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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Pac-12 tournament preview: Who will emerge from the darkness?

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Terrence Ross and E.J. Singler (US Presswire)

The Dagger will be previewing eight of this week's conference tournaments. Here's our look at the Pac-12 Tournament:

Pac-12 Tournament

Dates: March 7-10

Site: Staples Center (Los Angeles, Calif.)

Draw: Click here

Favorite: In addition to being the Pac-12 tournament's top seed and most talented team, Washington also has a track record of performing well at this event. The Huskies entered the Pac-12 tournament needing at least a win or two to seal an NCAA tournament berth the past two years and both time they won three games in three days to claim the title. For this year's Washington team to achieve the same feat, Lorenzo Romar needs freshman point guard Tony Wroten to play under control and make smart decisions, center Aziz N'Diaye to stay out of foul trouble and the entire rotation to focus on defense. The Huskies' draw is not especially favorable since dangerous Oregon State and rival Washington State are potential quarterfinal opponents and desperate Arizona or surging UCLA looming in the semifinals.

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Three others who can win it: As mediocre as the Pac-12's top teams are this season, it's almost easier to list teams who can't win the tournament. It would be stunning to see USC, Arizona State, Utah or Washington State win more than one game and it's difficult to envision Oregon State, Stanford or Colorado winning more than two. That leaves Arizona, UCLA, Oregon and Cal as potential challengers to Washington, with the streaking Ducks being perhaps the most likely to cut down the nets.

Three players to watch:

• Jorge Gutierrez, G, Cal — The Pac-12 player of the year is the league's premier on-ball defender but he scored a total of eight points in the Bears' regular season-ending losses to Colorado and Stanford. Cal needs more than that.

• Tony Wroten, G, Washington — Nobody is better getting to the rim in this league, but Washington needs Wroten to take smarter shots, to not force passes and to convert at the free throw line.

• Devoe Joseph, G, Oregon — The Minnesota transfer's midseason addition is the biggest reason the Ducks surged in conference play.

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Bubble implications: In a historically bad season for the once-proud Pac-12, not one team can feel secure about its NCAA tournament chances entering the conference tournament. In fact, only three teams — Washington, Cal and Oregon — would have any shot to make the field of 68 without winning the league's automatic bid. Cal is in the best position of any Pac-12 team by virtue of its lack of bad non-conference losses and 3-0 head-to-head record against Oregon and Washington, but the Bears need at least one win and perhaps two to feel confident about its chances. The Huskies' outright regular season title is a chip in their favor, but their woeful non-conference performance also suggests a win or two in Los Angeles would help. As for Oregon, anything less than a Pac-12 title game appearance likely sentences the Ducks to the NIT.

Projected champ: You'd have a better chance picking names out of a hat than projecting the Pac-12 champ this season, but Oregon seems like as good a bet as any. The Ducks have an explosive scorer in Joseph, a versatile do-everything forward in E.J. Singler and a few serviceable big men in Tony Woods and Olu Ashaolu. Oregon's draw includes a Colorado team who beat the Ducks by one in Boulder and a Cal team who swept a pair of games against them, but Dana Altman's team closed the season winning six of seven.

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