is Doc’s Sports Pac-12 Tournament preview:
The Favorite: Arizona (-200)
Much like Kentucky in the SEC, Arizona has simply been too big and too strong for its opposition in the Pac-12. And, like Kentucky, they have benefitted from the fact that the rest of the Pac-12 is extremely mediocre. The Wildcats have won eight straight and have flat out dominated over the past month. Their last eight wins have come by an incredible 22.8 points per game, and only two teams have stayed within 20 points during that run. Veteran point guard T.J. McConnell is the engine for this team while freshman Stanley Johnson is the go-to guy. Arizona goes 6-foot-7, 6-8 and 7-0 across the front line and they simply dominate the paint. If they have a weakness it is 3-point shooting. But that generally isn’t much of a concern when you’re up 20 points. Arizona was upset in the Pac-12 Tournament last year, and they are looking for a little redemption this time around.
The Contender: Utah (+280)
The Utes have shown flashes of being a very good team this year, opening the year 21-4 and working their way into the Top 10. But the Utes stumbled down the stretch (2-3) and struggle mightily on the road. Utah has everything that a good team needs. They have a veteran backcourt with Delon Wright and Brandon Taylor. They have a potentially elite scorer in Jordan Loveridge. They have a 7-footer that can play down low in Jakob Poeltl. And they have several role players that can score, defend and rebound. But for some reason it hasn’t all come together for Utah, and they are yet to prove that they are worthy of elite status. They can start by knocking off Stanford in the quarterfinals and making a move toward the finals of this tournament, where they are perhaps the lone team that has the skill to take out Arizona.
The Dark Horse: Oregon (+900)
So many of the teams in the Pac-12 – Stanford, Utah, Oregon State, Cal – have absolutely tanked down the stretch. On the other end of the spectrum is Oregon, which won nine of its last 10 games to jump up and steal the No. 2 seed in this tournament. Conference player of the year Joe Young is one of the best scorers in the country and leads a precocious, active bunch of Ducks. Dana Altman has overcome all manner of distraction this year and has put forth one of the top coaching performances in the nation. The Ducks don’t have depth, experience or size. But they are scrappy as hell and utilize a full-court pressure that irritates opponents to no end. Oregon’s plan is to keep games close and let Young close it out in the end. That’s a dangerous way to play in March. But they are 8-0 in games decided by five points or less, and right now they have a load of confidence.
The Spoiler: Stanford (+900)
At one point Stanford looked like the solid No. 2 team in the Pac-12, working to 15-5 overall and 6-2 in league play. But then the wheels fell off for Johnny Dawkins’ squad (stop me if you’ve heard that one before) and the Cardinal lost seven of their last 10 games. Stanford was a Sweet 16 team a year ago, and in Chasson Randle, Stefan Nastic and Anthony Brown they have a trio of seniors who have done a lot of winning the last two years. They should handle a terrible Washington team in the opener, and then the Cardinal will have a rematch with Utah in the quarters. That is an evenly-matched game, and it will contrast the veteran savvy of Stanford versus the raw talent of the Utes.
Early Round Game To Keep An Eye On:
No. 7 Oregon State (-6) vs. No. 10 Colorado (6 p.m., Wednesday, March 11)
The Buffaloes have had an inexplicably awful season. Despite returning essentially the same team that made the NCAA Tournament last year, the Buffs have struggled to a 14-16 regular season. Askia Booker is one of the best point guards in the Pac-12. And forwards Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson have flashed pro potential. Oregon State got off to a surprise start in its first year under new coach Wayne Tinkle. At one point they were 16-7 overall and 7-4 in league play. But they tanked down the stretch, finishing just 1-6 and failing to top 62 points in any of those games. Oregon State is horrible offensively. But they play at a deliberate pace and try to choke teams out with their defense. Oregon State has the size to slow down Colorado’s big men. And this game will be decided by the matchup between Booker and Gary Payton. It will not be a pretty game to watch. But the winner of this one has a chance to take down Oregon in the next round.
Pac 12 Conference Tournament Predictions: Arizona really should skate into the finals. And once they are there I have a hard time seeing someone take out this team. As I mentioned, they didn’t win the championship last year, and I think they want to make up for that this time around. There simply aren’t many good teams in the Pac-12 this year. And none of the five other teams on their side of the bracket has a prayer of taking down the Cats. I think that Oregon is ripe to be upset. And I think the winner of the Utah-Stanford quarterfinal will be the team to go toe-to-toe with Arizona in the title game.
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