If you went just by the seed line, Pac-12 conference teams were expected to go 4-3 in the first weekend of NCAA tournament play. If you prefer Kenpom, the most likely result would have been first round losses for UCLA and Oregon, and Sweet 16 trips for Utah and Arizona.
Instead the Wildcats and Utes cruised into the Sweet 16 with relative ease while UCLA took advantage of good fortune to advance as well. Even Oregon gave Wisconsin quite a scare before succumbing. Go Go Conference of Champions!
What gives? Well, there's not much to it. Arizona and Utah advanced because they are legitimately good teams. Arizona excelled despite a deceptively tough 2nd round match-up, and Utah was perhaps helped by a somewhat weak draw, but the point still stands. UCLA advanced because they are peaking at the right time, because they took advantage of the most controversial call of the tournament, and because they were handed a very, very kind draw.
The Ducks were just as good as the Bruins this year, but they had to face Wisconsin in the 2nd round rather than the University of Alabama Birmingham. No offense to the Blazers and their awesome logo, but they're not on the same level as the Badgers. And such is the unfair nature of the NCAA tournament.
The rest of the country saw what Pac-12 fans have been seeing for the better part of two months: Arizona is really, really good. For 20 minutes, a very dangerous Ohio State team played the Wildcats evenly. But Arizona pulled down 18 offensive rebounds, which allowed them to attempt 11 more shots and 9 more free throws than the Buckeyes.
And that's Arizona. They can hurt you in so many different ways. Even when they have an off night from the field (36% on 2 point shots vs. OSU) they have other skills that turn what should be a close game into another routine win.
Now the Wildcats are playing in LA, and their first game is against Xavier. A good team, certainly, but not a team that should legitimately challenge Arizona in a game of this magnitude with semi-home-court advantage.
We're one game away from an epic Arizona/Wisconsin regional final.
It's nice to see the Utes bounce back after their late season conference swoon. They weren't exactly dominant in putting away Stephen F. Austin and Georgetown, but nor were they ever in much danger of losing. SFA seemed like a dangerous team, but turned out to be a good pairing for Utah because they didn't have anybody with a prayer of guarding Jakob Poeltl (18 points on 7 shots). A more balanced offensive effort against a decent Georgetown defense earned them a trip to Houston.
The metrics say that Utah and Duke (and fellow South region survivor Gonzaga) are nearly evenly matched. That doesn't quite jive with the eye test, that sees 31-4 Duke and Jahlil Okafor looking like bona-fide title contenders. I suppose the key is that Utah earned themselves a chance to test out the metrics on the court.
For whatever it's worth, I'm on team it-wasn't-a-goaltend. Or, at least, I think that it's a judgment call that is very, very hard to make, and refs should err on the side of not making the call. My untrained eye thinks that the flight of the ball was going to take it clearly beyond the basket as an air ball.
Maybe I'm on team the-rule-book-needs-to-be-changed-because-no-team-should-lose-a-game-like-that.
Regardless, credit to UCLA for being in position to benefit from good fortune, and credit them again for taking advantage of a 14-over-3 upset. Do you think a 9-11 from 3 point night is enough to make UCLA fans accept Bryce Alford?
Also, the SMU game is a reminder that UCLA basketball is, despite the incessant whining from spoiled UCLA fans, very very lucky. Remember the Josh Shipp backboard shot game, or the Michael Roll deflected pass game? Go Zags.
And so we finally discovered exactly how far Joseph Young could carry the Ducks - a few minutes and a few points away from an upset of Wisconsin.
While the rest of the country wonders how Dana Altman does it, Pac-12 fans will wonder why he can't build any roster stability to go along with his talent development, game planning and in-game coaching. Transfers Joseph Young and Jalil Abdul-Bassit are gone, and so the Ducks rebuild again. Hopefully this time Altman brings in players who are somewhat less felonious than some of his previous recruits.
. . . has beaten UC Davis and Rhode Island at home, and will play Vanderbilt at Maples tonight with a trip to New York on the line. If Stanford won the NIT, would Randle, Nastic, and Brown be the first ever two time NIT champs as players? I am most certainly too lazy to look it up.
Lost to Seattle in the CBI. This could have been Cal. Phew.
Arizona vs. Xavier, Thursday
Utah vs. Duke, Friday
UCLA vs. Gonzaga, Friday
Put me down for an easy Arizona win, a narrow loss for the Utes, and a narrow loss for the Bruins. As if what I think has any value at all.