ESPN's Jay Bilas picks two Pac-12 squads to make the Elite Eight
Bubble Watch is done, prognosticating is done, stressing over Quad What wins and NET rankings nonsense is done. Now we have basketball. March is here and with it brings the NCAA Tournament.
The official bracket for the Field of 68 was revealed on Sunday. Arizona earned a No. 1 seed in the South Region. UCLA grabbed a No. 4 seed in the East Region. USC took a No. 7 seed in the Midwest Region. The Pac-12 got just three teams into the field, but it feels like the potential is there for deep runs from any of the three. USC needs to regain its groove a bit, but it’s a team that has still only lost a handful of times all season.
Arizona and UCLA feel like Final Four threats.
To that end, ESPN’s Jay Bilas, one of the most trusted voices in college basketball (outside of Arizona that is), has released his picks for every game of the NCAA Tournament. You can find those here. He has the Wildcats and Bruins both headed to the Elite Eight, with the Wildcats eventually advancing to the national championship game.
Here’s how he broke it down:
(OK, so there’s still some time for prognosticating.)
Bilas writes that the Trojans are “perfectly capable” of beating the Hurricanes in the First Round, but that he likes Miami’s ability to make individual plays to win the game. He has USC as a one-and-done team at the tourney.
“UCLA is seeded too low as a 4-seed and is built for tournament play,” Bilas writes of the Bruins. He has them beating Akron in the First Round and Saint Mary’s in the Second Round. The Gaels are a popular pick after notably toppling Gonzaga earlier this season, but Bilas thinks the versatility of the Bruins’ offensive attack would be too much in a potential matchup.
He then has UCLA downing Baylor, the top seed in the region, in the Sweet Sixteen to set up an Elite Eight matchup with Kentucky.
What a game that would be. Two of college basketball’s most prestigious brands. You’d have the Johnny Juzang storyline to drum up. “Kentucky has (big man Oscar) Tshiebwe and UCLA doesn’t,” Bilas writes, though, in picking the Wildcats to end UCLA’s run and advance to the Final Four.
Top seeds are 143-1 against 16-seeds in the NCAA Tournament, and Bilas doesn’t see win No. 2 being picked up here. He then has Arizona downing Seton Hall in the Second Round and Illinois in the Sweet Sixteen. “In 2005, Arizona and Illinois played one of the greatest games in NCAA tournament history. In this one, Arizona will get a measure of revenge,” Bilas wrote.
He then has the Wildcats downing Villanova in the Elite Eight to win the region, setting up a Final Four showdown with Kansas.
“Arizona is the more balanced team and the more talented team,” he wrote. If the Wildcats are healthy, they’ll win, but point guard Kerr Kriisa’s ankle will be a major topic of discussion over the next week. He missed the Wildcats’ final two games of the Pac-12 Tournament after rolling his ankle last Thursday.
Bilas has Arizona playing Gonzaga for the national championship, a matchup that would pit first-year UA coach Tommy Lloyd against his former boss. Again, the status of Kriisa would loom large over this affair.
The First Round of the NCAA Tournament begins on Thursday, March 17.