Who has the greatest shot at the Final Four? It was solely two quick years in the past that the Pac-12 was thought of maybe the worst energy convention in the historical past of men’s school basketball. Pac-12 groups have been getting pounded by each high quality opponent it confronted exterior of the league and ended the common season with precisely zero groups ranked in the polls. The Pac-12 was projected to be a one-bid convention for a lot of the 12 months, however rallied to get three groups into the tournament, none of them seeded higher than a No. 9 seed. It completed as the seventh strongest league in the nation the, behind the American and Big East, in KenPom’s adjusted effectivity rankings.
Given that the Pac-12’s reputation isn’t any higher on the soccer discipline, the ‘Conference of Champions’ was changing into rather more broadly often called a punchline than it was for the variety of trophies it was hoisting. That latest historical past is just a part of the purpose why the convention’s success in the 2021 men’s NCAA tournament feels so surprising to see.
The Pac-12 is the unquestioned greatest winner of the tournament’s opening weekend. The convention went 9-1 general by the first two rounds, and every of its 5 groups in the discipline earned at the least one win. Pac-12 groups weren’t simply profitable video games, additionally they went 9-1 towards the unfold. Now the convention will make up 1 / 4 of the Sweet 16 when the spherical begins on Saturday, with Oregon, USC, UCLA, and Oregon every busting by the bracket.
Here’s how every of the 4 Pac-12 groups reached the second weekend of the massive dance — and the place they might go from right here.
Oregon Ducks (No. 7 seed)
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images
How they obtained right here:
Uncontested win over No. 10 seed VCU
Win over No. 2 seed Iowa, 95-80
Faces No. 6 seed USC in Sweet 16
It’s been a tough season for Oregon from the very begin. The Ducks misplaced beginning heart and former five-star recruit N’Faly Dante to a torn ACL in Dec., needed to play half the season with out standout guard Will Richardson as he recovered from thumb surgical procedure, and had a number of Covid-related pauses after the season began.
Oregon began to hit its stride as soon as Richardson returned to the lineup in February, and so they performed their greatest recreation of the season at the most opportune time in the spherical of 32 vs. Iowa. Oregon dropped a season-high 95 factors on the Hawkeyes that included 11 three-pointers and 10 dunks. You’d by no means know who was purported to be the No. 2 seed with the presumptive nationwide participant of the 12 months candidate watching that recreation.
Oregon’s success begins with Chris Duarte and Richardson in the backcourt. Duarte is a 6’6 wing and native of the Dominican Republic who arrived at Oregon after being named JUCO participant of the 12 months at Northwest Florida State College in 2019. Now the 23-year-old is being thought of a possible first spherical decide for his 43 p.c three-point taking pictures (on 138 makes an attempt) and defensive affect. Duarte can also be making 63 p.c of his two-pointers and shoots 80 p.c from the foul line — he’s one in all the nation’s most effective shooters any means you have a look at it. Richardson can also be taking pictures 41 p.c from three this 12 months, and handles most of the playmaking burden. This is one in all the greatest backcourts in America.
Without Dante, the Ducks’ whole lineup is listed at both 6’5 or 6’6, with 6’8 wing Chandler Lawson representing the tallest participant in their rotation. The lack of measurement didn’t matter towards Iowa’s Luka Garza, the greatest offensive heart in the nation. St. John’s switch LJ Figueroa and Duquesne switch Eric Williams have finished an admirable job on the glass and defending the paint, however the key for Oregon is spreading groups out and beating them on the different finish. It’s a technique that produced some stunning basketball towards Iowa, and will preserve them rolling into the Elite Eight.
Oregon State Beavers (No. 12 seed)
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
How they obtained right here:
Win over Tennessee, 70-56
Win over Oklahoma State, 80-70
Faces No. 8 seed Loyola-Chicago subsequent
By now, Oregon State’s origin story is beginning to change into broadly identified. Picked to complete lifeless final in the Pac-12 in the preseason, the Beavers have been a sub-.500 staff in the convention for many of the 12 months earlier than catching hearth at the finish of the season and profitable the Pac-12 tournament. If not for Oral Roberts’ run as a No. 15 seed, Oregon State’s success can be the most baffling shock of the tournament. At the similar time, the extra you watch the Beavers play, the much less this appears to be like like a fluke.
Despite being one in all the final 16 groups left standing in school basketball, the Beavers place simply No. 50 general in KenPom’s effectivity rankings with the No. 41 offense and No. 69 protection in America. They share the ball — aiding on 59 p.c of their discipline targets, a top-30 mark in the nation — and play gradual, which has helped them as an underdog. The Beavers obtained the advantage of an extremely scorching taking pictures night time in their tournament opening upset of Tennessee, however they have been nonetheless capable of beat future No. 1 general NBA draft decide Cade Cunningham and Oklahoma State on a poor taking pictures night time. The protection has been the key, holding each opponents at or under .90 factors per possession in March Madness up to now.
