LAS VEGAS (AP) — Arizona is the top seed and is ranked at No. 4. UCLA is seeded second and was ranked for good parts of the season, while Arizona State and California will each get a bye for the opening round.
But when the Pac-12 tournament starts on Wednesday, the most dangerous team in the bracket could be the No. 7 seed, Oregon.
Talented, deep and on a roll, the Ducks are the team nobody wants to face over the four days at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“They have an offense that is as good as it gets, especially with their ability to shoot,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said after the Wildcats lost to Oregon in the regular-season finale on Saturday.
Oregon won the Pac-12 tournament a year ago behind Johnathan Loyd’s big night against UCLA in the title game and went on to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
The Ducks lost four seniors from that team, but it didn’t seem to slow them early in the season, when they opened 13-0 and were ranked in the top 10 for the first time since 2007.
Oregon struggled once the conference season began, opening 3-8 to put itself in danger of missing the NCAA tournament.
Then something clicked.
Starting with a 10-point win over rival Oregon State on Feb. 16, the Ducks reeled off seven straight wins to finish the season, perhaps the most impressive being Saturday’s 64-57 home win over Arizona.
While Oregon (22-8) will go into the Pac-12 tournament as the No. 7 seed, it is a bit deceiving; the Ducks tied with Arizona State, Cal, Colorado and Stanford at 10-8 in conference, dropping to seventh because of tiebreakers.
“We will be playing on Wednesday, so we have to play four games instead of three, so the challenge is tougher,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “But I like our depth. If there is a team that could run four games, we’ve got a shot because of our depth, but again you have to win the first one and this league is deep this year.”
Here are five more things to look at during the Pac-12 tournament:
ARIZONA ON TOP: The Wildcats opened the season with a school-record 21 straight wins and spent two months atop The Associated Press poll. Arizona’s fortunes changed slightly on Feb. 1 when sophomore forward Brandon Ashley broke his right foot and was lost for the season. The Wildcats (28-3, 15-3 Pac-12) have managed without Ashley fairly well behind one of the nation’s best defenses and a shifting of roles on the offensive end.
RESUME BUILDING: The Pac-12 could have as many as seven teams reach the NCAA tournament. Some of them may need to play well in the conference tournament to find their way into the bracket. The top three seeds appear to be in good shape, but teams like Cal, Colorado, Stanford and Oregon might want to win a few games in the conference tournament to boost their NCAA resumes.
WATCH FOR NELSON: Keep an eye on Oregon State’s Roberto Nelson. The senior guard led the Pac-12 in scoring with 20.6 points per game, but was not among the 10 players voted to the All-Pac-12 first team. The Beavers aren’t going to make the NCAA tournament unless they win the conference tournament and Nelson will likely try to go out with a flourish in his final go-round.
SUN DEVILS RISING: Arizona State fell short of the expectations placed upon it in point guard Jahii Carson’s first season in 2012-13, missing the NCAA tournament. Regardless of what happens in the Pac-12 tournament, the Sun Devils (21-10, 10-8) should be a lock for the bracket for the first time since 2009. Carson is a game-changing force with his quickness and ability to facilitate or score, and Arizona State has the nation’s leading shot blocker in the middle of its defense, 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski.
FRESHMAN PHENOMS: This year’s Pac-12 tournament will be filled with talented freshmen. Arizona has Aaron Gordon, the conference’s freshman of the year, and high-motor swingman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Cal has a talented freshman in Jabari Bird and Jordan Matthews also is in coach Mike Montgomery’s rotation. Washington’s Nigel Williams-Goss has been superb in his first season, averaging 13.3 points, 4.4 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game, while UCLA coach Steve Alford has relied on the guard duo of Zach LaVine and Bryce Alford.