LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 09: Tyrone Nared #31 of the Oregon Ducks goes up for the opening tip-off against Kyle Cain #5 of the Arizona State Sun Devils in the first round of the 2011 Pacific Life Pac-10 Men's Basketball Tournament at Staples Center on March 9, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
The inaugural Pac-12 Tournament is upon us.
We have a grasp of who's pretty good, who's pretty bad, and who's just alright. We're clear about who we like and who we don't. We have our opinions on who should have won POY, COY, dPOY, FOY, and MIP. We know our respective teams' strengths, weaknesses, and first round opponent.
We don't have the slightest clue as to who's going to win this thing.
The most frustratingly wide open tournament imaginable is about to tip off and features a league in which the top two teams closed a combined 1-3; the projected first place team finished fifth; the projected eleventh place team finished sixth; and the 7, 8, 9 seeds are as equally capable of losing to each other as they are of beating any of the top three seeds.
Like a freeway rubber necker, you're going to watch. There's nothing better than win-or-go-home athletics. It's why "Championship Week" exists, why this conference re-instituted a post-season tournament, and exactly why you're about to take two straight weeks of prolonged lunch breaks. This thing is shaping up to be - how did 311 call it? Ah yes! -a Beautiful Disaster. Sweet juxtaposition.
T-minus moments to the games so here's twelve stories to keep an eye on as the tournament progresses.
- Dancers - After Arizona visited 26 straight NCAA Tournaments, UCLA won 11 titles, and the Pac had 60% dancership in 2009 we're looking at a feasible one-bid league. I don't think it will happen but no team other than Oregon is looking like a group that wants to prove that theory wrong. As always, consult the bracketology.
Dawgs - Simple question: can the top seeded Huskies three peat? As the one they'd certainly be expected to so why the heck not? They're loaded in the backcourt and have an All Defensive Teamer in the frountcourt. But at this point we all know what's on their roster what's going to be in their chest? Again, can the Dawgs triple up the tourney crown?
- Sports Illustrated - At this point we're all familiar with SI's story "Not the UCLA Way" which picked apart the struggling program. I asked what was Ben Howland going to do? Well his team immediately turned around and swept the Washington schools, momentarily knocking UW out of the conference's top spot. Will the momentum last? Can Big Ben help channel that negative juju into a little tourney run? Their as poised as any not-top-four team to do it.
- Boyle's Boys - Colorado came out of the Big-12, got picked to finish eleventh, and said, "No thanks." Until that late hiccup in Oregon, CU was poised to finish in the conference's top-4. Alas, a sixth place finish is nothing to hang your head over. Unless of course you really do want to play with the big boys. The Buffs should be looking to garner some momentum into a big off-season.
- Maurice Jones - The wee Trojan sophomore played 95% of his teams minutes. That's the fifth most PT in the country, most in the conference, and garners a big tip-o-the-cap from me. Well done Mr. Jones. His exhausting season will come to a close in Staples this week but the mighty mite ought not soon be forgotten for what he did for an abysmal and injury decimated 6-25 (1-17) team. Of course, what if the little guy (5'7") has a little something left in the tank?
- Hot Seats - This may be better suited for a post-season what to watch for, but a tournament run - not even necessarily to the championship - certainly never hurt anyone. So here's where Craig Robinson and Herb Sendek - the two atop the warmest padded chairs - can perhaps cool things down some. Herb was strangely extended early on this season so he may be safe but Craig doesn't quite have that luxury.
- Disappointment - I think UCLA - though with a mighty shot here at redemption - has already wrapped up the "biggest disappointment" award for the season. But UW, Cal, and Arizona each has a pretty good shot at doing the same. One of these three teams very likely won't be dancing (and right now I'm looking at the Wildcats) which will be, well, disappointing.
- Arizona - The Wildcats are the four seed and - since the return of this tournament in 2002 - only one other four seed has won the tournament. That was Oregon in 2007, an eventual three seed in the NCAA Tournament and Elite Eight attendee. My how times have changed.
- Old Guys - Oh boy do I love me a senior. Particularly a senior who can smell, touch, intimate the finality of his career. Yeah, that's my favorite player and this tournament is chock full of 'em. From DeVoe and Sim in Green to Jorge and Kamp in Gold to Carlon Brown, Nate Tomlinson, Josh Owens, Kyle Fogg, Brendon Lavender, and Zeek Jones. Appreciate how these seniors leave it all on the floor of Staples for a chance to leave it all in the big dance.
- USC-UCLA - We're all well aware this is a rivalry game and that's great. Rivalries are the lifeblood of fandom and as we've all experienced, anything can happen in one of these games. But in this one, I'm more interested in whether or not Howland and O'Neill can use all ten timeouts in the first half. It could happen.
- RPI > 240 - Can USC, ASU, or Utah win a game in this tournament? Each could stake a claim to worst BCS conference team in the country this year but that would be discrediting the fact that they each are in the same conference. It's bad. They're bad. But what if one of the terrible triumvirate can get one - just one - tourney W? Do the other two celebrate?
- The 2012 Pacific Life Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament - Come on! You gotta watch it. It's March Madness time! Fake a bug, a flat tire, a doc's appointment, just say the dog ate something; get out of any and all obligations. And keep in mind all Pac-12 tournament games will be streamed at youtube.com/pac12conf.