Monday Rewind: who’s hurt most by the Pac-12 championship restructuring?
Welcome back to the Monday Rewind. Hope you enjoyed the weekend. Let’s dive in.
Ripple effects from the Pac-12 Championship Game shuffle
Because USC and Oregon don’t play each other in the regular season, the natural next thought when news came down the pipeline the Pac-12 was reworking its title game structure was, “what does this do to the Ducks’ and Trojans’ chances of making the title game?”
On FanDuel, three of the four teams with the best odds of winning the Pac-12 play in the South. USC is the current favorite to win the league title. Oregon has the second-best odds, Utah the third-best, and UCLA the fourth-best.
So does that mean South teams have a harder path to the title than the teams up North? The bottom of the conference definitely appears to have more threats than the North. Or, at the very least, teams with fewer questions. USC and Utah and UCLA all have clear strengths. UCLA has questions, but not to the degree a team like Washington has in the North.
It sort of feels like the inverse is true. For a team like USC, the path feels a little clearer in the immediate present. Before, a game against Utah in Salt Lake City on Oct. 15 was a must-win if the Trojans wanted to play for a conference championship in coach Lincoln Riley’s first year. Now, that game feels more likely to be a Pt. 1 than a conclusive result.
I’m not convinced there is a legitimate force that will upend Oregon in 2022, but the Ducks now have to be concerned about a scenario in which they miss the game entirely just because they missed playing the Trojans in the regular-season. Let’s say Oregon loses to UCLA and Utah—which isn’t a prediction, just a hypothetical—and USC only loses to Utah. The way things were a month ago, the Ducks would have gotten a second shot at the Utes. Now, it’d be USC getting the hypothetical rematch.
That won’t be the case all the time. When the Pac-12 announced the changes, it did so with the acknowledgement that five of the 11 championship matchups would have been different if the new setup had been implemented from the get-go. But that also means six wouldn’t have changed.
This is a good move from the league, to be clear. The best teams playing for the title helps the conference sell inventory.
Perhaps the teams most affected are the mid-tier teams. Bad teams know they won’t have a chance when they’re bad. Under a divisional setup, average teams have more than a chance. The top dog has a bad year and the team from the middle mush that has the tie-breaker gets a break.
While this feels like a good move for the conference—it’ll help from the standpoint of the College Football Playoff—it shouldn’t be ignored that teams like Arizona State and Cal are going to be impacted the most. All six teams from the Pac-12 South have made a conference championship game since the league expanded. Is that kind of parity more or less likely to happen in a division-less environment? We’ll find out.
Bennedict Mathurin and the NBA Draft
Could the Arizona guard be in play at No. 7 to the Portland Trail Blazers? What about the Indiana Pacers (sixth) or the San Antonio Spurs (ninth) or the New York Knicks (11th)? The range most seem to have settled on with Mathurin is in the mid-to-late lottery. As a pro prospect, his playmaking ability is certainly a question, which makes the projection look more like supporting scorer than primary option.
This draft doesn’t have a ton of foundational building blocks the way the 2021 draft class had. Getting a quality player that will fill a role on a winning team is a win if you’re picking in the 8-12 range. As a guy who can be a complementary option rather than a go-to, Mathurin is one of my favorite players at that middle portion of the draft lottery.
“I feel like I haven’t reached my full potential,” he said at the Draft Combine last week, per The Oregonian. “I’m far from it. I think obviously, I have places where I need to improve for me to reach the best of myself. But I’m all about learning and growing as a player.”
As a catch-and-shoot scorer, Mathurin is more than proficient enough. He looks comfortable coming off screens and rising from beyond the arc. He shot 37% on 3s last season and proved more than capable of hitting big shots in key moments. On the offensive end of the floor, he really sees the game well and knows how to pick his spots. He’s a deadly cutter and has enough athleticism to punish teams for falling asleep on him.
Everyone knows what Mathurin is as a transition player, but those two qualities should help him carve out a substantial role with a team as he develops.
Pac-12 softball shows out in Regional action
Stanford upset No. 6 Alabama in the Tuscaloosa Regional to advance to its first Super Regional since 2011. It also marked the first time since 2008 that Stanford has advanced out of the NCAA Regional as a visiting team.
Arizona State won the Tempe Regional with a win over San Diego State, marking the 11th Super Regional bid in program history and the first for the Sun Devils since 2018.
The fifth-seeded UCLA Bruins won the Los Angeles Regional by run-ruling Ole Miss 9-1. UCLA advanced to the Super Regionals without dropping a game during Regional action.
Oregon State advanced to the Super Regionals for the first time since 2006 by downing No. 11 Tennessee to win the Knoxville Regional.
Arizona shut out 15-seed Missouri twice on Sunday to win the Columbia Regional and advance to the program’s eighth straight Super Regional.
A conference that has traditionally dominated the NCAA Softball Tournament looks primed to once again have a say in how the whole thing is ultimately decided.
“I believe that we have the best pitching hands down, we’re maybe not as visible as other conferences but we’re here fighting every single day,” said Arizona State coach Trisha Ford after the Sun Devils wrapped up their Regional victory. “There is no down weekend. Everyone has a pitcher in the Pac-12 so our conference is tough and we’ll continue to be the quiet assassins.”