Despite the off-the-court controversy that threatened to derail their on-the-court talent, the Arizona Wildcats won their second straight Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament on Saturday, held at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. This is also the third time in the last four years that Arizona has won the conference tournament, and it is the seventh tourney crown overall for the Wildcats in the 21 years the event has been held.
As a result of the 75-61 victory over the USC Trojans—our predicted winner—, the Arizona men earned the Pac-12 Conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The other schools in the league with March Madness aspirations will find out their respective fates later today when the field of 68 teams is announced. The Conference of Champions could land as many as five teams in the Big Dance.
Wildcats freshman Deandre Ayton scored 32 points and grabbed 18 rebounds to lead this team to big win over USC. One of five players to earn pre-tournament, must-see status, Ayton did not disappoint the Arizona fan base. The No. 15-ranked Wildcats won the regular-season championship with a 14-4 record in Pac-12 play, and now they've won the tournament title as well. Their overall 27-7 record will earn them a top seed in the NCAA Tournament and perhaps a chance to play in the NCAA Men's Tournament West Regional (March 22-24) at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Final Pac-12 Rankings
It's been two weeks since our last rankings, and the big changes came after the top spot. The Wildcats left no doubt as to their dominance, although UCLA pushed them to overtime in Friday night's semifinal game. That's why we pushed the Bruins above the Trojans here, in addition to UCLA's season sweep of USC. The Ducks are on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, while the Sun Devils' early-season successes should keep them in the mix for an at-large bid.
1. Arizona Wildcats (27-7, 1): Remember, this team was the preseason No. 3 squad, and in Ayton, it's clear Arizona has one of the best players in the country at its disposal. That can make all the difference in March.
2. UCLA Bruins (21-11, 4): The 3-7 record in true road games is what derailed UCLA's high hopes for this season, and chances are the Bruins won't be playing close to home in the NCAA Tournament.
3. Southern California Trojans (23-11, 2): Losing Bennie Boatwright to a season-ending injury sapped a lot of power from the Trojans, but we like the spirited run to the Pac-12 Tournament finals a lot.
4. Oregon Ducks (22-12, 5): Did Oregon do enough to get an NCAA bid? We'll find out if a win over Arizona and two over Arizona State was enough to offset an easy out-of-conference slate.
5. Arizona State Sun Devils (20-11, 3): With an 8-11 record since December 30, it's hard to remember this team beat both Kansas and Xavier, likely No. 1 seeds in the Big Dance.
6. Washington Huskies (20-12, 6): This team beat Kansas, too, while winning 20 games and finishing over .500 in conference play. In the old days, that would have been enough for a March Madness bid.
7. Utah Utes (19-11, 7): They really needed to make a run in the Pac-12 Tournament, and it didn't happen. The two-point loss to Oregon in the quarterfinals will sting for some time in Salt Lake City.
8. Stanford Cardinal (18-15, 8): Five victories over teams headed for the NCAA Tournament can't overcome the mediocre overall record. The Cardinal just scheduled too tough in out-of-conference play.
9. Colorado Buffaloes (17-15, 9): Season sweeps over Arizona State and UCLA might have been enough to get the Buffaloes into March Madness if they'd just been able to knock off the Wildcats, too, on Thursday.
10. Oregon State Beavers (16-16, 10): Fourteen of their 16 losses came by single digits, and seven losses were by five points or less. It was a season of "almost" for the Beavers.
11. Washington State Cougars (12-19, 11): Remember, the Cougars beat St. Mary's (CA) back in late November. But it was all downhill from there.
12. California Golden Bears (8-24, 12): The Golden Bears went 5-8 against teams from California this season, including nice road win at San Diego State.
What to Watch For Next
When the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee announces the bracket for this year's edition of March Madness at 3:00 pm PT, look for four teams to make it from the conference. We would argue for the inclusion of the Ducks, but chances are Oregon is going to be on the outside looking in. Arizona will get a No. 4 seed, in all probability, while USC, UCLA and ASU will get double-digit seeds. It was a down year for the Pac-12 in terms of overall conference strength, and the committee's decision to exclude the Ducks—a Final Four participant last year—will reflect that.
Fearless Prediction(s) of the Week
This is the year Arizona makes it to the Final Four. If the Wildcats end up in the West region behind higher seeds like Xavier, North Carolina and Michigan, the Wildcats will ride momentum and Ayton's all-world talent all the way to San Antonio—where their fan base in Tucson won't be too far away. The Musketeers are a good matchup for the Wildcats in the Sweet 16, and a regional in Los Angeles definitely would favor Arizona over the Tar Heels. Look for Allonzo Trier to partner with Ayton for a devastating combo in March Madness as the Wildcats justify their preseason ranking.
For coverage on the Pac-12 Conference's teams all season long, keep it here on AXS.com.