And so Stanford basketball, like everybody predicted, is the last Pac-12 team standing.
Arizona 68, Xavier 60 ; Wisconsin 85, Arizona 78
Nobody should feel sorry for Arizona - the Wildcats have eight tournament wins in the last three years and will bring in another elite recruiting class next year.
Still, there's been plenty of March frustration. There was Ohio State's three pointer with 2 seconds left two years ago, then an overtime loss to Wisconsin in last year's regional final. Now you can add another loss to Wisconsin to the list. Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker (and apparently Aaron Rodgers!) will forever be villains in Tucson.
I kinda feel sorry for Arizona because it's not like they're failing to show up, or make dumb plays, or in some way culpable in their defeats. They just keep running into really good teams who then play really good basketball against them. Arizona is an elite defensive team, but they don't really have anybody who can guard Frank Kaminsky because nobody has that player. And when Wisconsin shoots 12-18 from 3, well, what the hell are you going to do?
The real shame is that two of the four best teams in the country met before the Final Four. If you're looking for somebody to blame for that, you can point the finger at 11 teams who underachieved all year. Sorry, Arizona. Most years if you go 31-3 and win the Pac-12 regular season AND conference title, you earn a 1 seed easily. But the Pac-12 was so crummy this year that you got stuck as a 2 seed against Wisconsin. Our bad.
Duke 63, Utah 57
It's cold comfort, but so far Utah has played Duke tougher than anybody else in the tournament. It wouldn't particularly surprise me if that remained true until the NCAA final, Izzo-magic aside.
Unfortunately, the final score was a bit deceptive, and the Blue Devils were never in much danger. Duke gradually stretched a 3 point lead into a 14 point lead over 10 decisive second half minutes, and it was too much for the Walkin' Utes to overcome.
All off-season, Utah will wonder what could have been, if Delon Wright hadn't had one of the rougher games of his season. 4-13, 10 points and 2 assists isn't disastrous, but for a player who has been so consistently brilliant (and for a team that needs him to be that way) it wasn't enough. Wright is a junior and considered a late first round/early 2nd round prospect. Will he stay?
Gonzaga 74, UCLA 62
There's not much to say about this game - UCLA finally ran into a great team in the tournament, and it really wasn't any different than what happened when these two teams met in December. Wiltjer and Karnowski were more than enough to keep Looney and Parker in check down low, and Gonzaga's talent advantage (there's a weird thought) shined through.
Everybody's happy. The weakest team left in the tournament was eliminated, non-UCLA fans got to watch them lose, and Bruins Nation can make Steve-16 references to their heart's content. Everybody wins! Except for Steve Alford. But he's got a pretty sweet contract, so maybe he does win.
Herb Sendek in retrospect
I've made various jokes about how boring Arizona State basketball is, because this year's Sun Devils seemed particularly anonymous even though they were a reasonably OK team. And that's probably why ASU ended the Herb Sendek era: Despite interesting players, Arizona State was mostly anonymous even for fans who follow the Pac-12 closely.
Just think about some of the interesting players that were at ASU during the Sendek era: Jeff Pendergast, Jordan Bachynski, one of the Shipp brothers, Jahii Carson, and James Friggin' Harden. Sendek had nine years at ASU; he managed to earn a 6 seed and a 10 seed and one solitary NCAA tournament win. He failed to make the NCAA tournament in a year that he had James Harden on the roster.
But then again, mediocrity for ASU basketball is the norm. The Sun Devils have never won a Pac title and have one solitary Sweet 16 appearance since joining the Pac-10 in 1978. They have made the tournament just twice in the last twenty years. With the possible exception of Oregon State, they have the weakest basketball program in the conference*.
ASU is maybe the most difficult job in the conference. Arizona doesn't produce a ton of elite talent, and those players are usually picking Arizona. Sendek's rosters have been full of transfers, projects, and European recruits, with very mixed results. Whichever coach gets hired will immediately start behind the eight ball.
*It says something about this conference that ASU, OSU and USC all have abjectly miserable basketball histories
Stanford faces Old Dominion in New York on Tuesday. Should they win, they will play in the NIT championship game on Thursday. All four teams left in the NIT are roughly evenly matched, so any of them could win. No matter what happens, this will be hilarious.
Next week brings the long, long off-season where we are without both football and basketball. This feature will pop up every so often when important breaking news needs to be collected. There will probably be an update in a month or so once all of the early entrants/transfers shake out, so we can get a sense of what each team brings back next year. Once the spring signing period calms down, we can look at a group of recruiting classes that could make the Pac-12 much, much more interesting next year than it was this year.
I guess there might be spring football from around the Pac-12 to discuss, except that spring practice that doesn't involve your favorite team is the most boring part of college football. Even more boring than any Media Day or the halftime show of the Boca Raton Bowl.
Don't worry, just five months until football season!