2022 Pac-12 Tournament Preview: Matchups, times, keys to opening round action
The 2022 Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament begins on Wednesday. Postseason basketball is upon us.
From seeds 1 through 12 and Wednesday through Championship Saturday, we’ll have coverage all throughout the tournament. Arizona is trying to win both the regular-season and postseason titles in its return to the conference tournament (the Wildcats sat out the 2020-21 tournament to serve a self-imposed postseason ban). UCLA, USC, and Colorado will look to use a first-round bye to power a championship run. Teams like Oregon and Washington will hope to get hot and build some momentum.
Let’s look at each matchup in the opening round:
No. 8 Arizona State vs. No. 9 Stanford
Time: 12 p.m. PT
Network: Pac-12 Network
KenPom says: Arizona State -2 (56% chance to win)
The Sun Devils (14-16, 10-10 Pac-12) take on the Cardinal (15-15, 8-12 Pac-12) to open tournament action in Vegas. It’ll be a rematch from Saturday, a game that ASU took 65-56 in Tempe. Stanford won the first meeting at home back on Jan. 22 79-76.
This is a different ASU team of late. The Sun Devils have won seven of their last eight. The much-maligned offense from earlier in the conference calendar has mostly flipped. They’ve scored 60 or more in nine of their last 11 games after doing so in just three of their first nine conference games. The guard play has been much better; ASU can swing from ultra-high highs to stunning lows thanks in part to a backcourt that hasn’t met a shot it didn’t like.
Marreon Jackson is your heat-checker’s favorite heat-checker. But, lately, he’s been strong for ASU. Against the Cardinal, Jackson had 18 points, six boards, and six assists. The 24-point performance in ASU’s overtime win over UCLA changed his confidence level, as he’s not only scored in double-digits eight times in 10 outings since but he’s also been over 40% from the field six times during that span. Jackson did that just five times in his first 20 games.
The trio of Jackson, DJ Horne, and Jay Heath has scored 77 of ASU’s 141 points in two games against the Cardinal. If ASU is to make a run in the league tourney, it’ll likely be those three guys shooting them ahead.
One area to watch: turnovers. Stanford has turned it over 39 times in two games against the Sun Devils. It did so 21 times last Saturday and lost. Stanford turned it over 18 times in the January win, but got 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting from Michael O’Connell. O’Connell had two on 1-of-6 shooting in the loss.
Since the 2009-10 season, Stanford and ASU have met in the Pac-12 Tournament five other times. Stanford has a 3-2 record in those games, with two of them going to overtime.
No. 5 Oregon vs. No. 12 Oregon State
Time: 2:30 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Network
KenPom says: Oregon -10 (83% chance to win)
The Ducks are no doubt disappointed in how their season wound down.
After winning six straight and 10 of 11 to put itself into the thick of the NCAA Tournament conversation, Oregon sputtered to the finish line. It lost six of its last eight games, including three straight to USC, Washington, and Washington State after beating UCLA at home. In those six losses, Oregon shot 25.5% (35-for-137) from beyond the 3-point line on an average of 23 attempts a game. There’s an inside presence when Oregon goes to it, but too often the Ducks have fallen in love with a jumpshot not showing much love back.
More than anything, Oregon needs Will Richardson to regain a groove.
The 6-foot-5 guard led the Ducks in points (14.1), assists (3.6), and 3-point shooting (38.8%) this season, but he missed the Ducks’ last game against Washington State and his status remains up in the air heading into the tournament. Head coach Dana Altman said it was a hit to his head against USC that caused him to ultimately miss the final game. Richardson received stitches above his eye during the USC game. He finished things out but failed to make a shot from the field. Against Washington last Thursday, Richardson played 31 minutes of scoreless ball.
Over the Ducks’ first 13 conference games, Richardson averaged 16 points while connecting on 48% of his looks. In his last seven, beginning with the Ducks’ surprise loss to Cal at home, Richardson averaged 11 points on 34% shooting. Oregon needs him to hit shots in order to go far in the tourney. If he’s not going to be out there, or he’s going to be sub-par when he is, the Ducks will be in for more frustration.
