How many NCAA tourney bids will the Pac-12 get?

This week, the Dagger will examine some of the most pressing questions the NCAA tournament selection committee will face. The latest installment looks at how many bids the Pac-12 will get.

For all the season-long discussion about whether the reeling Pac-12 will be the first one-bid major conference, here's the startling truth.

Entering Thursday night's slate of Pac-12 games, the conference is more likely to get three teams into the NCAA tournament than it is to get one.

Two bids is easily the most likely scenario, however, thanks to co-Pac-12 leaders Cal (22-6, 12-3) and Washington (19-8, 12-3) gaining some much-needed separation over the rest of the league. Both would seem to be in good shape for at-large bids if they won the final three regular-season games on the road and shared the Pac-12 title, but it's the Bears who are better positioned to overcome a slip-up.

Although Cal lacks marquee wins just like the rest of the Pac-12, the Bears boast a solid No. 32 RPI thanks to decent nonconference blowouts of Weber State, Georgia and Denver, a road win at Washington and a season sweep of Oregon. They can likely survive a slip-up in tricky remaining road games at Colorado and Stanford, but finishing second to Washington could make them vulnerable if a team besides the Huskies and Bears wins the Pac-12 tournament.

Washington's position in the field is far more tenuous because its nonconference resume is simply dismal. Not only did the Huskies fail to beat anyone better than Georgia State out of conference, they also lost at Nevada and at home to South Dakota State.

If Washington wins its final three games at Washington State, USC and UCLA, the Huskies might make it regardless of how they fare in the Pac-12 tournament thanks to a 15-3 league record. If Washington drops a game or two on the road in the next two weeks as it is often prone to do, then it might take another conference tournament run at Staples Center to lock up a spot in the NCAA tournament.

The most likely scenario for the conference getting only one bid is if Washington stumbles down the stretch, Arizona fails to make a late surge and Cal wins both the regular-season and Pac-12 tournament championships. In that case, it would be easy to envision the selection committee looking at the Pac-12's dearth of top 50 RPI wins and granting only the Bears a spot in the field of 68.

By contrast, there are a couple potential scenarios for the Pac-12 to land three bids.

Arizona (19-9, 10-5) could win out against USC, UCLA and Arizona State, fall in the Pac-12 title game for a second straight season and point to a strong finishing kick as proof it merits consideration. Colorado (18-8, 10-4) or Oregon (19-8, 10-5) also could follow that same route, though their remaining schedules are more daunting.

It seems unlikely the selection committee would take the Wildcats, Buffaloes or Ducks as the Pac-12's third-place team, but the three-bid scenario that's far more plausible is if both Washington and Cal finish strong but another team wins the Pac-12 tournament.

If that happened, would the selection committee really take three teams from a league that has performed so poorly out of conference this season? It's hard to predict but one thing's for sure: That would be Selection Sunday's most heavily debated question.

This week, the Dagger will examine some of the most pressing questions the NCAA tournament selection committee will face. A look at what's to come:

• Monday:Which teams will join Kentucky and Syracuse as No. 1 seeds?
• Tuesday: Will Northwestern earn its first-ever NCAA bid?
• Wednesday: Will the ACC get a fifth team into the NCAA tournament?
• Thursday: How many bids will the Pac-12 receive?
• Friday: Which league will receive the most NCAA bids?
• Saturday: Where should Murray State be seeded?
• Sunday: Long Beach State, Middle Tennessee State and Oral Roberts dominated their leagues. Do they need to win their conference tournaments to get in?

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