With one week left, what's left to play for in this conference? Well, let's start with what we know, and work backwards.
We know that Arizona has clinched the #1 seed in the Pac-12 conference tournament, and a piece of the regular season title. We know that they are very very likely to make it an outright title next week.
We know that Utah and Oregon have clinched byes in the Pac-12 tournament, and that both will almost certainly be playing in the NCAA tournament. UCLA will be the 4th seed unless Stanford sweeps in the desert AND UCLA loses to USC (in other words, UCLA is the 4 seed).
And everybody else in the conference will need to win four straight games to have any hope of dancing. Otherwise it's time to brush up on your NIT bracketology, which is indeed a thing that exists. If things fall right, the Pac-12 could have an amazing 6 NIT participants! My money would be on 3 or 4, though.
So yeah . . . there's almost no drama in the final week of the regular season. All eyes will be on UCLA and Stanford as they try to keep their iffy hopes alive.
Game of the Week: Arizona 63, Utah 57
Seasons can turn on individual plays, which is both fascinating and horrifying.
With 1:39 left in the game, Gabe York stepped to the free throw line with Arizona trailing by two points. He made the first free throw, then missed the second. Utah's post players on the block sealed off their men and the Utes were poised to grab the offensive rebound and go on offense with the lead.
But freshman backup Isaiah Wright didn't box out York, who swooped in down the wide open lane to grab the ball for a layup. Arizona got a 3 point possession to take the lead and added five free throws over the last 90 seconds to win.
York's play fascinates me. True, Wright got caught ball-watching. Frankly, I was surprised to see that Wright was even in the game. But how often does the player in question even get punished for that type of mental error? After the game, York essentially admitted that his responsibility after the free throw was to get back on defense. So you had a virtual conference championship game turning in crunch time because two bench players didn't do what their coaches taught them to do . . . but one of those acts of disobedience saved the game.
It's no wonder that most college coaches are neurotic micro-managers.
Team(s) of the week: Arizona and Oregon
Arizona won in Salt Lake City, and became the 3rd team to sweep the Mountain road trip in four years of Pac-12 play (The others? Arizona last year and UCLA in 2013). They are deserved conference champs and look primed for plenty of March success.
But let's put in a kind work for Oregon, the only other team in the conference impressing late in the year. The Ducks also picked up a rare road sweep in a conference with a home winning percentage of 67%. The Ducks did it in the Bay Area, another place where it's really, really hard to get a home sweep (Arizona did it this year; nobody did it last year).
It took a thriller to beat Stanford - by my count there were 10 2nd half lead changes, but Joseph Young and Elgin Cook were enough to hold off a balanced Stanford attack. With so many young players, it would make sense that Oregon is much better now than they were a few months ago. If they can play just a bit of defense they could be reasonably dangerous.
Player of the week: Delon Wright
In 21 minutes, Wright went for 12 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks and 3 steals vs. ASU. If Larry Krystkowiak had wanted, he probably could have unleased Wright for 40 minutes just to see if he could have gotten a quadruple or quintuple double.
Wright followed that up with a 17 point, 5 rebound, 5 assist, 3 block night against Arizona. His skill set is incredible. If he doesn't win conference player of the year, I'm going to write a very sternly worded letter in this space.
Disappointment of the week: Arizona State
Three teams suffered road sweeps, and although it's worth pointing out that Washington lost to USC by 15, that autopsy was finalized weeks ago. No, Arizona State came into the weekend playing good basketball. The Sun Devils were 5-2 in their last seven games, which included an upset win over Arizona and an overtime, 1 point road loss to Oregon.
But momentum isn't really a thing*, and the Devils fell flat in the mountains, and it was more than just the losses. At halftime in Salt Lake City, Utah led ASU 41-9. Forty-one to nine!!! The night ended with Utah doubling up the Devils, and I only wish I had the time and patience to comb through recent seasons to see how rare that feat is.
ASU followed up the ugliness in SLC with a loss to struggling Colorado, who entered the game 1-6 in their last 7. Just as embarrassing? Letting Colorado's anemic offense (10th in the conference) score 1.26 points/possession.
*Both for Arizona St., and for Utah. The first line in ESPN's game story? "The Utah Utes sent a message to the Pac-12-leading Arizona Wildcats with their play on Thursday night." Momentum: A thing until it isn't.
USC at UCLA, 6:00, ESPN2
Oregon at Oregon St., 8:00, ESPNU
California at Arizona, 6:00, ESPN
Colorado at Washington, 6:00, Fox Sports 1
Stanford at Arizona St., 8:00, Fox Sports 1
Utah at Washington St., 8:00, ESPNU
California at Arizona St., 11:30, Pac-12 Network
Stanford at Arizona, 1:00, CBS
Utah at Washington, 1:30, Pac-12 Network
Colorado at Washington St., 3:30, Pac-12 Network
There are exactly two interesting, meaningful games this week: Stanford at ASU and Arizona. Arizona, Utah and Oregon are very likely to be safe and have their byes sown up. UCLA isn't playing anybody interesting. Cal, Colorado, Washington, Wazzu, ASU, OSU and USC can't even play themselves onto the bubble.
Which leaves us with Stanford. The only way they enter Selection Sunday with any confidence is with a big win over Arizona or perhaps Utah. They get a shot at Arizona on Saturday to close the regular season. But the Wildcats are playing for a 1 seed and are unlikely to be playing anything but their best.
I guess you could get excited about Pac-12 tournament seeding. If you're a team like Cal, the ideal seed for you is the 6 seed, which means that if you win your first round game, you avoid Arizona and (probably) Utah. Oregon St. can grab that 6 seed with a win over Oregon at home. But if the Beavers lose that game, then Cal can steal it away with a win over ASU and some help from Stanford.
Cal beats ASU, Cal gets 6 seed, Cal beats Washington, then Oregon, then finds themselves in the Pac-12 semis and hell who knows anything can happen March Madness underdog Cinderella slipper still fits Vegas baby
Whoa, what happened there? My apologies.