It was another thrilling season of college basketball in the Pac 12 as seven teams were sent to the NCAA Tourney. Expectations were high for some and low for others, but there was much speculation as to why so many teams got an invite. “Back the Pac” was promoted around the west coast with hopes the conference could prove its legitimacy on a national level. It was a disappointing result though, as five of the seven teams were knocked out in the first round. I paired up with fellow Pac 12 writer Eric Carlson to breakdown each team’s performance during March Madness, starting with the Ducks.
No. 1 Oregon
A stellar season, capped off by winning the Pac 12 championship, was what made Oregon the favorite team coming out of the Pac 12. After losing just four conference games, the Ducks entered the tournament seeded first with minimal expectations of making it to the elite eight. After routing Holy Cross by 40 in the first round, the second game against St. Joe’s pushed their limits as they saw themselves down seven with 5:30 left in the game. A brilliant run led by guard Dillon Brooks brought the Ducks back though, who ultimately won by five.
The game against Duke was what really defined the team’s performance in the tourney. It was Brooks’ coming out party, whose 22 points led all Oregon scorers. After gaining a lead at the end of the first half, the Ducks never let off scoring nearly 50 points in the second. Knocking off coach K’s squad should be viewed as a major accomplishment, not just because it’s their first time in school history doing so, but because of Duke’s prestige in college basketball. Some would say they’re unbeatable in tournament play, so for the Ducks to beat them to advance to the elite eight is an accomplishment in itself.
The season was ended at the hands of Buddy Hield and the Oklahoma Sooners. Hield put up 37 along with eight three-pointers in what was statistically his best game shooting on the season. Oregon struggled to contain him falling behind 18 at half. The deficit was too much to overcome cutting the Ducks season one game short of the Final Four. Overall, they exceeded the expectations of most and proved to be a respected team come next season. –Logan Johnson
No. 3 Utah
The Utah Utes were one of two Pac 12 teams to make it past the first round of the March Madness tournament defeating 14-seed Fresno State handily by a score of 80-69. Star forward Jakob Poetl helped lead the charge against the Bulldogs with 18 rebounds and 16 points. He has been Utah’s senior leader since day one and is the backbone of this strong Utes squad. When Poetl plays well the entire team plays well. Same goes for when he has an off day which came in the second round against a much larger Bulldog team, Gonzaga.
Utah came into the round of 32 feeling confident, feeling like they were the better team. Well that feeling faded to black once the Utes fell to a 15-point deficit in the first half. Gonzaga knew what most people did, if you can stop Jakob Poetl, you can defeat Utah. And that’s exactly what they did. The senior was held to only five points and four rebounds, one of his worst performances the entire season. This frontcourt domination can be contributed to superb defense and double teams by Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis who executed the game plan of shutting Poetl down perfectly.
It has been a good season for the Utes, but when your team is essentially one dimensional, it is hard to maintain your frontcourt domination in later rounds of the tournament. –Eric Carlson
No. 4 California
California had a terrific finishing run to their season up until they lost at Arizona. In my opinion, they were seeded much higher than what they deserved and the ranking they were given probably got to their head. No one had really known how good the (28-5) Hawaii Rainbow Warriors were and certainly not California. The Golden Bears didn’t necessarily play a bad game, but it wasn’t good either. They had 16 turnovers by the end of the game and had one of the worst 3-point percentages they’ve had all season with 15.8% from behind the ark.
This game was a cage match. It was gritty, hard fought, and had the train wreck quality where you want to look away but just couldn’t. What hurt California the most was the poor performance from star freshman Jaylen Brown, who normally averages above 14 points a game had just 4 against Hawaii. In order to win in this tournament all of your stars need to shine and for Jaylen Brown, he just couldn’t deliver.
If California wants to have a real chance at winning the tournament in the next couple of years, they need their star players to post-pone the draft and develop fully before moving on to the next level. –Eric Carlson
No. 6 Arizona
The Arizona Wildcats came into the March Madness tournament with perhaps the most difficult road to the Final Four, but that doesn’t matter unless you can make it past the first round. Instead, they were taken down easily by 11 seed Wichita State and never seemed to hold any control over the game from start to finish. What wavered the Wildcats from winning this game was a combination of three things, intensity, poor shooting, and turnovers.
