Scouting Report: Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament
(Photo by Andy Bao/Daily Bruin, illustration by Callista Wu/Design director)
UCLA men’s basketball (19-12, 12-6 Pac-12) is the No. 2 seed in the Pac-12 tournament – its highest finish in the conference standings since it won it all back in 2014. With the Bruins sitting out the first round with a bye, they could potentially match up with all 11 of their conference foes at some point over the weekend. Here’s a look at how each team’s resume stacks up.
No. 1 seed Oregon (24-7, 13-5 Pac-12)
MVP: Payton Pritchard
Most Interesting Stat: 39.6% 3-point shooting percentage (No. 4 in NCAA)
Pac-12 Championship Odds: 5-to-4
The battle for Pac-12 regular-season supremacy between the Bruins and the Ducks came down to each team’s last game Saturday – with Oregon riding a three-game win streak and UCLA on a seven-game winning run. Oregon secured the win on the last day of Pac-12 play while UCLA fell to USC on a last-second 3.
UCLA suffered its largest loss of the season in terms of point differential to Oregon on Jan. 26, losing by 21 points in Eugene. The Ducks shot 57.1% from the field and 47.8% from 3 to score 96 points – the most scored by the Bruins or their opponents this season.
Oregon also picked off a season-high 15 steals, six of which came from guard Chris Duarte – three days after the junior notched eight thefts against USC. The score would have been even more lopsided if not for freshman guard/forward Jake Kyman’s 20 points – more than he cumulatively scored in his next six games.
No visiting team came away from the Matthew Knight Arena happy, as the Ducks swept their slate of 17 home games. Away from home, they posted a mortal 7-7 record on the season.
The Ducks are placed on the other side of the bracket of the Bruins, so the only possible encounter between the two teams would be for the tournament title.
Coach Mick Cronin called for Oregon guard Payton Pritchard to become the “poster child” for college basketball in a press conference Jan. 21. The Pac-12 Player of the Year is the only player in the conference averaging more than 20 points per game and is shooting 41.5% from deep.
After leading Oregon to the tournament title last year by winning the Pac-12 Tournament Most Outstanding Player award, Pritchard came back for his final season, increasing his points, rebounds and assists averages in the process.
No. 3 seed Arizona State (20-11, 11-7 Pac-12)
MVP: Remy Martin
Most Interesting Stat: 73 points per game (No. 1 in Pac-12)
Pac-12 Championship Odds: 10-to-1
The Sun Devils drew the hype before the season had even begun, and coach Bobby Hurley’s team seemed to live up to expectations with a hot nonconference start.
The team’s only two losses before Dec. 14 came against Colorado in China and defending national champion Virginia by just three points.
Arizona State was more up than down in conference play but split the conference series against Oregon, Arizona, UCLA, USC, Washington and Washington State. The Sun Devils had the hottest offense in the league, averaging 73 points per game in conference matches.
However, their top-tier offense was balanced by the second-worst conference defense allowing 72.5 points per game.
The Sun Devils were led by guard Remy Martin, who is the second-leading scorer in the Pac-12. The roster included three additional players averaging more than 10 points per game, helping relieve Martin of some of the scoring burden on his nights where his shot was not falling.
Despite dropping three of its past four games, Arizona State still finished with the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament, good for a first-round bye. And should it defeat the winner of Colorado and Washington State on Thursday, it could potentially face UCLA in the semifinal.
In the two contests against the Bruins, Martin scored 15 points in a winning effort and 30 in the Sun Devils’ loss at Pauley Pavilion. Should the two teams meet in the tournament, the supporting cast around Martin will be the difference maker in the outcome.
No. 4 seed USC (22-9, 11-7 Pac-12)
MVP: Onyeka Okongwu
Most Interesting Stat: 64.3 points allowed per game (No. 1 in Pac-12)
Pac-12 Championship Odds: 10-to-1
The Trojans love to play in Los Angeles.
Across 15 games at either the Galen Center, Staples Center or Pauley Pavilion, USC was 16-2 on the year, including wins over LSU, both Arizona schools and UCLA.
But outside of city limits, coach Andy Enfield and his squad were 6-7.
While forward Onyeka Okongwu roams the paint and averages 16.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, teams should be wary of crashing the lane.
