By Cole Tussing
This PAC 12 season has been fun to watch, anybody can beat anybody. UCLA had an 8-0 conference record then proceeded to lose on a backdoor cut at the buzzer to Stanford. Washington State, a bottom-half team in the conference record-wise, was able to knock off Oregon and UCLA a few nights apart. With multiple teams gambling for their name to be called on Selection Sunday, this is going to be a conference to keep an eye on.
Player to watch:
The player to watch in this tournament is none other than the forward from USC, Evan Mobley. He’s been the defensive anchor for the Trojans, and his numbers have been impressive, some would say historic. Averaging a double-double of 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 swats a game. When you put those numbers together, he’s 1st in the conference in total blocks and block averages, 1st in total rebounds, especially on the defensive side, and finally 3rd in the PAC in field goal percentage, at 59%. All these numbers are great and would contribute to team success, but they are more noteworthy than some may realize. Going down the archives for the most dominant bigs in college hoops history, I found that Mobley’s season numbers are very similar to none other than Anthony Davis out of Kentucky. As a quick reminder, Mobley averaged 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks; meanwhile, Davis averaged for his only college season 14 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 blocks. Anthony Davis was arguably one of the most dominant freshmen in college hoops of this generation, and to see Mobley correlate very well to the historic company is remarkable. He’s my player to watch, because of a historic season, only time will tell how the tournament fairs. The Trojans appear to have a first-round bye and then will play the winner of Stanford/Washington, both teams the Trojans swept in the regular season. As long as Mobley is on the court, the Trojans could fight on longer than most anticipate.
The PAC 12 has been a two-man horse race for the top between UCLA and Oregon, therefore not every team gets attention. There’s been one team that has been casually sleeping under the radar that could be due in for upsets, and that’s Washington State. Right now the Cougars are 10th, with a conference record of 7-12, barely over 50%. But this team going game by game is not as bad as their record may show. They started the year 8-0 and most of their losses in the conference have been by an average margin of 7-8 points. This is not a team that gets blown out of the gym by 30 every night, instead, this is a down on their luck team that if a few more shots go in, they walk out with more wins than losses. The month of February already showed signs of this, they beat Oregon at Eugene and then beat the Bruins a few nights later.
A trio needs to be on the same page if they don’t want to go home early, Isaac Bonton, Efe Adogidi, and Noah Williams. Bonton is a 2-way finisher with 18 points per game, which is 3rd in the conference, and steals the ball twice a night, which is best in the PAC. Williams also contributes to the pickpocket success, averaging 1.6 steals, which is 3rd in the conference. Adogidi is the leading rebounder on the team with 8, and if you stretch everything out, the Cougars are 3rd in the conference in total rebounding.
Going into the tournament, this is a team that knows they can beat anybody when things are working for them. They have nothing to lose, which in sports is dangerous because they will go all out to play spoiler.
Team to win:
Oregon may have won back-to-back championships, and will try to 3-peat this time around, but I’m picking the UCLA Bruins. In any sport and at any level, it’s very rare to see a team pull off the infamous 3-peat. Looking at this conference, the last time this was accomplished was back in 2008-11 respectively, with the Washington Huskies. That team consisted of future NBA players Justin Holiday and Isaiah Thomas.
A lot has gone well for the Bruins this season, and they will hope that the train of success continues. They have held the top podium spot for the majority of the season, they are undefeated (11-0) at home, and have a conference clip of 13-4 which adds up to 77%. Admittedly, the conference tournament isn’t being played in Pauley Pavilion, but it’s still an impressive accomplishment nonetheless.
As of now, the Bruins are currently slated as a 9th seed in the Big Dance, per Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology. They would play SEC-Missouri in the Michigan region. This conference tournament can go one of two ways. Either the Bruins win it all, which will thrust them into an easier region and a better seed placement. However, if the Bruins go out earlier than expected, their future is uncertain and that might be enough to be out of the field entirely. They need to win big if they want to feel more confident in hearing their name called on Selection Sunday.
Edited by Emma Moloney