The Pac-10 fared pretty well on selection Sunday, earning a surprising three at large bids and a collection of seeds higher than many bracketologists generally anticipated. Most of the experts thought that USC wouldn't even make the field, and that Washington and UCLA would end up somewhere between an 8-10 seed. But when the brackets were revealed UCLA and Washington both grabbed 7 seeds, while the Trojans snuck into the new play-in round with an 11. But will that respect get translated into wins? That's a tougher question to answer. So, without further delay let's evaluate each Pac-10 team's chance to make a deep tournament run:
Arizona Wildcats - 5 seed, West region vs 12 seed Memphis
Considering the Pac-10 is still relatively down, Sean Miller's team got about as good a draw as you could reasonably hope for. Memphis is probably the weakest 12 seed that doesn't have to go through the play-in round, and I would be pretty surprised if they pulled the upset. And if Arizona can reach the 2nd weekend they'll be playing in Anaheim, just an eight hour drive from Tucson.
Granted, reaching Anaheim would probably require knocking off Texas. The Longhorns started the season 23-3 and looked poised to perhaps earn a 1 seed, but faltered down the stretch with a 4-4 record in their last 8 games. Still, three of those losses were by 5 points or less, and Texas spent most of the season blowing teams away. I wouldn't call Arizona a favorite or anything, but if I had to pick the one team with a 5 seed or higher most likely to reach the final four I think the Wildcats might be my pick.
Of course, if you believe Kenpom rankings are gospel, there's another Pac-10 team that might fit the bill:
Washington Huskies - 7 seed, East Region vs 10 seed Georgia
I was somewhat surprised that Washington managed to grab a 7 seed despite a decidedly mediocre record during the Pac-10 regular season. Perhaps this means that the selection committee actually does pay attention to tempo-free stats, as the proponents of that type of analysis have been consistently extolling the virtues of the Huskies. If the Kenpom rankings hold up then Washington should easily dispatch the Georgia Bulldogs to set up one of the most exciting, fast-paced second round matchups in the entire tournament. Amongst tournament participants Washington and North Carolina are the two fastest teams seeded 10 or higher, and we could easily see a losing team score 80 points.
Now, beating UNC in Charlotte isn't ideal, but I think most Pac-10 fans would agree that Washington has the talent to do so. Now, will that talent show up and will UW get the bounces? They seem to have the maddening ability to turn it on just in time for tournament play.
However, the East bracket strikes me as much more difficult than Arizona's west bracket. UW would likely have to survive UNC in North Carolina, then Syracuse in New Jersey . . . and with the number one overall team by pretty much every metric lurking on the other side. Washington is a talented team, but that's quite a gauntlet.
UCLA Bruins - 7 seed, Southeast Region vs. 10 seed Michigan St.
The class of the west vs. the class of the midwest! Howland vs. Izzo! It's the Final Four on CB . . . wait, what? This is a first round matchup?
It's been a rough year for a pair of traditional powers, and they were both punished for their inconsistencies by getting shipped out to Tampa across the bracket from the Florida Gators. Michigan St. piled up the losses in a tough Big 10 this year, but were actually a pretty consistent ( . . . ly mediocre) team, with only one loss to a team that didn't make the NCAA tournament. So I'd call UCLA's first round game a virtual toss up, with two decent-but-flawed teams with good coaches and lots of expectations from demanding fans. It'll be fun to see one of them lose.
Florida is probably a little overseeded with a 2, but playing so close to home makes them solid favorites, no matter how much tournament pedigree Howland or Izzo carry into the second round. And hey, Billy Donovan knows a thing or two about March Madness.
USC Trojans - 11 seed, Southwest Region play-in game vs. 11 seed Virginia Commonwealth
USC is just lucky to even be participating in March Madness, so no complaints about having to travel to Dayton for the play-in round. And if you've gotta be sent that far to play a needless game and exists solely to pad the bank accounts of the NCAA and coaches who depend on NCAA bids to keep their jobs, you could do much worse than Virginia Commonwealth, one of the weakest at-large teams in NCAA history. VCU's best win is over UCLA, and their worst losses include Georgia State, South Florida, Northeastern and James Madison. Yick. Why did we expand the tournament again?
So I fully expect USC to advance to face 6 seed Georgetown in Chicago. Does USC have the talent to pull the upset? Probably. But USC's short bench won't help them when they play a fresher, better team. And if they actually advance, they'd have to play a 3rd game in 6 days against an even tougher Purdue team. So no, I'm not seeing a deep run for the Trojans. Poor Kevin O'Neill's going to need to spend some time at a very public hotel bar after this one.
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