Picking every game of the 2022 Pac-12 basketball tournament
Twelve teams have descended upon Las Vegas for the 2022 Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament. The action begins Wednesday afternoon and runs through Championship Saturday. For some teams, this is their only shot at the NCAA Tournament. There should be some good ball.
So let’s do something that surely won’t look foolish in about 24 hours: let’s make picks on every game in the field.
No. 8 Arizona State vs. No. 9 Stanford (12 p.m. PT, Wednesday)
Pick: Arizona State
The Sun Devils will have the best player on the floor in the matchup—forward Jalen Graham. The guard trio of DJ Horne, Jay Heath, and Marreon Jackson got the spotlight in the preview but Graham’s emergence as the season progressed was the biggest change agent in ASU going from a woeful offense to a so-so offense. Given the stingy defense, being just OK on the other side was good enough to start turning some of those frustrating losses into wins. Stanford turns it over too much for my liking. Jackson is my ride or die; I’m on Marreon Island. Join me. There’s never a dull day.
No. 5 Oregon vs. No. 12 Oregon State (2:30 p.m. PT, Wednesday)
KenPom has this as a 10-point Oregon win. Maybe it ends up being a little closer than that because it’s a tournament game. Still, the Beavers haven’t won a basketball game since Dec. 30. Oregon will be without Will Richardson, and that’s a tough loss on the surface, but I’d like to see the ball in De’Vion Harmon’s hands more and this could be the thing that forces that play.
No. 7 Washington State vs. No. 10 California (6 p.m. PT, Wednesday)
Upset special! This is a game I’m really looking forward to. The guard matchup of Jordan Shepherd and Michael Flowers could make for great entertainment right in that primetime window. Cal’s bigs can’t get into foul trouble, but Washington State’s offensive diet doesn’t figure to force that issue. They’re just a little too reliant on outside shooting for my taste. This pick is going out on a ledge as I like the big guys in the frontcourt for Wazzu (Mouhamed Gueye and Efe Abogidi) but I can see this being a low-possession game and I don’t know if Washington State can hit enough shots. A poor-shooting team with a 44% 3-point rate feels like a team susceptible to a first-round upset. Things would have to break right for Cal. Washington State probably wins—KenPom sees this as a seven-point game in favor of the Cougs—but what the heck, it’s March. Let’s be weird with it.
No. 6 Washington vs. No. 11 Utah (8:30 p.m. PT, Wednesday)
The Huskies will have one of the three best players in the tournament. What guard Terrell Brown Jr. has done this season has been phenomenal. Despite the biggest individual workload of any player in the league—league leader in minutes played and usage percentage—Brown was still one of the most efficient shooters. He ended the regular season with an effective field goal percentage of 46.5%, the seventh-best among league players. Washington is my pick to be the darkhorse team in the field this week.
No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 8 Arizona State (12 p.m. PT, Thursday)
I’ll get a Marreon Jackson tattoo if the Sun Devils win this game.
No. 4 Colorado vs. No. 5 Oregon (2:30 p.m. PT, Thursday)
It’s just very difficult to bet against Dana Altman in these kinds of settings. Colorado had an excellent close to its season, winning seven of its final eight games, and while one of those wins featured a thrilling 16-point upset of Arizona, four more were against Oregon State and Utah. The Buffs lost to the Ducks in Boulder 66-51, and as frustrating as Oregon has been since, I still think the Altman factor is enough to tip the scales in Oregon’s favor even without Richardson. Colorado will have the best player on the floor in Jabari Walker, but I think Oregon can do enough around him to win.
No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 10 California (6 p.m. PT, Thursday)
Bruin head coach Mick Cronin has done wonders with this team. They’re as deep as anyone in the tournament. They play rugged defense. They have three different guys through which they can run their offense, and then a pair of wild cards in Jaylen Clark and Jules Bernard who can flip a game if they get hot from the field. The Bruins are in the top tier of the league, Cal is not, and I don’t think an extra rest day for UCLA makes much of a difference.
No. 3 USC vs. No. 6 Washington (8:30 p.m. PT, Thursday)
Should be the best game of the day. Might be the best game of the first three days. They only played each other once this season, and USC won that game 79-69 after taking a 42-25 lead into the halftime break. This one would be much closer, but it’s hard to overlook how well USC’s frontcourt duo of Chevez Goodwin and Isaiah Mobley played in the matchup. Goodwin had his best game of the season, scoring 24 points and grabbing nine boards. Mobley had 12 points and eight assists working as a high-low distributor. Goodwin can kind of float in and out of the offense, but against the Washington zone, USC would need him to be that brand of aggressive again (14 shots) to really open things up. We’ll see if the Trojans get that. Give me Drew Peterson to hit a late winner.
Semifinal 1: No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 5 Oregon (6 p.m. PT, Friday)
The Pac-12 tournament champion has had to go through Oregon in years past. If that Ducks can make it to this point of the week, that’ll be once again true. But Arizona is a significantly better team and the Ducks will finally feel the absence of Richardson as a shot-creator on the outside.
Semifinal 2: No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 3 USC (8:30 p.m. PT, Friday)
The rubber match in the Battle for LA. USC won the first meeting at home by three points, UCLA won the second meeting on its home floor by seven. The Bruins turned the ball over just one time in that second meeting, which seems significant. Jaime Jaquez Jr. is playing exceptional basketball lately and UCLA will probably have just too many options to cut at the USC defense. And USC hasn’t had enough against the top two teams to give you confidence it can return the favor. In four games against UCLA and Arizona this season, Boogie Ellis is 11-for-44, Ethan Anderson is 7-for-18 (and only played 10 minutes the last time out), and Chevez Goodwin is 12-for-26. UCLA’s defense is too good to expect Mobley and Peterson to be able to win it on their own unless Jaquez and Johnny Juzang miss 21 of their 27 combined shots again.
Final: No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 2 UCLA (6 p.m. PT, Saturday)
They’re overwhelming favorites in the field for a reason, and the safe pick is to go with the Wildcats, who might be able to get into the conversation for the top overall seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament with a strong week in Vegas. UCLA should give the Wildcats a fight. In the first meeting between these two, a 75-59 win for UCLA at home, the Bruins got hot shooting from their guards to open the game—which will be needed again—but it was the defense that made the statement. After hitting six of its first seven shots, Arizona missed 21 of its next 27. You have to be able to keep UA’s guards in front of you, and UCLA has the individual defenders to theoretically do that. Should be an excellent title fight. Arizona solidifies itself as a national title contender.