How this week could impact Utah men’s and women’s basketball teams in Pac-12 tournament seeding

Utah Utes forward Alissa Pili (35) moves the ball during a game against the Oregon Ducks at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023.
Utah Utes forward Alissa Pili (35) moves the ball during a game against the Oregon Ducks at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News

The regular season is quickly coming to a close in college basketball, and for both the Utah men’s and women’s teams, there is a lot of postseason placement to be decided.

While the Utah women still have a slim shot at a top-four seed in the Pac-12 tournament, the Utah men are likely to be forced to play during the first round of the conference tournament.

There is still a lot to be decided, though.

At first, let’s take an in-depth look at what this week — the final one of the regular season — could mean for the Utah women’s team, then at what is on the line for the Utah men’s team, and a few other storylines to follow around the league this week.

Where could the Utah women’s basketball team be seeded in the Pac-12 tournament?

Heading into the final week of the regular season, there’s a few outcomes for Utah, which currently is tied for fifth in the Pac-12 standings at 10-6 in league play, in terms of its Pac-12 tournament seeding:

  • The most likely is that the Utes will stay at a No. 6 or No. 5 seed and play in the tournament’s first round, even if it wins both games this week.

  • If Utah loses both games and Arizona wins both of its games, the Utes would be the No. 7 seed.

  • There’s a slim possibility Utah could earn a top-four seed and a first-round bye in the tournament.

Conference-wide storylines to follow

  • No. 4 Stanford, with one win this week, would capture the Pac-12 regular-season championship outright and clinch the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 tournament. The Cardinal (13-3 in Pac-12) play at No. 11 Oregon State Thursday and at Oregon Saturday.

  • Teams No. 2 through No. 6 are within one game of each other — Oregon State, No. 7 USC and No. 8 UCLA are all 11-5 in conference play, while No. 13 Colorado and No. 18 Utah are both 10-6.

  • Both the Utes and Buffaloes will play the same opponents — Washington State (6-10) and Washington (5-10) — at home this week. Both Utah and Colorado swept their road games at the Cougars and Huskies earlier this year.

  • For Utah to earn a top-four seed and a first-round bye at the Pac-12 tournament, the Utes would need to win both of their home games and have the right results (albeit few options) break their way.

Why is Pac-12 tournament seeding so important?

There are six Pac-12 teams currently ranked in the top 18 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, and five of those teams — Stanford, Colorado, USC, UCLA and Oregon State — were included in NCAA Tournament committee’s initial top 16 rankings released two weeks ago.

The top four seeds in the Pac-12 tournament receive first-round byes and would only need to win three games at the tournament in Las Vegas, which runs March 6-10 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Guaranteed, two top-20 Pac-12 teams will have to play on the first day of the Pac-12 tournament.

When it comes to the NCAA Tournament, top four seeds will host a subregional in the first two rounds of the tournament.

Utah is fighting an uphill battle to do that right now, but it’s not impossible for a team that has beaten a top-10 team four times this year.

Help from Arizona is Utah’s best chance at a top-four seed

The Wildcats host both UCLA and USC, one week after Arizona upset Stanford last week. They have won four straight games and could play spoiler this week.

Arizona (16-12, 8-8 Pac-12) can only get as high as the No. 6 seed in the Pac-12 tournament — if the Wildcats win both their games and Utah loses both of its games — but by playing both UCLA and USC, any Arizona win will impact the logjam between the No. 2 to No. 6 teams in the Pac-12 standings.

As long as Utah wins both of its games this week, if Arizona wins at home against either USC or UCLA, that could set up a tie-breaking scenario where the Utes improve their seeding, potentially into a top-four spot.

The Utes would also benefit greatly if Oregon State, the only team in the league to sweep Utah in two games this year, were to fall behind the Utes in the standings. That would only happen if the Beavers lost to both Stanford and California and the Utes won out.

What happens to Utah if there is a two-way tie?

If Utah finishes in a two-team tie with any of these teams at the end of the regular season, and assuming Stanford wins the regular-season championship outright, here’s a look at who would have the edge in these scenarios.

A key note: In scenarios where Utah and any given team split matchups this year, the next determining factor would be “each team’s record (won-lost percentage) vs. the team occupying the highest position in the final regular-season standings, and then continuing down through the standings until one team gains an advantage,” per the conference.

  • Oregon State — Edge Beavers. Oregon State beat Utah in both their matchups this year.

  • UCLA — Edge undetermined at this time. Utah and UCLA split two games this year. Both lost to top seed Stanford and it would depend on tie-breaking scenarios beyond the Cardinal.

  • USC — Edge Utes. Utah beat USC in both matchups this year.

