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March 6, 2012

Huskies shouldn't need to win to get in

It's that wonderful time of year again.

The college basketball regular season is over and March Madness is upon us, but before the 68-team insanity begins on March 13, those equally crazy conference tournaments must happen. Here's a quick preview of the Pac-12 Tournament, which will start on Wednesday at Staples Center in Los Angeles and wrap up on Saturday.

Quick Overview

To put it simply, no major conference was as bad as the Pac-12 this season.

Teams posted an 0-11 record against top 25 ranked teams, along with an even worse record of 1-31 in nonconference games against the top 50 RPI teams.

For the 14th straight week, no team was ranked in the top 25. The Pac-12 may only get one team in the NCAA tournament this year, and it appears to be the Washington Huskies.

The Dawgs won the outright conference title on Sunday with the help of Stanford, which beat California 75-70 to seal the title for UW. The Huskies are projected to be either a No. 11 or No. 12 seed in this year's NCAA tournament, and winning the tourney might help their cause for a higher seed.

Still, UW isn't completely safe, but would cement its spot in the NCAA tournament if it won the conference tourney. Last season, the Huskies won the Pac-12 tournament on the shoulders of current Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas, who's game-winning step-back jumper beat Arizona 77-75 in overtime. Cal could get an at-large bid, but the Golden Bears aren't in the clear either and could really help their NCAA tournament bid with a Pac-12 tournament title.

Cal and UW are the strongest teams in the tourney, but the way the Pac-12 has gone this season, almost anyone could win it.

Most interesting first-round matchup

Take a look at the matchup between No. 8 Washington State and No. 9 Oregon State. Both put up identical conference records of 7-11, with OSU earning a better regular season record of 17-13 compared with WSU's 15-15 record. WSU bested OSU in both of their matchups, but their last matchup was a close one, with WSU squeaking out a 75-72 win.

The difference in the game will be OSU's offense, which averages nearly 80 points per game, led by Jared Cunningham, who averages 18.2 point per game.

For Washington's sake, it's not a particularly great matchup draw for them. One could argue the Huskies might do better as the No. 2 seed having to face either Stanford or Arizona State in their first tournament game. If you're a Husky fan, expect this WSU vs. OSU matchup to produce some drama, and pay particular attention to each team's strengths and weaknesses.

Team with most to lose

Many may argue that it's the UW, because if it wins the conference tourney, it's automatically in the NCAA tournament, and if it loses, it might not dance.

But it appears the Huskies might get an NCAA bid regardless. The team with the most to lose is probably Cal. The Golden Bears are clearly the best team in the Pac-12 besides Washington, and if they lost their first game, or don't win the tournament, they might not get that at-large bid into the Big Dance.

Team with most to gain

Many may argue it's the Huskies, because again, if they win the tourney, it's automatically dancing, but not so fast.

Really, the team with the most to gain is EVERY team. Winners of the conference tournament get an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament, and the way the Pac-12 has gone, anyone could win it. Because the conference is so wide open, it makes the stakes in this year's tournament high for every team.

While UW isn't guaranteed an NCAA berth, the presumption here is they'll get in even if they don't win the conference tourney. If they do win, they have a seeding position or two to gain, which may not seem like much, but the difference between being a No. 11 seed and a No. 10 or No. 9 seed is quite a lot.

Player of the tournament

This really depends on who wins the tournament. Usually, great players play better in big games, and this is the perfect stage for a great player to strut his stuff and elevate his game to a new level. Recent Freshman of the Year award winner Tony Wroten is the perfect candidate to do this. He has the feel of a big-game stud, and has a lot to prove to scouts if he wants to be a high draft pick in this year's NBA
Draft. If UW goes far, watch for Wroten to be the guy who takes them there.

Game-by-game predictions

CBS will air the final, with FSN airing every other game.

WEDNESDAY'S GAMES:
Game 1: No. 8 Washington State (15-15, 7-11) vs. No. 9 Oregon State (17-13, 7-11), noon. Winner: Oregon State 74-71

Game 2: No. 5 UCLA (18-13, 11-7) vs. No. 12 USC (6-25, 1-17), 2:30 p.m.
Winner: UCLA 72-55

Game 3: No. 7 Stanford (19-10, 9-8) vs. No. 10 Arizona State (9-20, 5-12), 6 p.m.
Winner: Stanford 68-52

Game 4: No. 6 Colorado (19-11, 11-7) vs. No. 11 Utah (6-24, 3-15), 8:30 p.m.
Winner: Colorado 65-50

THURSDAY'S QUARTERFINALS:

Game 5: No. 9 Oregon State vs. No. 1 Washington (21-9, 14-4), noon
Winner: Washington 72-70

Game 6: No. 5 UCLA vs. No. 4 Arizona (22-9, 13-5), 2:30 p.m.
Winner: UCLA 63-62

Game 7: No. 7 Stanford vs. No. 2 California (23-8, 13-5), 6 p.m.
Winner: California 67-63

Game 8: No. 6 Colorado vs. No. 3 Oregon (22-8, 13-5), 8:30 p.m.
Winner: Oregon 76-74

FRIDAY'S SEMIFINALS:

Game 9: Washington vs. UCLA, 6 p.m.
Winner: Washington 79-78

Game 10: California vs. Oregon, 8:30 p.m.
Winner: California 80-74

SATURDAY'S CHAMPIONSHIP GAME:
Game 11: Washington vs. California, 3:15 p.m. Winner: California 71-70


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