Your complete -- and fun -- guide to the Pac-12 Tournament
Automatic bid to men's NCAA Tournament at stake this week.
Ever let a trusted friend borrow your car? You’re good with it. But also, maybe holding your breath just a little until you see the vehicle pull back in the driveway.
Andrew Martin has decades of experience scouting high school and college basketball. I assigned Martin a special project scouting the Pac-12 Conference men’s basketball teams this season and asked him to craft a comprehensive tournament report.
I’m letting him borrow the car today for your entertainment and education. His Pac-12 Tournament scouting report is a delight. I’m confident you won’t find a more thorough — and entertaining — evaluation of this week’s event in Las Vegas.
Away we go…
By Andrew Martin
Special to JohnCanzano.com
The opening line of the intro from a long-gone MTV diary documentary show, “You think you know... but you have no idea” should be used to promote this year’s Pac-12 Conference men’s basketball tournament.
An old sports adage tells us that any team can win on any given night. It’s especially true about the Pac-12 men’s basketball field.
Early on, when Arizona State started to put together enough victories to look like a legitimate NCAA Tournament team, it lost five of its next six games. Just as Oregon was mentioned as a “Last In” NCAA Tournament team, it got beat that very same day by Washington. USC, while building a strong case, was promptly plagued by injuries and the Trojans landed back on the bubble.
Even Cal, a program that might lose to good junior college teams, a few city league teams, and at least one of my college intramural teams, inexplicably managed to somehow put two conference victories on the board. Cal finished the regular season 3-28... so I guess what they say about blind squirrels and acorns must also be true for Bears.
That said, there is a clear top shelf to the Pac-12 Conference, a clear bottom, and a middle group that sometimes looks like mud. In fact, the coveted No. 4 seed (and final bye for the conference tournament) was not settled until the final day of regular-season play.
I compiled everything you need to know about each Pac-12 team. I included each team’s likelihood of winning and key players to watch. I also had some fun and paid homage to a popular Twitter trend. I gave a nod to the legendary coach Rick Pitino rant about beloved throwback players who are not walking through the arena door to help save the team in the postseason.
As Pitino famously said: “Larry Bird is not walking through that door, fans. Kevin McHale is not walking through that door, and Robert Parish is not walking through that door. And if you expect them to walk through that door, they’re going to be gray and old.”
Top of the Pac-12:
UCLA (27-4 overall, 18-2 in Pac-12)
The Bruins may not be the deepest team in the conference, they may not be the biggest team in the conference, but they are the best team in the conference. The core group has a lot of experience and knows how to win.
Senior Jaime Jaquez Jr. packs his lunch and does the hard work around the basket. He is consistent and flirts with a double-double most games. Because of that, he’s a legitimate Conference Player of the Year candidate and National Player of the Year candidate. While Jaquez struggled in some games against longer, more athletic players, he has been on an absolute tear to close out the season.
Senior Tyger Campbell is a dangerous playmaker who can create off the dribble. Junior Jaylen Clark is one of the best defenders in the league, and fifth year player David Singleton has played more than 130 games in a UCLA uniform. The experienced core of UCLA gets a little boost from freshman Amari Bailey who (when healthy) provides another playmaker, and freshman big man Adem Bona who, while still noticeably raw, has some explosive moments.
Are the No. 4-ranked Bruins really the fourth-best team in the country? Probably not. Are they the best team in the Pac-12? Without a doubt. And if UCLA stays locked in, it is the easy pick to win the conference tournament. But this assumes Clark, who had a boot on his right foot over the weekend, is able to play.
While you can’t argue with the results the Bruins produced during the regular season, the question remains: Does UCLA have enough depth and size for an extended NCAA tournament run?
Odds to win the Pac-12 Tournament: Excellent (although the status of Jaylen Clark presents a speed bump.)
Players to watch: Jaquez Jr., Campbell, Clark.