  • Colorado — Edge Buffaloes. Utah and Colorado split two games this year, and in this scenario, the tiebreaker would be that the Buffaloes beat top seed Stanford, while the Utes lost to the Cardinal.

  • Arizona — Edge Wildcats. Arizona beat Utah in their only matchup this year. In this scenario, the Utes would lose both games and be the No. 7 seed.

What happens in the case of a three-way (or more) tie?

This is where things get complicated at this point, because of the parity in the league that changes the tiebreakers so wildly.

The Pac-12 outlines its way of breaking three-way (or more) tiebreakers as follows to determine seeding for the Pac-12 tournament:

“a. Results (won-lost percentage) of collective head-to-head competition during the regular season among the tied teams.

“b. If more than two teams are still tied, each of the tied team’s record (won-lost percentage) vs. the team occupying the highest position in the final regular season standings, and then continuing down through the standings, eliminating teams with inferior records, until one team gains an advantage.

“When arriving at another group of tied teams while comparing records, use each team’s record (won-lost percentage) against the collective tied teams as a group (prior to that group’s own tie-breaking procedure), rather than the performance against individual tied teams.

“After one team has an advantage and is seeded, all remaining teams in the multiple-team tie-breaker will repeat the multiple-team tie-breaking procedure.

“If at any point the multiple-team tie is reduced to two teams, the two-team tie-breaking procedure will be applied.

“c. Won-lost percentage against all Division I opponents.

“d. Coin toss conducted by the Commissioner or designee.”

Utah Utes guard Hunter Erickson (0) and center Branden Carlson (35) defend Arizona Wildcats guard Jaden Bradley (0) in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. The Wildcats won 105-99 in triple overtime. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Utah Utes guard Hunter Erickson (0) and center Branden Carlson (35) defend Arizona Wildcats guard Jaden Bradley (0) in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. The Wildcats won 105-99 in triple overtime. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

What is on the line for the Utah men’s basketball team this week?

The Runnin’ Utes, at 7-9 in Pac-12 play, currently sit eighth in the Pac-12 standings.

If Utah’s positioning didn’t change between now and the Pac-12 tournament (March 13-16 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas), the Utes would play in the No. 8 vs. No. 9 game to open the tournament, with the winner facing the No. 1 seed in the quarterfinals.

Utah is within two games of four teams in front of it in the standings (UCLA and Colorado at 9-7, California at 9-8 and Arizona State at 8-9), though two other teams sit just a half-game back of the Utes (Washington and Stanford at 7-10) with two weeks left in the regular season.

The Utes will play their final two home games of the regular season with Stanford coming to town Thursday (6:30 p.m. MST, Pac-12 Network) and California visiting the Huntsman Center on Saturday (7 p.m., Pac-12 Network).

Utah is 12-2 at the Huntsman Center this season, though both losses came in its last homestand, when the Utes lost to Arizona in triple overtime and to Arizona State.

How wins over the Bay Area schools could benefit Utah in the Pac-12 standings

The Utes played at Stanford earlier this season, losing 79-73 in a game where Utah struggled to get enough stops in the second half to rally for the win.

Utah has yet to play California this season.

Both games could have big implications on Utah’s seeding in the Pac-12 tournament.

The Cardinal are on a four-game losing streak and have lost seven of eight.

If Utah were to beat Stanford, it would have a two-game edge over the Cardinal in the loss column with just three games remaining for the Utes.

California has been playing much better in recent weeks and enters the week on a three-game winning streak.

If Utah were to beat the Golden Bears, it would give the Runnin’ Utes the head-to-head tiebreaker over California, which could be important considering they are only separated by one loss heading into the week.

Other Pac-12 men’s basketball storylines to follow this week

As previously mentioned, only 2 1/2 games separate seven Pac-12 teams in the middle of the league standings with two weeks left in the regular season.

As such, there’s likely to be plenty of movement in the battle for Pac-12 tournament seeding.

Conference-wide storylines to follow

  • No. 6 Arizona (12-4 in Pac-12) and No. 19 Washington State (12-5) are within a half-game of each other for the league lead. The Wildcats play at Arizona State and host Oregon this week, while the Cougars host USC and UCLA.

  • Arizona and Washington State could both secure a top 4 seed in the upcoming Pac-12 tournament with a win and any loss from either Colorado or UCLA.

  • Oregon, at third in the league standings with a 10-6 record, could also clinch a top 4 seed with two wins (the Ducks host Oregon State and play at Arizona) and two losses from either Colorado or UCLA and a loss by California.

  • Another team for Utah fans to monitor is Arizona State. The Sun Devils swept the season series over the Utes and would hold any head-to-head tiebreaker. ASU currently has an 8-9 conference record, with a home game against Arizona this week and road games at USC and UCLA to end the regular season.