This week in the Pac-12: Race for a bye

Blue man is the MVP of this picture, but don't forget the strong supporting appearance from kid in the bottom right. - Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Looking at which teams look likely to earn an all-important bye into the semi-finals of the Pac-12 tournament, and everything else from this past week of basketball action.

Let's be honest: All any of us care about is Cal, right? You don't care that Arizona is really good or that USC is really bad, other than how it impacts Cal. So let's talk about some things that will impact Cal.

1. Arizona, 12-2
2. UCLA, 10-4
3. Cal, 9-5
4. Stanford, 9-5
5. Colorado, 9-6
6. Arizona St., 8-6
7-12: A bunch of teams that won't factor

Above you have the six teams with a realistic chance of earning a first round bye. Arizona will be one of those 4 teams, and UCLA will likely join them because they have a relatively weak closing schedule that doesn't include a single team in the top half of the conference.

So, if we assume that Arizona and UCLA will finish 1-2, who takes the final two slots? Cal and Stanford will both still play Colorado and Arizona State, so all four teams more or less control their own destiny.

Colorado is at a pretty significant disadvantage because they have three road games left against teams that tend to defend their home court. Arizona St.'s season may well come down to their ability to defend their home court when the Bay Area schools visit next week.

What does Cal need to do? Beating Arizona State would go a long, long way towards clinching a sixth straight year finishing (tied for) 4th or better. At the moment Cal has the tie-breaker over Stanford thanks to a win over Arizona, which might come in handy as well. Three wins would certainly do it, but two wins that include a victory over ASU would likely work as well.

And why is this important? Well, at the moment it's entirely possible that Cal will want at least one solid win in the Pac-12 tournament to feel secure about a spot in March Madness. I'd much rather Cal face a tired team rather than having to beat WSU or (gulp) USC just to play a talented, well-rested team.

This Week in the Pac-12

Team of the Week: Arizona

The Wildcats must have read my pre-game comment speculating that UCLA might be the best team in the conference since Brandon Ashley's injury. They responded by becoming only the 2nd team to sweep the Mountain road trip in the three years since Utah and Colorado joined the conference. 24 teams have had the opportunity, and 22 have failed.

Sure, it took overtime and a bit of good fortune against Utah to get the job done. But it still counts. And the defensive beat down that the Wildcats applied to Colorado shows that, in the right circumstances, Arizona very much has the horses to shut you down. If Arizona does in fact hold on to win the conference (they would have to lose 3 games to miss out on at least a share) we should point back to this week as the decisive week.

Player of the Week: Chasson Randle

I swear to god, if I have to seriously consider Chasson Randle for all-conference, I'm going to be really, really annoyed. He averaged 22 per game this week and absolutely went nuts against UCLA from deep. Let's not talk about it any more.

Disappointment of the week: Arizona State

I know, just a few paragraphs above I said that the Mountain trip is really, really hard. But the other two teams that got swept (USC and Wazzu) have been playing out the string for weeks now. ASU actually has something to play for, but the result was two defeats by an average margin of 16 points. Utah and Colorado are solid teams with an abnormal home court advantage, but still. Jordan Bachynski was virtually invisible and Jahii Carson was at his hero-ball worst (8-28 from the field, more turnovers than assists). I wish we could count on them to play equally poorly in Tempe against Cal, but we all know that won't happen.

Next week in the Pac-12

Wednesday

Cal at Arizona, 6:00, ESPN2
Stanford at Arizona State, 8:00, ESPNU

Thursday

Oregon at UCLA, 6:00, ESPN2
Oregon State at USC, 8:00, Fox Sports 1

Friday

Washington State at Washington, 7:30, Pac-12 Network

Saturday

Colorado at Utah, 11:00, Pac-12 Network
Oregon at USC, 1:00, Pac-12 Network
California at Arizona State, 3:00, Pac-12 Network

Sunday

Stanford at Arizona, 5:00, ESPNU
Oregon State at UCLA, 6:00, Fox Sports 1

Most of the conference's attention should be directed towards the desert, where four top half teams will face off to decided a great deal of the final pecking order. The games involving ASU are the two most important, as Arizona almost certainly has the title and a 1 seed wrapped up barring disaster.

Otherwise, just be on the watch for potential upsets for UCLA, and watch the Mountain Derby to get a sense of what Cal might face next week in games that thankfully will be held in Berkeley rather than at altitude.

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