It's more than five months away, but it's never too early to start thinking about the 2019 Pac-12 Men's and Women's Basketball tournaments in Las Vegas. Over consecutive weeks in March, both tournaments take place: The women play March 7-10 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, and the men play March 13-16 at T-Mobile Arena. Both tournaments are sure to be packed with exciting basketball as Pacific-12 Conference teams try to qualify for the NCAA Championship tournaments (a.k.a., March Madness).
Tickets will go on sale soon, and every school has a chance to win the tournament. On the men's side, the Arizona Wildcats, the Oregon Ducks, and the USC Trojans look to be strong again, while the UCLA Bruins could shake things up in conference play. For the women, it often comes down to the Stanford Cardinal, but the Oregon Ducks and the Oregon State Beavers will be right there to contest every step along the way. The Bruins will also contend on the women's side as well.
Here is a quick look at the preseason favorites for both the 2019 Pac-12 Men's and Women's Basketball tournaments in Las Vegas!
Last season was an exciting one for Pac-12 men's basketball, even though the postseason ended up being a dud for the conference. The league landed just three teams in the NCAA Tournament, and all three of them—Arizona, Arizona State, and UCLA—lost their first games in March Madness. Consider that motivation for this season: Every Pac-12 team, from top to bottom, is going to want to restore the conference's reputation on the national level.
On the bright side, five teams received invitations to the NIT last year, meaning that eight teams were good enough to keep playing deep into March. In fact, the Utah Utes made it all the way to the NIT finals before losing to Penn State. This conference has good teams, so it's up to the players now to make sure everyone else realizes it in 2018-19.
Ten of the 12 teams in the league finished with at least a .500 record last year, and that's a lot of depth to contend with during the regular season and in the conference tournament. One of the teams to finish with a losing record, California, should bounce back to be among the Pac-12 contenders this year, so look for big seasons from almost every school in the league.
The top four teams, however, should be Arizona, UCLA, USC, and Oregon, probably in that order. The Wildcats have averaged 29 victories a season over the last eight years, and after winning both the regular-season and conference titles, Arizona is the favorite again despite the usual personnel losses. The Wildcats should face the Bruins in the conference tourney final, as UCLA got off to an odd start last season with controversy in China and never really played to its potential. That will change this season, no doubt. Oregon felt snubbed after missing the Big Dance last March, so the Ducks will be focused and ready to show their 2017 Final Four appearance was no fluke. The Trojans always seem to be in the mix, too, in recent years.
The Ducks won the regular-season title last season with a 16-2 record in league play, but overall, six teams made the NCAA Tournament last year for the Pac-12 women. Of those six teams, only the California Golden Bears failed to win the March Madness opener, getting upset by Virginia in the first round. In the second round, four teams advanced to the Sweet 16, as Arizona State missed joining them after a loss to No. 2-seeded Texas in the Kansas City Regional.
The Stanford Cardinal were the only team among the four schools advancing to the Sweet 16 not to win in that round, as No. 1-seeded Louisville proved to be too much in the Lexington Regional. But the Ducks, the Beavers, and the Bruins all advanced to the Elite 8, highlighted by UCLA's 84-75 victory over Texas.
However, all three teams failed to advance to the Final Four, yet the strong showing of placing three teams into the final eight squads standing demonstrated just how good the Pac-12 was last year. There is no reason to suspect that this 2018-19 season will be any different, either. The Ducks, who lost in the Elite 8 to eventual national champion Notre Dame, and the Cardinal should fight it out again for the top spot in the conference. Stanford was not happy with the way it finished last season, dropping the conference tournament title game to Oregon, 77-57, and then failing to advance out of the Sweet 16.
Look for the Cardinal to re-establish the team's winning traditions in the Pac-12 Tournament with its 13th overall conference tourney title on March 10. The Beavers will knock off the Ducks in a semifinal upset in the tournament, but Stanford will triumph in the end, denying Oregon State its second-ever Pac-12 tournament championship.