The Pac-12 basketball race had a familiar face at the top when the regular season came to an end yesterday, but the Washington Huskies weren’t expected to be there. With freshman and sophomores in key roles and then a slow start in December, it was rebuilding team for Lorenzo Romar. Or so we thought. Washington instead went 14-4 in league play behind the backcourt trio of Tony Wroten, C.J. Wilcox and Terrence Ross. They made it interesting in the final weekend, losing to UCLA on Saturday and giving preseason favorite Cal a chance to redeem themselves and at least claim a share of the title. But Cal dumped a game to Stanford and the Huskies became the champs of the league no one wanted to win.
At present, Washington & Cal are the only teams ESPN.com bracketologist Joe Lunardi has in his projected tournament field, and they’re seeded 11th and 10th respectively. But if Arizona and Oregon don’t both join the bracket on Sunday, I swear I’m going to scream. The Wildcats had some rebuilding of their own to do this year after Derrick Williams went pro early, and upperclassmen Kyle Fogg and Solomon Hill were able to step up and perform. Oregon had no pure post presence, but Dana Altman’s team has gotten better with each passing week and they ended up closing to within a game of first place by the time the regular season ended. While Arizona did suffer an inexcusable loss to a terrible Arizona State team, the ‘Cats still played well enough to merit an NCAA bid. For those of us who believe in the Pac-12, Lunardi does have Oregon in his “First Four Out” and Arizona in the “Next Four Out”, so they are on the radar as postseason festivities start.
HEADING TO HOLLYWOOD
The Staples Center is the host of the conference tournament starting on Wednesday and while I would expect one of the four teams above to end up winning it, there are three teams that could surprise. Colorado played its way out of at-large consideration down the stretch, but still won 19 games and has a great power forward in Andre Roberson, who both scores and rebounds. Stanford had a lot of problems in February and March, but still won 20 games and had the aforementioned win over Cal. And UCLA has circled the wagons after the damaging Sports Illustrated article alleging a loss of control in the program, and won its final two games, including the victory over Washington that delayed a championship celebration in Seattle. I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of these teams, especially Colorado or UCLA step up and steal an automatic bid. At the very least they can make the final game and create nervous sweats in bubble towns across America.
There were some great individual performances at the lower recesses of the conference. Oregon State guard Jared Cunningham averaged 18 ppg and led the Pac-12 in scoring. Washington State big man Broke Motum was close behind him, also rounded off at 18 ppg and has the Cougars at .500 and with a shot an NIT or CBI bid. My issue when it comes to MVP discussion is that Motum has the help of the league’s best assist man in Reggie Moore—it really bears wondering why Washington State is only 15-15. I wouldn’t mind selecting Cunningham, who has the Beavers at 17-13 and presumably headed for a postseason tournament, but I really like Roberson in Colorado. The points don’t dazzle, but they’re solid, at 11 ppg. And he rebounds the ball, with 11 per game and leading the conference. There’s no really good playmaker in Boulder, something that likely holds down Roberson’s scoring. I’m taking him as my Pac-12 Player of the Year choice.
Coach of the Year is an easy call. It’s Romar, with the real question being where we fit in his performance on the national stage, when that’ s examined later in the week.