If you are like me and you went heavy on Pac-12 teams in ALL of your brackets, you probably enjoyed a Sunday full of activities that didn't include moving one step closer to winning $50. The sad reality for those too close to the conference is that the Pac-12 is a lot weaker than both we expected and the tournament committee anticipated. Albeit Cal's loss isn't indicative of the team that tied for third in the Pac-12 conference and the match-ups were not must wins by any stretch of the imagination. However, it's fair to say we expected more. From USC's late collapse, to the Bears somewhat embarrassing loss against Hawaii and Utah's early departure, the conference struggled mightily in the first round of the tournament. Outside of Virginia, Oregon has been the closest #1 seed to fall and it was against a Saint Joseph team who many didn't think would make it through one round. To borrow a line from Jaylen Brown's press conference, this has been a "humbling moment" for us in the conference who expected the non-conference play out similarly to how it did at the start of the year. Let's take a look at the highlights from each game and add a few thoughts regarding the implication of the Pac-12's awful* postseason performance.
*If Oregon wins it all, we can revisit this adjective.
Pac-12 NCAA Tournament Highlights:
Oregon over Saint Joseph's
We are going to skip right over Oregon's win against Holy Cross as that was a total blowout. Oregon started off strong in this matchup and took a small lead into halftime. With about five minutes left to play, St. Joe's ended up catching fire and pushing their late lead to seven points. If it wasn't for Dillon Brooks nearly willing his team to victory, St. Joe's easily could have come away victorious. Brooks carried Oregon down the stretch and help stave off the upset from a hungry St. Joe's team that could have been the cherry on top for a bad tournament performance for the Pac-12.
Gonzaga over Utah
Utah was able to also win their first round match-up with Jakob Poeltl having a monster game. Their second round match-up would have a very, very different ending. The crazy thing about this game was it wasn't ever very close. Gonzaga built a decent lead through the first half and Utah closed it temporarily. Then the Zags blew the doors off and opened up a 15+ point lead in the first half. Utah had absolutely no answer for the Zags outside shooting and very early on you could tell this was out of reach. Poeltl, who apparently was nursing a sore ankle, was held to five points and likely played his last game as a Ute.
Hawaii over Cal
There has been so much already said about this match-up that it doesn't bear repeating. Cal was decimated by injuries, the refs went whistle crazy and Hawaii outplayed the Bears second and third stringers. Plain and simple, this was not a fun game to watch and it was a very unfortunate way to end what was an exciting season in Berkeley. The Bears have too many concerns heading into the offseason to feel overly optimistic about this teams accomplishments.
Witchita State over Arizona
Potentially too much Fred Van Vleet or potentially poor guard play, either way Arizona went down to the shockers which was none too shocking...ha! Gabe York didn't have a good game for the Wildcats and ultimately Arizona simply didn't have it this year. For whatever reason, Sean Miller's team never looked dominant all year long and the ongoing thought was it was due to their health. The Wildcats came into this game fairly healthy and ended up still getting beat, fairly decisively. The saving grace for Sean Miller is they have a decent amount of young talent and an elite freshman in Allonzo Trier.
VCU over Oregon State
It would have made for an amazing cinderella story if GPII could have carried Oregon State beyond the first round and even into the sweet sixteen. That story never came to fruition as VCU outplayed the Beavers for the majority of their first round match-up. Gary Payton II had his usual solid game with a couple of high flying dunks and finishes yet it would be too little for the Beavers to move forward. Oregon State leaves having broken a twenty year drought in the NCAA tournament and finally having some momentum behind their program, even with GPII finishing school.
Providence over USC
In arguably the most exciting game out of all the Pac-12 action, USC fell to Providence on a last second shot. USC had a total defensive collapse beneath the basket and Providence won their first NCAA tournament game since 1997. No Cal fan would ever see a USC loss and feel any sort of empathy but those who were rooting for the conference to succeed definitely let out a groan. The Trojans had many opportunities to win this game but simply chose not to. The blown assignment under the basket was the icing on the cake.
UConn over Colorado
Another "what if" game for the Pac-12. Colorado was handling UConn quite well through the first half and had established a solid lead behind Josh Scott. Scott played extremely well and was a problem for the Huskies the entire evening. The second half UConn came out and turned the games on its head. The Huskies surged past the Buff's in the second half to advance leaving another Pac-12 team headed home after round one in the tournament.
Final thoughts on the tournament:
It will be interesting to see how the selection committee responds to the dismal showing by Pac-12 teams this year, even if Oregon does make it further in the tournament. Outside of the Cal injuries and classic Cal turmoil, the conference struggled against mid major teams. If there is any self reflection I can learn from, it is that the power five conferences matter much more in football than they do in basketball. Perhaps that might even be inaccurate however until they expand college football to an eight team playoff we won't see that play out. Cal certainly could return a much weaker team in 2016-17 and Oregon State won't be the same without Gary Payton II at the helm. It will be a long six months until pre-season picks back up again for Pac-12 basketball.