Who isn’t walking through that door: Tyus Edney
Arizona (25-6 overall, 14-6)
Is Azuolas Tubelis the Pac-12 Player of the Year? Or is a late push from Jaime Jaquez Jr. going to be enough to unseat him? UCLA winning the regular-season conference title may give Jaquez the edge.
Still, Tubelis has been nothing short of impressive while leading the conference in both scoring and rebounding. Some of his worst performances (see: Stanford) were a direct result of early foul trouble and an inability to find rhythm. It’s interesting to note that all six of the Wildcats’ losses this season came in conference play. Arizona also had one of the toughest finishes of the Pac-12 regular season, ending with games vs. both LA schools.
Do the No. 8-ranked Wildcats have what it takes to make a deep run in March Madness? Probably not. But they bring a couple of really good bigs to the party with Tubelis and Oumar Ballo (who ranks second in rebounding in the Pac-12). Also, they have experienced point-guard play from Kerr Kriisa, and some long-range sniping from Courtney Ramey.
Arizona is certainly capable of winning the Pac-12 Tournament, but the blueprint for beating the Wildcats is readily available: attack early/often and hope for a favorable whistle to put the bigs in foul trouble.
Odds to win the tournament: Good (but with the high risk of being upset).
Players to watch: Tubelis, Ballo, Kriisa, Ramey.
Who isn’t walking through that door: Steve Kerr.
USC (22-9 overall, 14-6)
The Trojans have been sitting comfortably in the third-place spot of the Pac-12 standings all season. Unlike the log-jam of teams below them in the standings, the Trojans have managed to take care of business when they needed to (with the exception of back-to-back losses to the Oregon schools when they were without injured center Josh Morgan.
When healthy, USC has a formidable frontcourt with Morgan and five-star freshman Vincent Iwuchukwu (who has been on a minutes restriction due to a cardiac issue). Coach Andy Enfield used the portal to bring in serious firepower with Drew Peterson and Boogie Ellis. The Trojans have all the pieces to be dangerous and certainly are a threat to win the Pac-12 Tournament this week. If doctors clear Iwuchukwu for full-go and he stays out of foul trouble — look out.
Odds to win the Pac 12 tournament: Decent.
Players to watch: Morgan, Peterson, Ellis.
Who isn’t walking through that door: Tom Selleck.
Middle of the Pac-12:
Oregon (18-13 overall, 12-8)
The first draft of this scouting report was written after Oregon had put together back to back wins against ASU and USC. My report was full of hope and optimism and it looked like the Ducks might get healthy and gel as a team at the right time. But if we have learned anything from Ellis “Red” Redding at Shawshank Prison, it’s that “Hope …is a dangerous thing.”
Just as the Ducks appeared on Joe Lunardi’s radar, they stumbled and lost three out of their next four games. Then, Oregon closed out the conference schedule with three straight victories. The question remains: Which Oregon team will show up in Las Vegas this week?
With its length and athleticism, Oregon can defend and rebound. N’Faly Dante is dominant and maybe the best big in a conference full of great ones. Transfer Jermaine Couisnard (South Carolina) has been a nice addition, and seems to take turns along with Keeshawn Barthelemy hitting big shots. But Oregon’s success may come down to the play of Will Richardson. He has to make plays, shoot and take care of the ball.
If the Ducks can limit the turnovers and play together, they have a legit shot to win this event and steal the conference’s NCAA Tournament automatic bid. Getting the first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament gives UO an interesting advantage.
Odds to win the Pac-12 tournament: Decent.
Players to watch: Dante, Richardson, Couisnard, Barthelemy.
Who isn’t walking through that door: Jordan Kent.
Washington State (16-15 overall, 11-9)
When healthy, the Cougs are a complete team, and one of most fun tournament entries to watch. They have size, shooters, slashers, and toughness. While WSU has a big win on its resume (vs. Arizona), closing out the year by completing the season sweep vs. Washington was the regular-season highlight for the Cougars in 2023. If Tennessee transfer Justin Powell is locked in with his outside shot, freeing up big man Mouhamed Gueye to work inside, it can be a long night for Cougar opponents. The Cougs have won six straight leading into the Pac-12 Tournament. Could they duplicate what the WSU women’s team just did in dancing off with the tournament title?
