Photo by Associated Press.
Originally Published: March 8, 2016 10:06 p.m.
LAS VEGAS — The Pac-12 was one of the nation's strongest conferences during the regular season, the teams' schedules filled with difficult games every week.
It won't get any easier at this week's Pac-12 tournament.
Oregon was the regular-season champion, but the Ducks will have their hands full if they want to sweep in a conference that finished with four teams in the final regular-season Associated Press Top 25.
At least seven other teams will enter MGM Grand Garden Arena with a legitimate chance to win the conference tournament. It wouldn't be a total upset if a team wins four games in four days to take the title.
A quick rundown of what to look for at the Pac-12 tournament, which starts with four games on Wednesday:
DUCKS DOMINANCE - Oregon (25-6, 14-4 Pac-12) was picked to finish fourth in the preseason media poll, but ended up winning its first title since 2002. The eighth-ranked Ducks are deep, athletic, have one of the conference's best players in Dillon Brooks and Dana Altman repeated as Pac-12 coach of the year. Arizona swept the regular season and tournament titles last year and Oregon has the talent to do it this season.
POELTL SHINES - Utah (24-7, 13-5) finished a game behind Oregon in the race for the regular season title and was No. 12 in the final regular season poll. Jakob Poeltl was a big reason for it. The 7-foot sophomore is one of the nation's best and most versatile players, able to score inside or out. He was voted the Pac-12's player of the year after finishing fourth nationally in shooting at 66 percent, second in the Pac-12 in scoring (17.5 points) and third in rebounding (9.1).
STREAKING BEARS - California (22-9, 12-6) may be the hottest team headed into the tournament. The Bears won eight of their final nine games and were in position to beat Arizona before coughing up a late lead in Tucson last week. Cal is young and athletic, with one of the league's best players in Jaylen Brown, the Pac-12 freshman of the year after averaging 15.3 and 5.6 rebounds.
DANGEROUS WILDCATS - Arizona (24-7, 12-6) fell short of winning it third straight Pac-12 title, finishing two games behind Oregon. The Wildcats may be one of the most dangerous teams in the bracket, though. Arizona is big up front, led by 7-0 center Kaleb Tarczewski, and has one of the conference's most dynamic players in freshman Allonzo Trier. The 15th-ranked Wildcats won last year's tournament and will be one of the favorites to win it this year.
RIVALRY CONTINUED - The rivalry between UCLA and Southern California shifts to Sin City in the opening round of the Pac-12 tournament for the second straight season. The Bruins swept the three games last season and this year the Trojans have a chance to return the favor after winning the two regular-season games by a combined 33 points. UCLA (15-16, 6-12) limped to the finish of the regular season, losing its final four games and seven of nine to finish 10th in the Pac-12. USC (20-11, 9-9) had a similar finish, losing six of its final eight.
SOLD OUT - The depth of this year's field helped the Pac-12 tournament sell out for the first time in its history. The tournament has been a big hit since moving to Las Vegas four years ago and three of the four days were sold out last year. This year, Wednesday's sessions also sold out ahead of time, making the tournament a tough ticket to get.