Ethan Thompson, son of Beavers assistant coach Stephen Thompson, has been the star of the tournament run up to now, dropping 26 factors on 15-of-16 taking pictures from the foul line in the win over OK State. Sophomore 6’3 guard Jarod Lucas is Oregon State’s greatest three-point risk (39 p.c from deep), whereas Nicholls St. switch Warith Alatishe is a lockdown defensive wing at 6’7. They even have a 7’1 heart in Roman Silva who scored 15 factors in the win over Tennessee and provides Beavers a matchup nightmare in the center for whoever they play.
A date with Loyola-Chicago goes to be powerful in the Sweet 16, however the means Oregon State is taking part in proper now, there’s no purpose to assume they’ll’t compete.
USC Trojans (No. 6 seed)
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
How they obtained right here:
Beat Drake, 72-56
Beat Kansas, 85-51
Faces No. 7 seed Oregon in Sweet 16
USC simply did the unthinkable and made Kansas — Kansas! — appear like a mid-major by routing the Jayhawks earlier than halftime in the spherical of 32. No, this wasn’t Bill Self’s greatest staff ever, however the dominance that the Trojans displayed in that recreation ought to put the remainder of the West area on discover. USC has a top-15 offense, a top-five protection, and the single most proficient participant left standing in the tournament.
Evan Mobley is particular, there’s no different method to put it. The 7-foot freshman heart is an outrageous defensive expertise who can shield the rim or block soar pictures together with his mixture of size (7’5 wingspan) and quickness. He’s additionally a flexible offensive participant who excels as a passer in the pick-and-roll and has sufficient contact to complete inside or hit a soar shot out to three-point vary with some consistency. Mobley is projected the No. 2 general decide in the 2021 NBA Draft, and he’s an issue with out a solution for each staff left standing.
Mobley’s older brother, Isaiah, has additionally been taking part in effectively for the Trojans, hitting 4-of-5 threes in the win towards the Jayhawks. Tahj Eaddy has confirmed to be a tricky senior level guard, whereas Drew Peterson offers some a lot wanted taking pictures on the wing.
Yes, USC has a freshman famous person, however they’re additionally taking part in like greater than a one-man present proper now. The Trojans beat Oregon in their solely assembly this 12 months, however you recognize the Ducks shall be prepared for the rematch.
UCLA Bruins (No. 11 seed)
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images
How they obtained right here:
Beat Michigan state, 86-80 in OT, in the First Four
Beat BYU, 73-62
Beat Abilene Christian, 67-47
Faces No. 2 seed Alabama in Sweet 16
The causes for optimism forward of head coach Mick Cronin’s second season in cost at UCLA this 12 months began to fade earlier than the season even started. Top recruit Daishen Nix determined he’d somewhat play for the G League Ignite. Six video games into the 12 months, Chris Smith, arguably the staff’s greatest participant, was misplaced for the 12 months with a torn ACL. Starting heart Jalen Hill has additionally been out since Feb. for private causes.
The Bruins simply snuck into the tournament, and needed to earn their means by the bracket with a First Four recreation towards Michigan State. The Spartans had the Bruins on the ropes, however by some means UCLA got here again to win in additional time. Ever since, UCLA has been rolling.
Sophomore wings Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez Jr. have been powering the Bruins on this run. Juzang, a Kentucky switch, has been the staff’s main scorer in March, averaging 22 factors per recreation and mixing for 9 three-pointers throughout the staff’s tournament profitable streak. Jaquez was sensational in the First Four win over MSU (27 factors), and has been offering supplemental scoring punch ever since. Add in Jules Bernard, Tyger Campbell, and Cody Riley, and instantly the Bruins have a stable five-man lineup that appears like it may compete towards anybody in the East area proper now.
Facing No. 2 seed Alabama shall be an unbelievable take a look at in the Sweet 16, however the Bruins can have a puncher’s likelihood.
Which Pac-12 staff has the greatest likelihood to make the Final Four?
This is a very onerous query to reply heading into the Sweet 16, particularly as a result of the winner of Oregon vs. USC must face a powerhouse Gonzaga staff in the Elite Eight. We’ll stack up the Pac-12 groups like this getting into the Sweet 16:
4. Oregon Ducks
3. USC Trojans
2. UCLA Bruins
1. Oregon State Beavers
Even if the Pac-12 can’t advance a staff to the Final Four, it’s been an incredible run by the tournament for the convention up to now. It shall be fascinating if any of them are nonetheless standing every week from now.