If defenses swarm inside, guard Jonah Matthews will be waiting to pounce. The senior averaged 38.1% from deep on 5.8 attempts per game and spaced out the Trojans when teams decided to put pressure on Okongwu.
The Trojans should be able to make it to at least the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament after they secured a first-round bye after beating UCLA on March 7.
Despite currently sitting on the bubble in recent forecasts, a three-game winning streak to end the regular season – coupled with a No. 43 NET ranking – should be enough to put the Trojans safely into the NCAA tournament.
USC and UCLA can only meet in the finals of the tournament, and the Bruins should be glad about that. The Trojans were the only team to beat the Bruins twice this season, with an 11-point win in Westwood on Jan. 11 followed up with a last-second victory in the rematch.
No. 5 seed Arizona (20-11, 10-8 Pac-12)
MVP: Zeke Nnaji
Most Interesting Stat: 1.3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio (No. 1 in Pac-12)
Pac-12 Championship Odds: 3-to-1
Even with three potential lottery picks in the upcoming draft, the Wildcats’ season thus far has been a series of ups and downs.
After starting the season off by ripping nine straight wins, Arizona is .500 since then.
The Wildcats’ talented trio of NBA-bound freshmen – Pac-12 Freshman of the Year forward Zeke Nnaji, guard Nico Mannion and guard Josh Green – have not disappointed, combining for 54% of their scoring this year.
While Mannion was the most hyped out of the three recruits, he has struggled to score efficiently, shooting 39% from the field. Nnaji is fourth in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage – converting 57.3% of his attempts for 16.3 points per game – and is fifth in the conference with 8.6 boards a game.
Despite its star-studded roster, Arizona has attained success this season through defense, ranking 15th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com. The team is stifling opponents at the rim, allowing them to shoot 54.1% while shooting 66.1% from the same area on the other end of the court, according to Haslametrics.
The Wildcats are a lock to make the NCAA tournament, ranking 14th in the country in the NET rankings, despite being the only top-20 team with more than 10 losses.
While Arizona would undoubtedly be a formidable opponent, UCLA will be comforted by its two wins – both at home and away – against the Wildcats this season. They will also not have the support of the conference-leading 13,654 fans that showed up on average to the McKale Center during the Pac-12 tournament.
No. 6 seed Colorado (21-10, 10-8 Pac-12)
MVP: Tyler Bey
Most Interesting Stat: 14.5 fouls per game (fewest in Pac-12)
Pac-12 Championship Odds: 4-to-1
Like UCLA, Colorado likes to slow down the tempo.
The Buffaloes currently average 69.8 possessions a game, ranking 234th in the nation – just ahead of the Bruins’ 68.2 possessions per game.
Both teams also have similar mentalities attacking the glass, posting the two best rebounding margins in the conference. Colorado’s rebounding margin is slightly behind UCLA’s 5.6 rebounds per game advantage, led by Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Tyler Bey’s Pac-12-topping 9.1 boards a game.
Colorado coach Tad Boyle has a veteran-laden group at his disposal, with six of his seven leading scorers being upperclassmen. Their collective experience has helped them go 4-3 in games decided by two possessions or fewer.
The Bruins are one of the best teams at heading to the charity stripe, averaging 31.8 free throw attempts per 100 possessions – good for 12th in the country, according to Haslametrics – but the Buffaloes are also one of the best teams in the nations at restricting opponents from getting to the foul line. Colorado allows 18.5 free throw attempts per 100 possessions and commits a conference-low 14.5 fouls per game.
Junior guard Chris Smith averaged 22 points and 8.0 rebounds across UCLA’s two wins over Colorado. Colorado guard McKinley Wright IV led the Buffaloes in scoring and assists across the two matchups, averaging 17 points and 4.5 assists, with his assists making up more than half of his team’s total across both encounters.
Colorado’s Feb. 22 loss to UCLA started a season-long losing streak, a four-game skid it will carry into the Pac-12 tournament.
No. 7 seed Stanford (20-11, 9-9 Pac-12)
MVP: Oscar da Silva
Most Interesting Stat: 48.9% of field goal attempts near rim (No. 1 in NCAA)
Pac-12 Championship Odds: 16-to-1
Like the Bruins, the Cardinal’s tournament hopes rely on their performance in the Pac-12 tournament.
