The best thing about college basketball is that no one knows absolutely anything. Earlier this week, I predicted an uneventful first day of the Pac-12 Tournament. After the first game, Cal’s 84-59 demolition of Washington State, it seemed the conference’s bracket would fill itself out. Instead, the final three games of Wednesday’s slate were exhilarating.
USC pulled off the greatest comeback and the greatest upset in Pac-12 Tournament history at the same time. Colorado ran Oregon State out of Las Vegas behind a quintessential Askia Booker game. Stanford’s Chasson Randle provided the nightcap with his last-second winner against Washington after he had been ice-cold all game. So here we stand, with two of the bottom three seeds in the second round, and the next bout of games slated to tip off barely more than 12 hours after the players last cleared the court of the MGM Grand Arena.
No. 1 Arizona (28-3, 16-2) vs. No. 8 Cal (18-14, 7-11) — 1 p.m. Mountain Time
Cal beat Washington State behind a huge game from forward David Kravish — 25 points, eight rebounds — and an ungodly 8-of-12 performance from deep. Two of the Bears’ three star guards went off, too; Jordan Matthews dropped 19 points and Tyrone Wallace had 12 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Matthews, Wallace and Jabari Bird are an incredibly productive backcourt, but against Arizona they will be guarded by T.J. McConnell, Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, three of the best perimeter defenders in the Pac-12. Hollis-Jefferson probably should have been the conference’s defensive player of the year. The Wildcats are a defensive menace and their athleticism makes them unstoppable in transition. Their tendency to get bogged down in their half-court offense rarely costs them, and they beat the Bears by a combined 62 points in two games this season. There’s little reason to expect that Arizona won’t roll through Cal, and the rest of the conference, and the better part of their region in the NCAA Tournament.
No. 4 UCLA (19-12, 11-7) vs. No. 12 USC (12-19, 3-15) — 3:30 p.m. MT
USC’s win over Arizona State was one of the most stunning victories the Pac-12 has seen in years. Guard Elijah Stewart played the game of his life, and he scored 12 of his 27 points on a personal run in the second half that single-handedly brought the Trojans back into the game. UCLA is by no means a powerhouse, but it is certainly better than the Sun Devils. The Bruins are incredibly talented but maddeningly inconsistent. Guard Norman Powell and forward Kevon Looney should form the brunt of UCLA’s attack, but point guard Bryce Alford, the coach’s son, takes over far too often. He’s an inefficient, sub-40-percent shooter, and he would not have the green light that he does but for the name on the back of his jersey. Still, the Bruins are too talented to lose to the worst team in the conference, a team that they beat twice by double digits. Stewart can’t have that many miracles up his sleeve.
No. 2 Oregon (23-8, 13-5) vs. No. 10 Colorado (15-16, 7-11) — 7 p.m. MT
Colorado could not be facing a more different opponent than the Oregon State team that it just beat. The Beavers were a stifling defensive squad; Oregon has the Pac-12’s second-best offense. The Ducks will go as far as guard Joseph Young, the conference’s player of the year, takes them. He and Buffs guard Askia Booker are the two best heat-check players in the Pac-12. Booker got hot only for a moment against Oregon State, but it was enough. Those two can trade buckets all night, and Colorado will likely be unable to contain Young; no one has thus far, and he dropped 23 on the Buffs in their only matchup this season. But Oregon doesn’t have the size or skill to contend with Colorado’s frontcourt. The Buffs grabbed 20 offensive rebounds in that first game, and they lost largely because they failed to convert them into second-chance points. They couldn’t convert anything from anywhere; they shot 36 percent in that game. Colorado is out of that slump, though, and it is shooting over 50 percent in its last four games. Twenty-three might not be enough for Young this time.
No. 3 Utah (23-7, 13-5) vs. No. 6 Stanford (20-12, 9-9) — 9:30 p.m. MT
This game features the most exciting individual matchup of the second round — Utah guard Delon Wright against Stanford guard Chasson Randle. Wright should have been the Pac-12’s player of the year; he is as complete a guard as there is in the country. Randle is a pure scorer, a volume shooter who, though inefficient at times, doesn’t need to shoot well to produce points. Wright is an excellent defender, but he and Utah’s bigs must avoid fouling Randle. He shoots nearly 90 percent from the free-throw line and he gets there six times per game. Wright hounded him into a 2-of-11 performance in their lone contest this season, and the Cardinal don’t have the shot-creators elsewhere on their roster to pick up the slack when Randle’s shot isn’t falling and he isn’t getting to the line. Stanford got big games from Stefan Nastic and Anthony Brown in its win over Washington, but it was still Randle who beat the Huskies at the buzzer. How close the Cardinal stay with Utah depends on how well Randle scores. It’s that simple.
Contact CU Independent basketball beat reporter Tommy Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @woodstein72.