Maybe I’m drinking out of Larry Scott’s Kool-Aid, but my sense is that the five Pac-12 entries will fare well collectively in their first games in the NCAA tournament. I don’t envision a deep run by any of them, but I think there’s reason to see victories on several fronts as the tournament gets rolling in earnest Thursday.
To the games, with point spreads for your entertainment pleasure:
Oklahoma State (minus 3) vs. Oregon — This ought to boil down to whether the Ducks can do enough inside to neutralize the damage OSU’s muscular freshman guard Marcus Smart — a possible NBA lottery pick — will do outside. There will be all sorts of freshman guards on the floor, and the Ducks can’t get vastly outplayed there. Oregon got its mojo back in the Pac-12 tournament. Oregon 67, Oklahoma State 65.
Arizona (minus 4.5) vs. Belmont — ‘Cats have been a little too flighty to feel terribly confident about. But Sean Miller should have them ready for a club that prospers shooting the three (8.5 a game made, 12th in the NCAA). Belmont will struggle with Arizona’s big guys. Arizona 80, Belmont 73.
Minnesota (minus 3) vs. UCLA — The Gophers, who listed badly down the stretch, were everybody’s pick to bow out of the tournament early. Then the Bruins showed up opposite them in the bracket, and perceptions have changed. My guess is, UCLA struggles to figure out how to play without injured Jordan Adams, and the Bruins can’t combat Minnesota’s physical Trevor Mbakwe. Minnesota 69, UCLA 62.
Illinois (minus 1.5) vs. Colorado — Illini are heavily reliant on making threes, and (ask Gonzaga), if they’re dropping or you’re not defending, you’ve got problems. I think Tad Boyle gets the Buffs ready and Colorado takes advantage of an edge inside. Colorado 64, Illinois 60.
UNLV (minus 3) vs. Cal — Just when you thought Cal was unstoppable, winning seven straight, it lost its last two, bowing out of the Pac-12 tournament early. UNLV lost a Senior Day game to Fresno State March 9, but came back to play in the Mountain West final. I wouldn’t bet against Mike Montgomery, although Anthony Bennett will be a problem for the Bears, who get a friendly site in San Jose. Cal 70, UNLV 67.