Joe Lunardi has Stanford as one of the “Last Four In” and UCLA as one of the “Last Four Byes.” If the Cardinal manage to avoid the upset against the Golden Bears in the first round, their matchup against the Bruins could quite possibly decide which team gets to go dancing.
Stanford started the season 15-2 but lost seven of its next eight games. In the matchup against UCLA – the last game before the start of its skid – the Cardinal handed the Bruins their worst home loss in terms of point differential of the season. Guard Tyrell Terry dropped a career-high 24 points to lead Stanford to its first victory in Pauley Pavilion since 2005.
However, since that loss, UCLA has turned a new leaf, finishing its regular-season slate 11-3.
The Cardinal are the best team in the country at getting shots near the basket, taking 48.9% of their attempts from that region, according to Haslametrics. Redshirt sophomore forwards Jalen Hill and Cody Riley will have their hands full protecting the rim and guarding Stanford’s leading scorer forward Oscar da Silva, who averages 16.1 points per game. The German big man heads into postseason play having scored 15 points or more in six of his last seven games.
Both teams are on different paths than they were on heading into their first meeting, and the stakes could not be higher if they match up once again Thursday evening.
No. 8 seed Oregon State (17-13, 7-11 Pac-12)
MVP: Tres Tinkle
Most Interesting Stat: Tres Tinkle, 2,214 career points (No. 1 in OSU history)
Pac-12 Championship Odds: 80-to-1
Oregon State’s all-time leading scorer could potentially be playing his last collegiate match ever in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament.
Forward Tres Tinkle is leading the team offensively, posting 18.4 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. He is also atop the Pac-12 in steals, averaging 1.8 takeaways per game.
Tinkle overtook Hall of Famer Gary Payton – who scored 2,172 points from 1987 to 1990 – to become Oregon State’s all-time leading scorer against Stanford on March 5. Coach Wayne Tinkle gave his son the game ball after the match to commemorate the occasion in a father-son bonding moment in the locker room.
Tres Tinkle has helped the team reach 42nd in adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom.com, but its adjusted defensive efficiency lags behind at 158th in the country.
In the lone meeting between the two schools, UCLA edged Oregon State 62-58, buoyed by 11 points in 19 minutes by guard Jules Bernard – one of the sophomore’s three double-digit scoring outings in conference play.
The Beavers do a great job protecting the basketball, averaging 11.6 turnovers per game, best in the conference.
Despite Tres Tinkle’s heroics for the Beavers, they seem doomed for an early exit playing No. 9 seed Utah in the first round and then No. 1 seed Oregon if they advance. Wayne Tinkle could not rely on his son to save the team from two separate four-game losing streaks in conference play.
No. 9 seed Utah (16-14, 7-11 Pac-12)
MVP: Timmy Allen
Most Interesting Stat: 14.2 free throw attempts allowed per game (No. 1 in Pac-12)
Pac-12 Championship Odds: 80-to-1
In the early going, the Utes appeared to be a formidable team – but that was before they began to stumble in conference play.
Utah had nonconference wins over Kentucky, Minnesota and BYU on its resume. However, its last game before Pac-12 play – an 80-52 loss to No. 6 San Diego State – was perhaps a foreshadowing of more losses to come.
Eventually finishing ninth in the league, Utah lost every road game against conference opponents while posting a 7-2 record in Salt Lake City. Although they won’t have to play any more true road games, the Utes have not won outside of their home state since Dec. 18, so stringing together wins in neutral territory might be difficult to do.
Forward Timmy Allen is the offensive catalyst for the Utes, finishing fifth in the conference in scoring with 17.5 points per game.
However, a sleeper pick for the Utes’ most important player in its possible title run is guard Both Gach. The sophomore had 28 points in the victory against Colorado and averages 11 points per game to keep the team afloat if Allen rests.
Utah will be matched up with Oregon State in its first-round matchup after splitting the regular-season series with the Beavers.
In the event that Utah breaks through its side of the bracket to face UCLA in the finals, the Bruins should be confident in coming out with a win. Cronin’s squad was one of two teams that was able to beat Utah twice and were the only team to beat the Utes by double digits at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.
