By Jack Knowlton
March Madness has extended well past March making the job of bracketologists, “experts” of the college basketball jobs quite difficult. Today, I’ll break down the best of the best of Bill Walton’s favorite conference, the PAC-12.
Favorite: Oregon Ducks. Coach Dana Altman’s side storm into the tournament on a four game winning streak. In this season of craziness, the Ducks have found decent consistency in conference play. The real test for the Ducks will come in the actual NCAA Tournament when they face a higher seed. Oregon failed to pick up wins against an a ranked North Carolina side (early in the season) and Gonzaga. Their only other ranked wins were against a high flying Michigan side, Seton Hall and a Memphis who now sit on the bubble. If the Ducks and senior guard and PAC-12 player of the year Payton Pritchard can avoid an early round slip up, the Ducks should be able to out talent the other contenders in the conference and set themselves up for a four, or even three seed in the NCAA tournament.
Upset special: Oregon State. The Beavers are a team to watch to possibly make a run in this season’s tournament. The problem: They run straight into tournament favorites Oregon in round two. The Ducks and Beavers split their season series and with both teams riding winning streaks game three should be an entertaining fixture. In both matchups, four of the Oregon State starters were in double figures however, in the most recent matchup in Eugene where Oregon came out on top, the Beavers had just four bench points. They will need Senior leader and now Oregon State’s all-time leading scorer Tres Tinkle and their bench to step up if they want to cause an early round shocker.
PAC-12 Champ Dark Horse: USC. Now for a team that could maybe spoil an Oregon victory later in the tournament. USC comes into the tournament with wins over high-flying UCLA and previously ranked Arizona. Freshman Onyeka Okongwu, who played at the same high school as the Ball brothers, has taken to college basketball like a duck to water (no Oregon based pun intended). The 6’9 forward leads the Trojans in points, rebounds and blocks where he also ranks second overall in the PAC-12. Okongwu also leads the conference in field goal percentage. USC’s kryptonite is free throw shooting. They rank dead last in the conference at just under 67% from the line. However, the Trojans are the best PAC-12 team in rebounding and if they lean on the performances of Okongwu and their solid rebounding and defensive numbers, there is no reason why the Trojans can’t prove that defense (and rebounding) can win championships.
With other teams like Colorado, Arizona, UCLA and Stanford; the PAC-12 has many teams with a decent shot at the crown. However, USC and Oregon should stand above the rest with Oregon State as the most likely to throw a giant wrinkle as to who comes out on top in Las Vegas.
Edited by Garrett Jones | firstname.lastname@example.org