Posted on March 12, 2020
Upshot from Round One: Little Goes as Expected
History was made.
In a year with unmatched parity in the conference, the opening game of the tournament lived up to expectations. Down one with a few seconds remaining, Oregon State inbounded the ball to Tres Tinkle who found Jarod Lucas in the corner for a three with one second remaining. The freshman knocked it down, sealing a comeback for the Beavers who won despite Utah’s Alfonso Plummer draining a conference-record 11 threes. Somehow, Plummer’s 35-point performance and record setting night from deep wasn’t enough, forcing the Utes’ Cinderella dreams to wait another year.
Fresh off a victory over the Wildcats in Tucson, Washington strode into T-Mobile Arena full of confidence. In the first half, Isaiah Stewart dropped 18 points on Sean Miller’s defense, getting anything he wanted in the paint while hitting the occasional mid-range shot. Still, the Cats went into the locker room up five at the half. Even so, Miller must have laid into his players at the break, as Arizona hardly turned the ball over in the final 20 minutes and turned its defensive intensity up several notches. In the end, UA secured a seven point victory on the back of Josh Green’s 19 points and Dylan Smith’s six assists.
Needing a win to feel comfortable on Selection Sunday, Jarod Haase and Stanford dropped the ball against California. Trailing the entire game, the Tree never got going offensively and were unable to slow the tag-team attack of Paris Austin and Matt Bradley. The pair combined for 36 points on an efficient 12-25 from the field, all but eliminating the Cardinal from the NCAA Tournament. In a nightmare scenario, Tyrell Terry and Oscar da Silva combined for just 10 points on 3-17 shooting to go along with six turnovers, a disastrous end to their season.
To cap off the night, CJ Elleby went wild, dropping 30 on Colorado in the Cougs’ 14-point victory. The win was historic on several levels, most notably because it ended WSU’s 11-year winless streak in the conference tournament. On top of that, for the first time in the league’s history, an 11-seed won a game, emphasizing the parity in the Conference of Champions this season. Worryingly, the 82 points scored by Washington State was the most Colorado had given up all year, and the defeat was CU’s first opening-round loss since joining the conference in 2011.
It’s definitely March.
General Outlook: Coronavirus Dominates the Day
The Coronavirus fears overshadowed the day, forcing the Pac-12 to ban spectators from the remaining games. The unprecedented step could be a harbinger of things to come, as ominous questions are being raised about whether or not the NCAA will allow the Big Dance to happen at all. With the NBA suspending its season, the possibility of a postponed or canceled tournament is growing stronger.
Second-Round Games (March 12)
No. 1 Oregon vs. No. 8 Oregon State
Thursday, March 12
Noon, Pac-12 Network
The opening game for the 1-seed is historically a struggle in the first half. Facing a team who has already played a hard-fought battle is like getting dropped into a boiling pot, forcing the top ranked team to quickly adjust to the caliber of play. To make matters worse, Oregon State has already defeated the Ducks this year, and has the upper hand in the rivalry over the last two years. Almost always, the top seed comes alive after about ten minutes, then pulls away in the second half for a less-than-comfortable win. History may not repeat itself, but Dana Altman and Payton Pritchard are a dangerous combination in March. They know the importance of a high seed in the Big Dance, and it starts with a strong performance against the Beavers.
No. 4 USC vs. No. 5 Arizona
Thursday, March 12
2:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network
Andy Enfield and Sean Miller do battle in the tournament for the third year in a row, with Miller winning two of the three. A trip to the semi-finals is on the line this time, requiring both teams to leave it all on the court in order to survive and advance. Last time in L.A., the Cats had an horrendous shooting night, partially due to the Trojans’ stifling defense. And while inconsistency has hurt UA this year, the one constant has been Zeke Nnaji. The Freshman of the Year will have his hands full on defense with Onyeka Okongwu, who likely feels slighted for not winning the award himself. As such, Miller’s game plan could revolve around slowing down the big man, and the Wildcats may utilize their zone on a handful of series to do so.
No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 10 California
Thursday, March 12
6:00 p.m., Pac-12 Network
Coming off a surprise upset, California faces UCLA in the third game of the day. A loss would severely damage the Bruins, who are smack dab on the bubble and in need of a resume building win. Unfortunately, this game doesn’t provide that, and instead is a must-win that could crush their March Madness hopes if they stumble. Ostensibly, Mark Fox and the Bears are fully aware of the situation, giving them the same carefree feeling they had against Stanford. For Cal, it doesn’t matter if they lose: Fox has already exceeded expectations this year, laying the groundwork for a legitimate rebuild. A Bear win would only reinforce that image. On the other hand, Mick Cronin is under pressure to get passed this game and on to a Quad 1 opponent which would help them out substantially in their bid for a tournament appearance.
Finishing out Day 2 in Las Vegas, Arizona State opens up its tournament against Washington State, who is coming off a convincing dismantling of Colorado. CJ Elleby was red-hot on Wednesday, creating a significant challenge for Bobby Hurley’s defense. Fortunately for the Devils, they have numerous offensive weapons to counter anything WSU throws at them. Specifically, the three-headed monster of Rob Edwards, Alonzo Verge Jr., and Remy Martin are nearly unstoppable when they are playing well. Even when one of them has an off night, the remaining two step up to pick up the slack. To make matters worse, the Cougs don’t have a very strong defense, potentially setting up a barn burner that may be too high scoring for Kyle Smith’s team to keep up with.
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