Pac-12 tournament preview, predictions: Can a bid thief emerge?

Jeff Eisenberg

The 2019 Pac-12 tournament tips off Wednesday, March 13 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Below is an in-depth look at the tournament, including a complete bracket, TV schedule, analysis and predictions.

2019 Pac-12 tournament bracket, seeds

The complete 2019 Pac-12 men's basketball tournament bracket. (Pac-12)
The complete 2019 Pac-12 men's basketball tournament bracket. (Pac-12)

Who is the favorite?

It’s probably Washington, though you wouldn’t know it from how poorly the Huskies finished the season.

After storming to a 10-0 start to conference play thanks to its confounding zone defense and the offensive firepower of Jaylen Nowell and Noah Dickerson, Washington suffered three losses in its final eight games, including a dreadful one at last-place Cal. The Huskies also needed overtime to hold off Oregon State at home and edged Washington State and Stanford on the road by a total of three points.

So while the Huskies did finish three games clear of every other Pac-12 team in the standings, they’re hardly dominant. They also have less to play for than anyone else with an NCAA bid seemingly safe.

Who else can win?

The beauty of this year’s train wreck of a Pac-12 is practically anyone can win the conference tournament. Aside from Cal, Washington State and perhaps Stanford, it wouldn’t be surprising to see any Pac-12 team find a timely streak of good form and emerge from this morass of mediocrity.

Second-seeded Arizona State was the Pac-12’s best team in non-conference play and has the most to play for this week. The Sun Devils continue to inch closer to locking up an at-large bid with every victory they rack up.

Young but promising Colorado played the best down the stretch, taking advantage of a home-heavy portion of the schedule to win eight of its final 10 games. Oregon also finished strong, reeling off four straight wins capped by spoiling senior night at Washington on Saturday.

Utah has the league’s most efficient offense. UCLA might have the most individual talent. In a year in which the Pac-12 was so bad that it flirted with one-bid status, nobody can be entirely counted out.

Bubble implications

Washington (24-7, 15-3 KenPom 47, NET 38)

Can a team truly be safe when its best result is a two-point loss to Gonzaga and it hasn’t beaten a single NCAA tournament contender? Mock brackets all suggest the answer is yes. Washington projects in the 8-9 range heading into the Pac-12 tournament by virtue of piling up a whole lot of quadrant 2 wins during league play. The Huskies would probably be fine even if they dump their quarterfinal game against either Arizona or USC, but the Pac-12 champs might be wise to avoid drawing attention to how empty their resume is.

Arizona State (21-9, 12-6, KenPom 62, NET 67)

The Sun Devils were practically the Pac-12’s lone source of quality wins during non-league play, taking down Kansas, Mississippi State and Utah State. Of course, they also mixed in losses to Princeton and Vanderbilt, which helps explain why they’re still on the bubble despite a second-place Pac-12 finish. Arizona State looks to be on track for a No. 10 seed or so entering the week, so all the Sun Devils need to do in Las Vegas is not mess that up. Not losing in the quarterfinals to Stanford or UCLA would be a big help.

Three players to watch

1. Matisse Thybulle, F, Washington — Maybe the most disruptive defender in the country, Thybulle is the heart of Washington’s formidable 2-3 zone.

2. Tres Tinkle, F, Oregon State — If Thybulle is the conference’s best defensive player, Tinkle is its premier scorer. He averages 20.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists.

3. K.Z. Okpala, F, Stanford — Already a prototypical pro prospect because of his 7-foot-2 wingspan, the late-blooming Okpala has shown increased perimeter skill this season and emerged as a potential lottery pick.

One big storyline

Will a bid thief emerge? Only Washington and perhaps Arizona State would make the NCAA tournament if the season ended today, yet the Huskies and Sun Devils are by no means sure bets to win the Pac-12 tournament. As a result another team — maybe Oregon? Or Colorado — could steal a spot from a bubble team from another conference if it claims the Pac-12’s automatic bid.

Statistical guru Ken Pomeroy suggests there’s a 55.9 percent chance someone besides Washington or Arizona State wins the Pac-12 tournament. Fans in Bloomington, Nashville and other bubble cities across America will be rooting hard against that.

2019 Pac-12 tournament TV schedule

All times Eastern

Wednesday, March 13 | First round

No. 8 USC vs. No. 9 Arizona — 3 p.m., Pac-12 Network

No. 5 Colorado vs. No. 12 Cal — 5:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network

No. 7 UCLA vs. No. 10 Stanford — 9 p.m., Pac-12 Network

No. 6 Oregon vs. No. 11 Washington State — 11:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network

Thursday, March 14 | Quarterfinals

No. 1 Washington vs. No. 8 USC/No. 9 Arizona — 3 p.m., Pac-12 Network

No. 4 Oregon State vs. No. 5 Colorado/No. 12 Cal — 5:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network

No. 2 Arizona State vs. No. 7 UCLA/No. 10 Stanford — 9 p.m., Pac-12 Network

No. 3 Utah vs. No. 6 Oregon/No. 11 Washington State — 11:30 p.m., ESPN

Friday, March 15 | Semifinals

Winners of quarterfinals 1 and 2 — 9 p.m., Pac-12 Network

Winners of quarterfinals 3 and 4 — 11:30 p.m., ESPN

Saturday, March 16 | Final

Semifinal winners — 10:30 p.m., ESPN

TUCSON, AZ - FEBRUARY 07: Washington Huskies guard Jaylen Nowell (5) dribbles the ball during a college basketball game between the Washington Huskies and the Arizona Wildcats on February 07, 2019, at McKale Center in Tucson, AZ. (Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Washington took advantage of a down Pac-12 and ran away with the conference's regular-season title. (Getty)

2019 Pac-12 tournament predictions

First round

No. 8 USC over No. 9 Arizona

No. 5 Colorado over No. 12 Cal

No. 7 UCLA over No. 10 Stanford

No. 6 Oregon over No. 11 Washington State

Quarterfinals

No. 5 Colorado over No. 4 Oregon State

No. 1 Washington over No. 8 USC

No. 2 Arizona State over No. 7 UCLA

No. 6 Oregon over No. 3 Utah

Semifinals

No. 1 Washington over No. 5 Colorado

No. 6 Oregon over No. 2 Arizona State

Final

No. 6 Oregon over No. 1 Washington

More Pac-12 tournament preview coverage to come soon.

Other conference tournament previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | SEC

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