The Pac-12’s late-season salvage operation appears to have worked as college basketball prepares for the most anticipated day of the year.
During stretches of a decidedly subpar season, the conference looked like it might send just two teams (UCLA and Arizona) to the NCAA Tournament.
But solid finishes by USC and Arizona State have improved the outlook for Selection Sunday, with at least one of those teams — and perhaps both — sneaking into the 68-team field.
Not that four bids would be a source of pride. But it’s exponentially better than three.
Before we dive into the at-large locks and contenders, three reminders about the NCAA selection committee’s process:
— Overall record, conference affiliation and conference record are irrelevant.
— The committee uses both subjective and objective criteria, with the latter focused on NET ranking, quality wins, bad losses, non-conference strength of schedule and performance away from home.
— Teams are evaluated against each other in clusters of four, six and eight in the resume scrubbing process. Those not voted into the at-large field are held over for consideration against another group of candidates, and so on, until the slots are filled.
(NET rankings through Friday. Non-conference schedule strength taken from Pomeroy efficiency rankings.)
NET ranking: No. 3Non-conference SOS: No. 148The nitty gritty: The Bruins played several challenging non-conference games, own eight Quadrant I wins and, crucially, have no bad losses. The committee will assess the impact of Jaylen Clark’s season-ending injury but use UCLA’s performance without him in the Pac-12 tournament to guide the decision. The Bruins are in contention for a No. 1 seed but cannot match Kansas, Alabama or Purdue for quality wins because of the paucity of opportunities in Pac-12 play. The outcome of the Big Ten tournament (with Purdue) could factor into UCLA’s placement.Our call: No. 2 seed
NET ranking: No. 10Non-conference SOS: No. 78The nitty gritty: The Wildcats have a bevy of elite non-conference wins (Tennessee, Indiana, Creighton and San Diego State), but we question whether a No. 1 seed is possible because of the nature of their losses. Arizona has dropped five games against teams that are either on the NCAA bubble or have no chance to make the at-large field. Put another way: The Wildcats’ four Quadrant II defeats are more than any team in the top 40 of the NET rankings, which undermines their claim for a spot on the top seed line. Like UCLA, they should be placed in Sacramento or Denver for the opening weekend.Our call: No. 2 seed
NET ranking: No. 50Non-conference SOS: No. 121The nitty gritty: We have reached the bubble portion of the Pac-12 outlook, and it starts with the Trojans. Many NCAA projections, including ESPN’s Bracketology, view USC as a No. 10 seed. We aren’t so sure. The Trojans have just three Quadrant I wins and only one road/neutral-court victory over a team that could make the at-large field (Arizona State). They also have a bad home loss (Florida Gulf Coast) and a bad road loss (Oregon State). Their status could be a bit more tenuous than it appears.Our call: No. 11 seed
NET ranking: No. 66Non-conference SOS: No. 131The nitty gritty: The Sun Devils are a fascinating case and could be one of the last teams in the tournament … or one of the first left out. They have two bad losses (Texas Southern and San Francisco, both on the road) but their body of work otherwise is fairly impressive: 12 wins away from home — USC only has seven — plus neutral-court victories over Creighton, VCU and Michigan in addition to that momentous road win over Arizona. We suspect ASU and USC will be grouped together at some point in the committee’s scrubbing process. You can make the case ASU is more deserving of a bid.Our call: No. 11 seed
NET ranking: No. 47Non-conference SOS: No. 29The nitty gritty: Oregon is on the wrong side of the bubble but, even with 14 losses, not necessarily off the bubble. Why? Because the Ducks played a difficult non-conference schedule (Houston, UConn and Michigan State, to name three opponents), and they have only one loss in Quadrant III and IV games. That said, they lack quality wins and are extremely inconsistent, which will factor into any subjective assessment. For all their physical gifts, the Ducks haven’t looked like a tournament-worthy team for more than a few fleeting moments.Our call: No bid
*** Note: The projections will be updated following the Pac-12 championship game if necessary.
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