Odds to win the Pac 12 tournament: OK.
Players to watch: Gueye, Powell, DJ Rodman (Yes, THAT Rodman), TJ Bamba, and if you are fortunate enough to get a rare Jack Wilson sighting, he is an absolute mountain of a human (I like to picture him driving a Prius).
Who isn’t walking through that door: LaVar Ball.
Arizona State (20-11 overall, 11-9)
Coach Bobby Hurley reached into the transfer portal and pulled out a squad that came out of the gates red-hot... (with a couple of stumbles, including a nearly 40-point face-plant against the University of San Francisco). When they are locked in as a team, the Sun Devils play half-court defense and press/trap like wild dogs who think the ball is a pot roast. They force mistakes... but don’t capitalize on those mistakes as often as they should.
Offensively, ASU is very balanced — sometimes to its detriment. The Sun Devils don’t really have “That Guy” who can make a big play with the game on the line, although down the final stretch of the conference Desmond Cambridge Jr. looked ready to step into role (see: heroics vs. Arizona below).
ASU could easily be sitting comfortably in third place in the Pac-12 today but the Sun Devils tripped and dropped a handful of games they probably should have won. Still, what Hurley and Arizona State have accomplished this season is notable. Credit to the defense. Also, the leadership and heart of players such as Frankie Collins. The 20-win regular-season is nothing short of remarkable especially when you factor the benching (booting? banishing?) of starter Marcus Bagley just two games into the season.
Can ASU win the Pac-12 Tournament? It is certainly possible... but they might not be big enough, and they are going to have to make shots more consistently against zone defenses.
Odds to win the Pac 12 tournament: Maybe.
Players to watch: Cambridge Jr, Collins, Devan Cambridge, DJ Horne.
Who isn’t walking through that door: Eddie House.
Utah (17-14 overall, 10-10)
A healthy Utah team could be a real problem in the Pac-12 tournament. Unfortunately the Utes were down two starters as the regular season drew to a close. Utah is tough, hard-nosed, well-coached and plays hard. Its best player, Branden Carlson, is a skilled big with a decent touch. He makes the game look easy. Injuries to starting point guard Rollie Worster and Cincinnati transfer Gabe Madsen cost Utah some wins down the stretch. While the Utes don’t appear to have the horses to win the conference tourney, getting Worster back on the court makes them a dangerous team to take too lightly.
Odds to win the Pac 12 tournament: Shrinking.
Players to watch: Branden Carlson and Lazar Stefanovic.
Who isn’t walking through that door: Tom Chambers.
Colorado (16-15 overall, 8-12)
Colorado comes at you with a nice 1-2 punch. Tristan da Silva is one of the best bigs in the league, and sophomore guard KJ Simpson is a star on the rise. Outside of those two, the remainder of Tad Boyle’s squad consists of tough-minded role players who can rebound, screen, defend and occasionally hit an open three.
Highlights from the regular-season schedule included wins over nationally ranked Tennessee and Texas A&M. Also, Colorado beat the two Oregon schools by a pile of points in back-to-back games the midseason. The Buffaloes don’t have the depth to win the Pac-12 Tournament (especially with Simpson ruled out with mono), but if they’re overlooked, they’re a threat to knock someone else’s favorite team out of the tournament.
Odds to win the Pac 12 tournament: Slim to none.
Players to watch: da Silva and Simpson.
Who isn’t walking through that door: Chauncey Billups.
Washington (16-15 overall, 8-12)
Husky fans are no doubt disappointed with the regular season. UW appeared ready to end the season with some momentum, before stumbling badly in losses to Stanford and WSU in the home stretch. Should UW be better? Absolutely. Is Mike Hopkins the right guy for the job? Probably not. Are the Huskies going to win the Pac-12 Tournament? Almost definitely not, but they have a little size and a little athleticism, and like everyone else in this mid-Pac cluster, they could play the role of spoiler.
