Which team earns the Pac-12's automatic bid?
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WhatIfSports.com utilized its NCAA basketball simulation engine to present conference tournament previews and predictions for the Big East, Big Ten and Pac-12. We simulated each matchup 501 times to learn each team's win percentage and average score. Simulations are based on updated rosters and the statistical makeup of each team during the 2011-12 season.
The 2011-12 season has been a forgettable one for Pac-12 basketball, both on and off the court. The conference holds a 0-12 record against the AP Top 25, especially impressive when considering that in most years, two ranked teams would meet at least once in Pac-12 conference play, ensuring a Top 25 win for the victorious school. Poll voters have not been kind to the conference, however. A Pac-12 team last appeared in the rankings the week of November 28, when California ranked 24th in the AP Top 25 and 23rd in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll. Only Cal and Arizona have spent any time - a collective seven weeks - as ranked teams, although Washington has been a frequent recipient of the "others receiving votes" distinction.
As if the on-court struggles weren't enough, an investigative report recently unearthed damaging news about the UCLA Bruins and coach Ben Howland. It's never a good thing when allegations of player misconduct and lack of institutional control befall one of the conference's flagship programs.
The good news for Pac-12 faithful? March success tends to have a redeeming quality. Win in March and any previous wrongdoings are forgiven.
Having been out of the spotlight for so long, perhaps the conference has quietly improved since the season's onset. Most bracket prognosticators envision the Pac-12 receiving two to three NCAA tournament bids, with seeding in the nine-to-13 range. Certainly the forecast is not very illustrious by historical standards, but the low profile and high seeding could mean that one or more Pac-12 teams will be a be a smart upset pick when filling out a bracket. The conference tournament will serve as a litmus test to identify the team(s) best-suited for a deep run in March.
For the 11th consecutive year, Staples Center in Los Angeles will host the Pac-12 tournament. Washington enters as the favorite, claiming the league's best record with a 14-4 mark in conference play. The Huskies were tournament champions the past two seasons, but the MVP in each of those runs, Isaiah Thomas, now suits up for the Sacramento Kings. They'll instead rely on a trio of underclassmen, Tony Wroten, Terrence Ross and C.J. Wilcox, who account for 58.8 percent of the Huskies' points.
California joins Washington as a championship contender. The Golden Bears are led by sophomore Allen Crabbe's 15.2 points per game. Cal's first order of business will be getting back on the winning track after dropping their last two contests.
Oregon and Arizona sit firmly on the bubble and will need strong performances in the Pac-12 tournament to join the conversation on Selection Sunday. Both schools, along with Washington and California, earned first round byes.
Though UCLA is just four years removed from its last of three consecutive Final Four trips, that run seems like a distant memory now. Barring a Pac-12 tournament championship, the Bruins will miss the NCAA tournament for the second time in the past three years. They earned the No. 5 seed after upsetting Washington in the season finale.
Pac-12 Opening Round
|Oregon State Beavers||60.7||72|
|vs Washington State Cougars||39.3||69|
|vs UCLA Bruins||97.6||65|
|Arizona State Sun Devils||46.1||62|
|vs Stanford Cardinal||53.9||63|
|Utah Runnin' Utes||13.0||52|
|vs Colorado Buffaloes||87.0||63|
Oregon State scored the only upset of the first round, ousting Washington State. The Cougars claimed two wins over Oregon State in conference play, but the Beavers got the win that mattered most.
UCLA's blasting of USC displays just how terrible the Trojans have been this season. USC boasts a 6-25 record (1-17 in conference play), and scores just 53.0 points per game, ranked 343rd in Division I. Coincidentally, the Trojans also rank 343rd in rebounds per game, collecting 26.9 as a team.
|vs Washington Huskies||44.3||75|
|vs Arizona Wildcats||44.9||67|
|vs California Golden Bears||67.5||72|
|vs Oregon Ducks||52.3||69|
Washington appears to be an at-large lock, but the Huskies failed to enhance their seeding after a loss to Oregon State. Credit the Beavers' high-scoring offense in taking down the tournament's No. 1 seed. Oregon State's 79.6 points per game rank ninth in the nation.
UCLA enjoyed its home city advantage in expelling the Arizona Wildcats. The two schools split games during the season, each holding serve at home. With the loss, the Wildcats may be vanquished to the dreaded NIT.
|Oregon State Beavers||42.7||71|
|vs UCLA Bruins||57.3||72|
|vs California Golden Bears||50.5||71|
Oregon State's magical run ended in the semifinals. UCLA was able to match the Beavers in the scoring column and keep its NCAA tournament hopes alive. Even after the run, the Bruins remain an unlikely at-large selection and are still one win away from securing a spot in the Big Dance.
The simulation engine likened California-Oregon to a virtual coin flip, giving Cal the edge 50.5 percent of the time. The Golden Bears earned two victories over Oregon during the season and they've bested the Ducks in nine consecutive tries, this simulated matchup not included.
Pac-12 Championship Game
|vs California Golden Bears||38.9||68|
UCLA's only shot at dancing was a Pac-12 tournament championship. With their backs against the wall, the Bruins delivered in convincing fashion, besting California 61.1 percent of the time by an average score of 71-68. If our simulation engine proves correct, UCLA will enter the NCAA tournament on a six-game winning streak and in full support of their beleaguered coach. Don't count out the Bruins just yet.
Jake Westrich is the Digital Content Coordinator for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.