From the very first whistle until half way through the second half the Arizona Wildcats didn’t seem to have a sense of purpose or drive to win the game. Yes, Wichita State’s swarming defense can knock any team off their competitive rocker, but for the #17 ranked team in the country to score only 19 points in 20 minutes is impressive. At that point, a leader has to step up and take the reins, but unfortunately there is no such player on Arizona. Once the second half began, the Wildcats continued to play with lackluster intensity and dug themselves a 24-point hole with 11:32 left in the game.
Nothing will hurt a player’s intensity more than poor shooting. In the first half the Wildcats were 6-21 from the field forging an abysmal 28% field goal percentage. Certainly not living up to the expectations of coach Sean Miller who contributed much of their woes to Wichita’s outstanding defense, “They forced the fifth-most turnovers in the nation. That’s hard to do when you play man-man and you don’t press. You feel it when you’re out there. There’s pressures everywhere.”
Arizona has struggled turning the ball over this year and that was more than apparent against the Shockers. The Wildcats gave up the rock an astonishing 19 times during the game, that will often never lead to a tournament win unless you have a man on your team named Steph Curry or LeBron James. This was the worst tournament performance for the Wildcats since 2012. –Eric Carlson
No. 7 Oregon State
The Beavers, led by senior Gary Payton II, unexpectedly received an invite to the tourney this year. The chances of advancing were low for a squad solely centered on Payton who, despite a valiant effort, concluded his college career with the team’s 67-75 loss.
Depth has been an issue all season as the team has no surrounding help for their star guard. Without Payton, OSU barely shot 37% from the field which is mediocre at best for a seven seed. Regardless, he singlehandedly kept the Beavers in the game with exciting fashion, scoring 19 points and six boards. It made it even more meaningful that Payton’s father, “The Glove,” was in attendance to see his son play his final collegiate game.
Unfortunately, Payton made more jaws drop than buckets, showing how crucial he was to his squad. Unless recruiting picks up, OSU will struggle to replace what he contributes on both sides of the ball. He leads the team in points, rebounds, and steals, so his departure will have a huge impact on how the Beavers do next season. –Logan Johnson
No. 8 USC
The Trojans were hopeful of being a team that could cause a few upsets in March Madness. A layup with 1.5 seconds left ruined those chances though, as Providence provided them with an early exit. USC gave a minimal effort in the second half sacrificing a five point lead with just three minutes left. An ugly turnover ratio and missed free throws in the final minute allowed Providence the chance for a comeback, who took advantage of the opportunity.
USC racked up 12 turnovers doubling the amount Providence had in the first round. That sloppy play alone made it tough for them to keep their lead, but what really hurt them was two missed one-and-one free throws. The misses gave Providence the extra possession needed to score the winning basket proving that the inability to perform in clutch situations can’t be evident in March.
If the Trojans can learn to finish games like they did early on this season, I have no doubt they will return to the tournament next year. Sophomore guard Jordan McLaughlin recorded 15 as USC’s top scorer but had little help to go with him. They were managing the game well, controlling the pace up until the closing minutes. If those last few free throws dropped it would’ve resulted in a victory and a chance to knock off North Carolina in the next round. –Logan Johnson
No. 8 Colorado
The Buffaloes’ March Madness performance was the most disappointing out of all seven teams representing the Pac 12. Although they were seeded higher, a victory over UConn was still considered an upset. So, it surprised many when they led by nine at half. The game took an overall turn for the worse though as Colorado had a second half meltdown.
The Buffaloes ranked fourth in the country in rebounds per game, and yet still managed to get outrebounded. They can’t win games while getting beat at the best part of their game, but there were much bigger issues to deal with. Colorado shot a mere 63% from the free throw line going 19-30 compared to 24-25 from UConn, resulting in a 67-74 defeat. A team lacking tournament experience will go through moments like this which separates the good from the bad. Free throws have proven to be essential to winning in March, so they will have to fix that before returning to the tourney.
With the loss the Buffaloes make it a fourth consecutive in tournament play. They’re returning a lot of their guys who now have that experience under their belt. They had a surprising season that should be viewed as an accomplishment, but a postseason that deserves to be redone. We’ll see how Colorado can respond next year. –Logan Johnson