Odds to win the Pac 12 tournament: Slim to none.
Players to watch: Keion Brooks Jr (see highlight below).
Who isn’t walking through that door: Ryan Appleby
Bottom of the Pac-12:
Stanford (13-18 overall, 7-13)
If a tree falls on a farm and nobody is around to see it, did it really fall? There have not been many conference wins to celebrate this year at Stanford, but a stunning victory against then-No. 4 Arizona was the high point of the regular season.
As Arizona, and most recently Washington found out, Spencer Jones is not afraid to let it fly. The Cardinal are just dangerous enough that you shouldn’t overlook them. They can all move, cut, screen and shoot. Stanford is kind of like your friend’s kid brother who you allow to play in your pick-up game to make the teams even. He’s rarely a factor, but every once in a while he’ll go 6-for-7 from three and make you pay.
Sidenote: During the ESPN broadcast of the Cal-Stanford game I was one of few viewers still watching during mop-up minutes at the end. One of the broadcasters mentioned that Roy Yuan, a Stanford senior reserve guard, has an interesting family storyline. His father is the founder of Zoom. Did I try to shoehorn a “Can everyone see my screen” joke into this section? Yes. Did I succeed? No.
Odds to win the Pac 12 tournament: Not likely... but better keep a hand up.
Players to watch: The most interesting Stanford players to watch will actually make their debut next year, with commitments from Andrej Stojakovic (yes, THAT Stojakovic), and Kanaan Carlyle. You would think the mediocre results coach Jarod Haase has produced would have his seat warm, if not very warm, but locking in recruits of this caliber probably saves him.
Who is not walking through that door: Chris Hernandez.
Oregon State (11-20 overall, 5-15)
It’s been a long season for a young Oregon State team. In addition to the inexperience, the Beavers lacked the frontcourt scoring punch desperately needed to compete in a conference filled with so many talented bigs. Five conference wins is a poor showing, but keeps OSU ahead of utterly dismal Cal. If there is a silver lining in Corvallis it's that the Beavers best two players, Jordan Pope and Glenn Taylor Jr. are both underclassmen. Pope can shoot it. That sometimes allows OSU to hang around early in games.
If the coaching staff can hit the transfer portal hard and get some older, more experienced players in the mix there may be something to build on. When you look at what other Pac-12 coaches were able to do with the portal this year, some of the deficiencies of this OSU roster are a little puzzling.
Odds to win the Pac 12 tournament: It would take a miracle.
Players to watch: Pope, Taylor Jr.
Who isn’t walking through that door: Gary Payton II (But if he did, the Blazers medical staff would insist he was fine).
California (3-28 overall, 2-18)
I grew up in the East Bay with a poster of Harmon Gym in my bedroom and Jason Kidd newspaper clippings taped all over my wall (never meet your heroes, kids). I was a season ticket holder during the Ben Braun coaching era, too. So it gives me no pleasure to substantiate the reports of the demise of Cal basketball. What went wrong?
It would be hard to pinpoint one thing so instead I’ll just gesture wildly at everything. I’ll start with the athletic director — Jim Knowlton — who enabled this mess… to the coaching staff who made the mess… a thorough house cleaning is in order in Berkeley.
Odds to win the Pac 12 tournament: Zero.
Players to watch: You’re honestly better off just not.
Who isn’t walking through that door: Randy Duck.
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"a thorough house cleaning is in order in Berkeley"
Can we order one for the entire East Bay?
Will Richardson is the same player he was his first day as a freshman. He hasn’t improved. Same bad decisions. Turnovers. Over dribbles. Can’t shoot. How many times do we see the same move - floater/runner off the underside of the front of the rim? Stanford game the other night, last 2 minutes - turnover, missed one and one throw, fouled a guy shooting a 3. It’s a flawed group overall, but Richardson gets talked about like he’s “the guy” and he just isn’t. Oregon doesn’t have the guy.