Arizona and UCLA as Nos. 2 and 3 seeds are fine, and I like Arizona's chances of advancing to the Final Four in Glendale, Ariz. As Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott noted last week in Las Vegas, having the Final Four staged in the West for the first time in 22 years aligns nicely with a resurgence in college basketball out here. Arizona is well positioned to make a run, assuming the Pac-12 lives up to expectations in the tournament, unlike last March.
Wow. That was sobering. Even with No. 1 Oregon reaching the Elite Eight, the reality is none of the seven teams' performance matched its seeding. The league went 3-6 in the opening weekend, with five first-round exits. No. 4 California, No. 6 Arizona, No. 7 Oregon State, No. 8 Colorado and No. 8 USC all lost in the first round, then No. 3 Utah fell to Gonzaga in the second round.
The committee disregards past tournament performances in judging teams, but the Pac-12's 2016 showing made me view the conference differently this season. So I'm saying the four teams were slotted properly and no others, such as Cal, were worthy. And the committee even gave USC a rematch opportunity, meeting Providence in a First Four game after the Trojans were beaten at the buzzer last March.
The Trojans then would have a decent shot at beating No. 6 SMU in the East before potentially meeting No. 3 Baylor, with former Olympus High School star Jake Lindsey.
Oregon's slight drop from most projections (the committee ranked the Ducks No. 9 overall) is justified by the loss of forward Chris Boucher to a knee injury. That's significant, putting a lot of pressure on Dillon Brooks and keeping me from penciling in Oregon too far in the Midwest bracket. The Ducks even could have trouble with Creighton, former coach Dana Altman's former employer, in the second round.
I do endorse Arizona, after the Wildcats beat UCLA and Oregon to win the Pac-12 tournament. The Wildcats are a different team with Allonzo Trier, who missed two of their four losses with eligibility issues, and their West Coast Conference-driven draw is favorable. Arizona opens the tournament against Big Sky Conference champion North Dakota — meaning Weber State may have received that assignment at Vivint Smart Home Arena, if not for losing a six-point lead in the last minute of regulation Saturday.
In any case, Arizona could play the WCC's Saint Mary's in the second round and Gonzaga in the Elite Eight. I'd take the Wildcats (with Trier) in a rematch of a December game Gonzaga won 69-62 in Los Angeles.
That same day, UCLA won 97-92 at Kentucky. The Bruins are in line for a Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky in the South, which should be their stopping point. An offense-oriented team is capable of about any outcome in the tournament, positively or negatively, but I'm saying UCLA will play exactly as a No. 3 seed should.
As everyone who follows the Pac-12 knows, that would be an improvement over last March.