Oregon State (3-27, 1-19 Pac-12) makes for a potential slump-buster, though. The Ducks (18-13, 11-9 Pac-12) went 2-0 against the Beavers this season, winning by two in Corvallis on Jan. 10 and then by 22 at home on Jan. 29. Four Ducks reached double-figures scoring in the most recent win. Oregon State guard Dashawn Davis was held scoreless on 0-for-7 shooting.
While it might seem easy to fade the Ducks at this point, they remain a notoriously tough-to-beat team in the conference tournament. Oregon has played in the title game five times since 2013.
No. 7 Washington State vs. No. 10 California
Time: 6 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Network
KenPom says: Washington State -7 (73% chance to win)
It has been a season of runs for Washington State. The Cougars opened 5-0, lost seven of their next 11 games, then won five in a row, then lost five in a row, then closed out the regular season 4-1. Despite a clearly-lacking NCAA Tournament résumé, Washington State had bubble buzz for a bit thanks to a NET ranking that has been high all season. The Cougars just don’t get blown out. In their 13 losses, 10 were by six points or less. Arizona, UCLA, and Washington were the only teams to win by more than two possessions.
Consistency has been a struggle for head coach Kyle Smith.
Washington State has struggled specifically with its shooting. They have guys who can get hot—Michael Flowers scored 30 against Washington on Feb. 26 and then put up 27 against Oregon State two nights later—but in conference games this season the Cougars have the second-worst effective field goal percentage in the league.
That’ll happen when you get 44% of your looks from 3-point land. Live by the jumper, die by the jumper and whatnot.
The Golden Bears, on the other hand, have just plain struggled. They rode a 10-game losing streak once conference play restarted in January, shocked Oregon on the road behind a career day from guard Jordan Shepherd, and then lost four of their last five.
With Andre Kelly on the shelf, Cal has played lately with Lars Thiemann and Grant Anticevich together in the frontcourt for the lion’s share of minutes. In the tournament, neither can afford to get into foul trouble, especially early against Washington State’s two-big lineup of Mouhamed Gueye and Efe Abogidi. That duo for the Cougars has flashed in key moments late this season.
Shepherd can also shoot them into games. So far this season, he has shot 45% from the field and 38% from 3 in wins. In losses, he’s been at 35% from the field and 25% from 3.
Washington State took both of the regular-season meetings—65-57 in Pullman on Jan. 15 and then 68-64 in Berkeley on Feb. 5. This will be an interesting matchup nonetheless. Cal wants to push the ball inside. But Washington State had the best rim protection in the league this season (first in block percentage in conference games) and the highest forced turnover percentage. Neither team wants to play particularly fast, so expect a low-possession game. Does Washington State hit enough shots? Does Cal get enough shots off?
No. 6 Washington vs. No. 11 Utah
Time: 8:30 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Network
KenPom says: Washington -1 (50% chance to win)
The last time Washington met Utah, fans were treated to a 77-73 double-overtime barnstormer. The Huskies emerged from that game victorious thanks to a 30-piece from guard Terrell Brown Jr.
Washington won both meetings with the Utes this season, taking the first game in Salt Lake City 74-68 on Jan. 6. Brown scored 15 points and dished eight assists in that one.
He’s the guy to watch maybe in all of the tournament. Brown averaged 22 points a game this season for Washington, the best mark in the Pac-12. He also led the league in steals at over two a game. Despite the biggest individual workload of any player in the league—league leader in minutes played and usage percentage—Brown was still remarkably efficient with his shot. He posted an effective field goal percentage of 46.5%, the seventh-best among league players.
He’s the fulcrum of the offensive attack for UW. He’s going to get his points, but when teams have been able to make him work for his shots they’ve been able to beat the Huskies.
How will Utah look to attack Washington? The Husky playbook is to use the zone on defense to force turnovers and run. They played at the second-fastest tempo in league games this season, per KenPom, while Utah was pretty middle-of-the-pack in terms of tempo. But the Utes struggled to take care of the ball this season. They’re not a great shooting team, so if the handle gets a little loose or the game gets sped up, there should be plenty of live-ball opportunities for Washington to push the pace.