Home-team dominance has been the story to an almost staggering level in the Pac-12 Conference this season.
Expect that trend to continue this week in the league tournament.
Yes, the official stance is the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas is a neutral floor. And it will be to 11 of the 12 teams descending upon Sin City.
The lone outlier is Arizona, which typically draws a large contingent of Wildcat fanatics to Vegas. With all other matchups and minutiae of strengths and weaknesses generally appearing largely even among the top contenders, Arizona is my pick to take home the conference crown with its home-away-from-home atmosphere providing a key edge.
The top seven seeds in the tournament went a combined 115-8 at home this year.
“What’s interesting to see sometimes in tournaments is to see the fans waiting for the next game, who are they rooting for in the previous game?” Colorado Buffaloes head coach Tad Boyle said. “It’s not going to be a raucous road-type environment like it was at Utah, or like it was at USC or some of the places we played this year. The neutral court makes it neutral for everybody.
“Now, I did lie to our guys after the (Utah) game that we’re done with (road) games, because if we’re lucky enough to play Arizona, it will be a road game.”
While fans start brainstorming their brackets for next week’s Big Dance, here is how I filled out my bracket for the Pac-12 tourney.
In Wednesday’s opening round look for the higher seeds to prevail, including the fifth-seeded Buffs securing their third win this season against 12th-seeded Washington State. In other first-round games I’ve got Washington over Stanford, USC topping UCLA, and Oregon State prevailing against Arizona State.
The one that gave me pause was the USC-UCLA game, a 7-10 matchup that features a Trojans team that already has defeated its crosstown rivals twice. A third win in such a rivalry often is easier said than done, but UCLA enters the tourney as a battered team that has lost seven of its past nine, including four straight since decimating the Buffs on Feb. 20.
In the quarterfinal matchups, I’ve got an Arizona team eager for payback from its loss in Boulder taking care of business against the Buffs, along with Oregon topping Washington, Utah over USC and Cal defeating Oregon State.
In a semifinal match of the two teams I consider the deepest and most well-rounded in the league, Arizona uses its “home” advantage to edge Oregon in a thriller, setting up a finale against a Cal team that defeats Utah in the other semifinal.
No doubt, in a league that has been remarkably balanced throughout the season a strong case can be made for any of the top four seeds to run the table. Despite CU’s 3-4 mark against those top four seeds, Pac-12 Networks analyst Kevin O’Neill puts the fifth-seeded Buffs in the same category.
“The top five teams are very solid and built to win a conference tournament,” O’Neill said. “I’m not sure that the other teams in the league below those five are capable of doing that. I know it happens all the time where a nine seed or 10 seed gets hot and wins a conference tournament, but I think that’s going to be very difficult for somebody to do this year.”
Pat Rooney: email@example.com or twitter.com/prooney07