Is it Thursday yet? The conference championships across the country provided enough excitement for those hoping that March madness might strike early. Between the UCONN/Cincy game as well as Arizona/Oregon or Cal/Utah, the madness was certainly in the air. For all of the excitement and close games, the tournament ended up playing out exactly as most predicted. There were very few upsets and # 1 Oregon and #2 Utah played in the championship game. The tournament was a small representation of the Pac-12 this year and potentially of college basketball as a whole. A lot of noise came in the middle of the tournament while the championship was decided between two of the favorites. Let's take a look at the conference tournament final standings, make our pick for game of the week and highlight a few top performances before Thursday.
Pac-12 Men's Tournament Final Standings:
It was all chalk all along. The skeptic might look at these results and think to themselves, "I could have just predicted this from the start and not watched any of the games". However the college basketball fan would tell you that you missed out on some amazing games. The Oregon--Arizona game, that saw Oregon almost complete a John Calipari memphis collapse, was thrilling and Cal vs Utah was one of the more exciting games determined by last minute layup. From the quarterfinals onwards, with the exception being the final itself, every game came down to the final minute with each time having a legitimate shot to win. This exemplifies the strength of the top half of the conference this year. There is very little separating those teams in both ability and tournament experience which should bode well for the Pac-12 come NCAA tournament time.
Pac-12 Tournament Game of the Week: #2 Utah over #3 Cal
This game featured two of the hottest teams, not only in the Pac-12 but in college basketball. Cal had won nine of their last ten games coming into the contest where as Utah had won their last eight in a row. From the very beginning, the game never felt out of reach for either team. Utah started off the contest incredibly hot and built an early double digit lead which was quickly erased with Ivan Rabb's incredible play down low. The teams would be locked in a back and forth matchup with Cal taking a small lead into halftime. The second half was much more of the same, any time either team threatened to distance themselves someone would step up and bring the game close again. Jabari Bird made countless plays for the Bears that kept them in the game down the stretch and Jordan Matthews was also a key contributor during that time.
The Bears were hamstrung a bit as Pac-12 freshman of the year, Jaylen Brown, continued to struggle with his shot. He went an abysmal 3-17 from the floor and wasn't his usual self. Most freshman would start to hang their head, but to Jaylen's credit he continued to create opportunities for his teammates and refuse to let Utah take him out entirely. If Jaylen Brown had simply experienced a bad shooting night where he made 30% of his field goals, Cal might have made the final.
The final stretch of the game was phenomenal. With under seven seconds left, Brown flashed to the hoop and missed a layup which would have put Cal in the lead. Jabari Bird somehow managed to come down with the rebound and put the ball off the glass and in, all while being fouled in the process. Jabari put the Bears up two with his free throw when Utah inbounded the ball and Lorenzo Bonam drove the floor for the game tying layup. Could there have been better defense on this play? Definitely yes, but the fact he was able to drive the full court in four seconds was incredible.
The game went to overtime where the Bears were in it for the majority of the extra period. Tyrone Wallace kept the Bears hopes alive continuing to hit threes and hooks from anywhere on the court. Unfortunately the Bears couldn't stop the Ute's on the other end of the floor. This game is what March basketball is all about and despite losing the Bears received a #4 seed in the NCAA tournament, the highest in modern day Cal history.
Pac-12 Tournament Standout Performances:
After having one of his worst nights in recent memory against Oregon State, Ty Wallace responded with an excellent game against Utah. He went for 26 points and collected six boards over the course of the overtime contest. Wallace was driving into the lane and finishing his floater/hook shot with incredible consistency. The overtime period wouldn't have been nearly as close if it wasn't for Ty consistently hitting shots and squaring up three's. It's that type of resolve and experience that will bode well for Cal come tournament time.
Dillon paced Oregon throughout the tournament with perhaps his best game coming against Arizona where he posted a 19, 8 and 6 line. He posted double digit scoring efforts in all three contests and was responsible for Oregon's dominate win over Utah in the championship. Oregon is deep enough to be able to win without Brooks having his best night but when he does play well the Ducks become almost unbeatable. I expect Brooks and the Ducks to hold their own all tournament long.
Poeltl might be deserving of this recognition for his performance against Cal alone. He went for 29 and 11 against the Bears and hit some crucial free throws down the stretch (formally a weakness for him). While he was stifled for the most part against Oregon in the championship, Utah's success down the stretch can be attributed to Poeltl's presence down low. As Utah starts to play opponents outside the Pac-12, I expect Poeltl's contributions to rise the same way he dominated the non-conference schedule earlier this season.