The Pac-12 already got off to a great start in the NCAA Tournament with Arizona State’s ferocious First Four win over Nevada, a 25-point rout that injects confidence straight into the Sun Devils’ veins.

Will that be enough to lift them far into March?

That’s 1 of 4 big questions for the Pac-12’s best heading into the NCAA Tournament…

Arizona: Tommy Lloyd gets a re-do

One year ago, the Arizona men’s basketball team entered the NCAA Tournament as one of a handful of March Madness favorites, fresh off perhaps the best freshman season for a head coach in college history.

What Tommy Lloyd did was truly remarkable in Year 1, no different than a diaper dandy who somehow attains All-American status. Lloyd — and the Wildcats — were that good. Arizona went 28-3 in the regular season behind the star power of Bennedict Mathurin, Christian Koloko and Dalen Terry then blitzed the Pac-12 Tournament. That was good enough for a quartet of major awards — AP Coach of the Year, NABC Coach of the Year, USBWA Coach of the Year and Pac-12 Coach of the Year.

Not bad for a year’s work, and enough to land the Wildcats the No. 1 seed in the South region and a clear path to their first Final Four since 2001 and their first title since 1997.

And then people took a look at their brackets and saw a landmine that ended up exploding. The Houston Cougars were widely considered under-seeded last year as a surprise 5 seed, and that proved true in a Round of 32 15-point win over 4-seed Illinois. It proved even more true in a 12-point Sweet 16 win over the Wildcats that had the entire Tucson community stunned. It was not supposed to be over so early.

Can the Cats avoid a similar fate this year?

The journey to their first Final Four in 22 years — a stretch of futility that seems almost unfathomable, given that it followed a 13-year run between 1988 and 2001 that included 4 Final Fours — starts with a Princeton team ranked 85th in RPI, ahead of teams like Wake Forest, Michigan and Virginia Tech.

Then comes a likely matchup with Utah State, ranked 12th by RealTimeRPI, and a potential Sweet 16 tussle with likely either Baylor or Creighton.

None of those teams — not Utah State, not Baylor nor Creighton — are anywhere near as scary as Houston was last year (and is this year, by the way).

Of course, much of Arizona’s success this month will depend on Lloyd’s ability to adapt on the fly.

“I think this time around in the tournament, I feel much more comfortable,” Lloyd said. “Not that I haven’t participated with Gonzaga as an assistant coach at a lot of NCAA tournaments, familiarity, but this time as a head coach, I feel a lot more comfortable. I think our team’s comfortable. I think we’re obviously excited to be here, but I know we’re not satisfied.

UCLA: How do Bruins perform in the driver’s position?

From 1979, the first year all teams were seeded by the Div. I Basketball Committee, through 2008, UCLA earned a top-2 seed 8 times, including 3 straight seasons from 2006-08. And this wasn’t even their heyday.

Since 2009, UCLA has a pair of 4 seeds (2014, 2022) and a 3 seed (2017), as well as two 6 seeds (2009, 2013), a 7 seed (2011) and 3 11 seeds (2015, 2018, 2021). Without anything close to pole position, the Bruins have still pulled off 5 Sweet 16 berths in 13 seasons, and a 2021 Final Four run as an 11 seed that started a First Four overtime win over Michigan. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Though they came a Jaylen Clark injury and a Pac-12 title game win away from a No. 1 seed, they still pulled a coveted 2 spot this year, and now they’re back in the position of the hunted, not the hunters. That was once familiar territory for the Bruins, but it may throw them off a little least early. They may be so used to scratching and clawing that some apathy may set in, but can you really imagine that out of a UCLA team?

“I just say that every team that’s in the tournament is here for a reason,” UCLA point guard Tyger Campbell said. “They either won their conference tournament or they got picked, had a good enough record. We understand that every team in this tournament is a winning team. They’re not scared. They’re here for a reason. So we’re going into this game, we just got to prepare like it’s any regular game. We respect them as an opponent. We’re just going to try to win and do what we need to do, execute our scouting report against them because we know they’re a good team.”

Many are projecting the Bruins to breeze through to the Sweet 16 with wins over UNC Asheville and the winner of Boise State and Northwestern, where a pivotal matchup with the Gonzaga Bulldogs potentially awaits. Should the Bruins exorcise the demons of 2021 against the Zags, they might take on a “team of destiny” feel.

That will really come down to UCLA’s fabulous freshmen duo of Amari Bailey and Adem Bona. If Bona is healthy, the Bruins have a post presence to contend with the best front courts in the country. If Bailey catches fire like he did at times in the Pac-12 Tournament, UCLA has the third scoring option to survive a sustained drought by Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Campbell.

USC: Can Trojans pull off another Sweet 16 surprise?

Back in the Tournament on the strength of an impressive late-season stretch, Andy Enfield and the Trojans are on the prowl for a second extended run in three seasons.

In 2021, with Pac-12 player of the year and freshman of the year Evan Mobley leading the way, USC rode a 6 seed to the Elite 8, where they eventually succumbed to Gonzaga a round before UCLA did the same. Along the way, the Trojans beat Drake, smashed Kansas by 34 and beat Oregon soundly, 82-68.

That was a post-oriented offense that ran through Mobley and his brother Isaiah, along with outside support from all-Pac-12 second-team guard Tahj Eaddy as well as guard Drew Peterson.

This time, USC gets the bulk of its offense from its brilliant backcourt, still featuring Peterson along with star Boogie Ellis.

Problem is, they could use the Mobleys back — who couldn’t? — when they potentially square off with the likes of Marquette, Kansas State, Kentucky and Providence, all potential Tournament foes.

Does USC have the firepower to stretch its legs once more?

First, the Trojans will have to get by Michigan State. Good luck. The Spartans are coached by one of the greats, and they match up exceedingly well with USC. Tom Izzo’s group is the third most accurate 3-point shooting team in the country. Stifling the Spartans both inside and out will be the test.

Arizona State: Can Sun Devils build on the momentum?

Thrust into a First Four matchup for the 3rd time in the past 6 seasons, the Sun Devils left no doubt on Wednesday in what will go down as one of the best wins in ASU history.

Arizona State’s 98-73 win over Nevada on Wednesday was a thorough beat down that gives the Sun Devils as much momentum as any team in the Tournament. ASU shot better than 70 percent in the first half and better than 60 percent for the game, one of its best offensive outputs in years.

Can the Sun Devils use this momentum to make a March Madness run?

Things don’t get easier from here, as ASU must handle a solid TCU team and then a likely matchup with Gonzaga, one of the top teams in the country. To get that far, the Sun Devils are going to have to get the same kind of bench production they got on Wednesday against the Wolfpack.

If Jamiya Neal puts in more double-figure performances off the bench, ASU will have a shot.

“It was a complete performance for us,” Hurley said on Wednesday night. “You want to be playing this way at this time of year. That’s what it’s all about. I truly believe that our schedule and the games we’ve been in, especially late in the season, prepares you for these type of games. And it was across the board, just everyone contributed. Our defense was outstanding in the first half.

“Our bench was really good. Alonzo Gaffney, Jamiya Neal, and Luther Muhammad, all — we had some foul issues on the perimeter dealing with multiple guys with two fouls, so needed those guys to perform that way, and they did.”