The Pac-12 Conference is still the best league in the country that no one is watching. With an array of styles, exceptional athleticism, great coaching, and a ton of big-time traditional rivals and powers, this conference has everything that a college hoops fanatic can want.
However, the Pac-12 still seems to be relegated to second-class status in national discussions about the NCAA Tournament. But if you want to see some high-level basketball - and scout out some potential bracket-busters for next weeks' Big Dance - then your gaze should be fixed on this championship.
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The Pac-12 conference tournament will be held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Play begins on Wednesday, March 9, and will conclude Saturday, March 12 with the championship game. Here is Doc's Sports 2016 Pac-12 Tournament preview and predictions (odds courtesy of Sportsbook.ag):
The Favorite: Oregon (+280)
Dana Altman has deftly handled a Ducks team that is just bursting with talent. The Ducks won their first regular-season title since 2002 thanks to a big Los Angeles sweep last weekend, and they head to Vegas as the unquestioned favorite. The youth of Oregon's backcourt - sophomore Dillon Brooks and freshman Tyler Dorsey are future pros and sophomore Casey Benson is a first-year starter - is balanced out by experience in the post. Senior forwards Elgin Cook, Chris Boucher and Dwayne Benjamin are relentless in the post on both ends of the floor. If Oregon has a weakness, it is depth; only seven players average more than eight minutes per game. But there's also no doubting that their top seven is better than anything else the league has to offer.
The Contender: Utah (+350)
Utah enters the league tournament on a seven-game winning streak and is one of the hottest teams out West. But unfortunately for the Utes they don't get to play this tourney on their home court. Utah has been a consistent disappointment outside of their home gym and will have to overcome several years of history to win this tournament. Still, they are the No. 2 seed and boast maybe the best player in the conference in center Jakob Poeltl. No one in the Pac-12 can stop Poeltl. But if Utah is going to make it a run it will be on the back of their senior backcourt of Brandon Taylor and Jordan Loveridge. Utah gets it done with size, rebounding and execution. Only two Pac-12 teams have beaten them since Jan. 4 (Oregon and Oregon State) and Larry Krystkowiak's group is playing with a lot of confidence right now.
The Dark Horse: California (+400)
To my detriment, I have been on the Cal bandwagon for years. And coach Cuonzo Martin is hoping to erase the consistent disappointments of the Mark Montgomery era. California has the best backcourt in the conference with Tyrone Wallace, Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird. Add in two NBA prospects on the interior in Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, and the Golden Bears have a stellar starting five. Cal has gone 8-1 in their last nine games, with the lone loss a three-point defeat in a game they gave away at Arizona. As good as they've been, Cal still hasn't reached their peak yet. I think they have a favorable draw (likely facing Oregon State and Utah), and I expect to see this team in the championship game on Saturday.
The Spoiler: USC (+1200)
There are a TON of potential spoilers in the Pac-12. Washington will give Oregon everything they can handle in the quarterfinals. Colorado (Josh Scott), Oregon State (Gary Payton) and UCLA (Bryce Alford) will all be highly motivated and all have top-end NBA talents that could carry them on a dramatic run. But I'm going with USC. These guys are just straight-up nasty. The Trojans have lost six of their last eight and have dumped six straight road games. But don't be fooled: there is a lot of young, raw talent to work with here. Mark my words: USC is going to enter next winter as a Top 10 preseason team. But don't be surprised if this young team decides to crash the party this week and shows up a year early.
Early Round Game To Keep An Eye On:
No. 7 USC (-6) vs. No. 10 UCLA (6 p.m., Wednesday, March 9)
Nothing like a heated rivalry game to get the blood pumping in this tournament. UCLA is one of the biggest disappointments in the country. Despite wins over Kentucky, Gonzaga and Arizona, the Bruins wouldn't even qualify for the NIT right now because of their below-.500 record. However, UCLA has known for weeks that it would take a miracle run in the Pac-12 Tournament for them to make the NCAAs. It is all or nothing for this group, and that immediately makes them dangerous. On the other side is a USC team that would love nothing more than to drive a stake through the heart of their more highly-touted rivals. USC won both regular-season matchups easily, winning by 14 in Pauley Pavilion and by 19 in the Galen Center. Can they really pull the 3-0 sweep over the desperate Bruins? Regardless, the emotions are going to be running high in this first-round matchup, and this could end up as one of the better games of this tournament.
2016 Pac 12 Conference Tournament Predictions: Through this whole prediction what is the one team that I haven't talked about that normally dominates the Pac-12 conversation: Arizona. You could argue that the Wildcats are still the best team in the Pac-12. And they have the shortest odds to win this week at just +200. They will get a chance to prove it in the semifinals against Oregon. Arizona has size, strength, depth and experience, and it wouldn't surprise me if they sprung an upset over Oregon in the semis. In fact, I think that we'll see a pair of early upsets and that Arizona and California are on a crash course for a rubber match in the Pac-12 finals. Their two games this season were decided by a total of four points. I think we'll see another great game, and I am actually calling for an upset and for the Golden Bears to get the job done in Las Vegas this weekend.
Robert Ferringo is a member of the Basketball Writer's Association of America and a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and he is on an unbelievable run right now, more than doubling his clients' bankrolls in the last six weeks while earning $11,800 in profit! Robert has banked 10 straight winning college basketball regular seasons and his $100-per-Unit bettors have taken home over $40,000 in winnings so far this decade. There is no better moneymaker in the nation and Robert is looking forward to another amazing March Madness. Click here to get two days of college basketball picks for free - no hassle and no credit card needed.
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