No. 10 seed California (13-18, 7-11 Pac-12)
MVP: Matt Bradley
Most Interesting Stat: 61.3 points per game (No. 12 in Pac-12)
Pac-12 Championship Odds: 80-to-1
California will end its season in Las Vegas barring a miracle run to the Pac-12 championship.
Standing in the way of the Golden Bears’ chances is their road/neutral site record, which stands at 1-13, compared to a 12-5 home slate in Berkeley.
The biggest obstacle for California is its lack of shooting. The Bears are last in the conference in points scored per game, 3-pointers made and 3-pointers attempted.
The Bears’ guard Matt Bradley was the only player on the squad to average more than 10 points per game, and the sophomore plays on a team where the leader in assists – guard Paris Austin – averages 2.5 assists per game.
The low-scoring nature of the offense led to some of the Bears’ struggles on the road, as California only broke 60 points in two of its nine conference road games this year. Additionally, they were twice held to 45 points or less.
California will face UCLA in the second round should it progress that far. In the teams’ lone game this year, a defensive battle ended with the Bruins on top 50-40. Given coach Mick Cronin’s focus on defense and the woeful shooting from California, expect another defensive-focused game if these two meet.
California will open up tournament play versus its rival Stanford, a team with which they split the season series, with each team winning its home matchup. However, the Bears scored 52 points exactly in each contest, so holding the Cardinal under that number should be the goal.
If they can’t, the Bears’ season will come to an early – but unsurprising – conclusion.
No. 11 seed Washington State (15-16, 6-12 Pac-12)
MVP: CJ Elleby
Most Interesting Stat: 73.5 points allowed per game (No. 12 in Pac-12)
Pac-12 Championship Odds: 80-to-1
While their conference performance has seen more success than their in-state rivals, the Cougars have alternated between hot and cold.
Washington State started the season 3-4, falling to non-Power Five teams including Omaha and Colorado State. Within conference play, Washington State is currently 2-1 against the top two teams in the Pac-12, with its loss to UCLA coming by just three points in Westwood
However, it was swept by Arizona, Stanford, California and Utah, which currently sit between fifth and tenth in the league.
Much of the Cougars’ offense runs through forward CJ Elleby. The sophomore currently ranks fourth in points per game and seventh in total rebounds in the conference. When teams are able to lock Elleby down, the Cougars can turn to guard Isaac Bonton, who is the only other Cougar to average more than 15 points per game.
The Bruins and Cougars have played two tight games this season, with both contests needing an extra period to determine a winner. The home team prevailed on each of those occasions. But at a neutral site, neither time will be able to rely on the home faithful to fuel them in crunch time.
Bonton led Washington State in scoring during both matchups versus UCLA, scoring 40 points across 79 minutes played in the two games. The Bruins’ ability to contain Bonton and force the Cougars to go to other offensive options will determine the fate of the two squads should they meet in the semifinals.
No. 12 seed Washington (15-16, 5-13 Pac-12)
MVP: Isaiah Stewart
Most Interesting Stat: First place in Pac-12 in 2018-2019, last place in 2019-2020
Pac-12 Championship Odds: 100-to-1
Washington added two freshmen projected to go in the first round of this year’s NBA Draft, yet somehow plummeted from the top of the Pac-12 last season to the bottom this year.
The two freshmen – forwards Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels – are leading the Huskies in scoring. Stewart is third in the conference in rebounds and blocks per game and sixth in field goal percentage.
Behind Stewart’s 7-foot, 4-inch wingspan, coach Mike Hopkins has put together a menacing defense, leading the Pac-12 in blocks at 6.1 per game – more than a full block more than second-place Oregon State – and ranking 32nd in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com.
However, the team’s heavy reliance on the two freshmen hurt them in clutch situations, as the team went 2-10 in games decided by two possessions or less. Both games between the Huskies and the Bruins were closely contested.
In UCLA’s Pac-12 opener, the Bruins eked out a 66-64 victory that was a one-possession game for the final 15 minutes. In the next meeting, UCLA overcame a seven-point halftime deficit to sweep the regular-season series.
Washington has a rough tournament schedule, facing No. 5 seed Arizona for an opportunity to play No. 4 seed USC in the quarterfinals and then potentially No. 1 seed Oregon in the semifinals.
With UCLA positioned on the other side of the bracket, it is unlikely that the two teams’ paths will collide again this season.