When: March 8-11
TV: Almost entirely on the Pac-12 network, except for the games that start at 11:00 pm eastern time when ESPN has nothing better to air.
What are Cal’s chances to actually win the damned thing? Roughly 1 in 25, depending on your preferred data set.
I love the concept of the conference tournament for major conferences. Single elimination play is inherently full of drama and intrigue. It’s one last final chance to push your season over the top with an unexpected winning streak, and the worst case scenario is just one more defeat added to your ledger.
But the conference tournament has rarely treated Cal kindly. Consider:
2016: Cal appears to have clinched a massive win over a tough Utah team, only to watch Lorenzo Bonam go coast-to-coast to save the Utes before the Krystkowiaks triumphed in overtime.
2010: Monty’s best Cal team cruised to the final, then lost a heart breaker by blowing a 5 point lead in the final minute of regulation before losing in OT to Washington. That loss probably resigned Cal to the dreaded 8/9 seed, where the best ever Monty team had to face the buzz saw that was Duke.
2014, 2013, 2011, 2009, 2005, 2004 - garden variety one-and-done performances
2015, 2008, 2003, 2002 - Cal wins one game against a crummy team, then gets blown out in the 2nd game.
I basically have two meaningfully positive Pac-12 tournament memories - Leon Powe willing Cal to a double OT win over Oregon in the 2006 semis, and an OT win over Final Four bound UCLA in the 2007 quarterfinals. I don’t even need to tell you that Cal is Zero-for-19 in terms of conference tournament titles.
Is this the year Cal finally breaks their duck? Probably not.
While Cal is a heavy, heavy favorite to beat awful Oregon State, they would have to win three straight games, and would likely be underdogs in all 3. That’s why Kenpom gives Cal a 4% chance of raising the trophy on Saturday night.
Likely opponent capsules
Round 1 - Oregon State
Quickie season summary: By Kenpom rating (272), this year’s Oregon State is the single worst Pac-12 team since at least 2001. Yes, worse than the John Jay team that went 0-18. Lost to Savannah St. at home.
Best player: Drew Eubanks is the only major rotation player with an above average offensive rating, and the only competent rebounder. Tres Tinkle would take the title were he healthy.
What are our odds to beat ‘em? Cal is expected to win this game 90% of the time. Losing this one would cause me to search for appropriate hyperbole and then fail.
Would winning this game get us into the NCAA tournament? No. Beating the Beavers is valueless.
*Evidently CGB hazes new writers by making them preview Oregon State. That was cruel and unusual even by our standards.
Quickie season summary - Would probably be on the NCAA bubble, but 1. Krystkowiak scheduled an idiotic seven RPI 200+ teams in the non-conference (even Cal’s crummy schedule only had three), thus tanking their RPI and 2. they somehow lost to Oregon State. Other than that, solidly unspectacular on both sides of the ball.
Best player - David Collette has come on strong late in the season, but Kyle Kuzma is still the focal point upon which everything else revolves.
What are our odds to beat ‘em? Cal would be very mild underdogs on a neutral court - something along the lines of a 45% chance at winning. Like any good Vegas bet, it seems like a coin flip but you have to remember the vig for the house.
Would winning this game get us into the NCAA tournament? If Cal is currently out, notching one neutral site win over a team in the mid-70s of the RPI probably isn’t going to move the needle. We would need a bunch of other things to go right in other conference tournaments to entertain a shot by only making the semifinals.
Semi-finals: Oregon, probably
Quickie season summary: Lost two games early in the year when Dillon Brooks was dealing with injuries, then raced to a conference title by losing only a close road game at UCLA, and randomly to Colorado. Other than that one head-scratcher, a basically unblemished resume. Playing for a 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Best player: Dillon Brooks put together one of the more impressive volume scorer seasons in conference history en route to player of the year honors. Hit two cold-blooded buzzer beaters.
What are our odds to beat ‘em? The most optimistic forecasts would probably give something like a 1 in 3 chance.
Would winning this game get us into the NCAA tournament: Maybe? Adding 3 wins to our resume, including one win over an RPI top 10 team might make a pretty big difference. At a minimum, making it to the Pac-12 finals would get us in the conversation and make for a nervous selection Sunday.
Finals: Half the conference, but probably Arizona or UCLA
There is a roughly 90% chance that either Arizona or UCLA will emerge from the opposite side of the bracket, so we’re going to assume that will happen and laugh uproariously if both the Wildcats and Bruins fall early.
Quickie season summary: Arizona was Arizona and shall continue to be Arizona, earning a share of the conference crown like goddamned always. UCLA produced perhaps the single best offense in Pac-12 history and still had to settle for 3rd thanks to a mediocre defense and cold-blooded Dillon Brooks
Best player: Lonzo Ball is so good that he gets compared to Jason Kidd even though about all they really have in common is that they play point guard. Lauri Markkanen is a prototype for the all-to-rare stretch 5. Both are lottery picks.
What are our odds to beat ‘em? Presuming we actually get that far? Not much different from our odds to beat Oregon.
Would winning this game get us into the NCAA tournament: You know what would be cool? Getting Cal’s first ever automatic NCAA bid in modern program history.