Man, did the Pac-12 prove me wrong in the men’s NCAA tournament this year. I put out an article prior to the start of this tournament, which can be found here. I correctly predicted USC’s Sweet Sixteen appearance, but that was about all I got right out of my predictions, and I am more than happy to be wrong in this situation.
Despite picking against them, I am (almost) always rooting for the conference, and they will be representing a quarter of the teams who made it to the Sweet Sixteen this year. Here is a look at those four teams and who they will be facing this weekend, along with potentially the Elite Eight to make it to the Final Four.
What a last couple of weeks it has been for the Beavers. After defeating UCLA, Oregon and Colorado in consecutive days to win the Pac-12 conference championship, Oregon State has continued their momentum into the NCAA tournament with wins over No. 5 seed Tennessee in round one and No. 4 seed Oklahoma State in round two.
It was a real balanced effort in the Beavers' win over the Volunteers with four players scoring in double digits. Oregon State senior center Roman Silva led the way with 16 points on a perfect 8-8 shooting from the field. What was even more impressive is that they held Tennessee to 56 points after the Volunteers averaged over 70 points per game during the season.
In the Beavers second-round win over Oklahoma State, they were able to overcome a 24-point performance from top NBA prospect Cade Cunningham to come out with an 80-70 victory. The star of the night for the Beavers was senior guard Ethan Thompson who scored 26 points. He was able to take advantage of attacking the basket and drawing fouls, going 15-16 at the free throw line. The Beavers also welcomed a spark off the bench from junior forward Maurice Calloo, who dropped 15 points on 4-9 shooting overall and 3-5 shooting from behind the arc.
My prediction: I will be once again pulling for the Beavers, but I have Loyola Chicago winning this game. This is a team that was heavily under-seeded heading into the tournament. They were considered as a top-10 team in the country according to KenPom during the season. I’m not necessarily saying they should have been a top 2-3 seed, but a No. 8 seed was far too low for the Ramblers to begin with. They are coming off an impressive victory over No. 1 seed Illinois, holding them to just 58 points. There are many who considered this to be a huge upset, but it really wasn’t when you consider how good Loyola Chicago was this season. The Ramblers boasted one of the most efficient defenses in the league, and that was showcased firsthand against the Illini in the second round. The Ramblers' defense is going to make it tough on this Oregon State team. The winner of this game will take on the winner of the Syracuse-Houston game in the Elite Eight for a trip to the Final Four.
The Bruins have won three games in this tournament already after defeating Michigan State in the First Four prior to the round of 64. After defeating the Spartans in overtime, UCLA defeated No. 6 seed BYU on the back of a 27-point performance from sophomore guard Johnny Juzang. UCLA held BYU to just 3-17 shooting from deep, a stat that the Cougars relied on heavily during the season.
UCLA received the luck of the draw in round two, taking on No. 14 seed Abilene Christian in round two after the Wildcats upset No. 3 seed Texas in round one. This is where matchups are really important come tournament time. Abilene Christian finished the regular season towards the top of the league in turnovers forced per game, a stat that Texas struggled with for the most part during the season. It was a game where despite shooting 30% from the field and 17% from deep, the Wildcats were able to narrowly escape over the Longhorns by a score of 53-52. Abilene Christian forced Texas into a season-high 23 turnovers, including seven turnovers from senior guard Matt Coleman III. The biggest one coming when Coleman dribbled the ball off his foot with 1:11 left in the game, down by four points. The difference between the first-round matchup against Texas and the second-round matchup against UCLA for the Wildcats was that the Bruins take care of the ball much more effectively. UCLA committed just eight turnovers in the game, defeating Abilene Christian 67-47 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for a matchup against No. 2 seed Alabama.
Once again, I will be rooting heavily for the Bruins, but I believe Alabama ends their run here. This is a Crimson Tide team that is coming off a 96-77 victory over Maryland in round two led by 20-point performances from guards Jaden Shackelford and John Petty Jr. If the Bruins are going to have a chance at pulling off this upset, they are going to need a monster scoring performance from Juzang with some added production from the bench as well. The winner of this game will take on the winner of the Michigan-Florida State game in the Elite Eight for a trip to the Final Four.
Oregon and USC:
These two teams are facing off in the Sweet Sixteen, so I will talk about them both at once.
USC is the one team Pac-12 team I correctly predicted would make it to this point. They defeated Drake rather handily in round one by a score of 72-56 before running No. 3 seed Kansas out of the building in round two by a score of 85-51. I felt that the size and length of the Trojans would prove to be too much for the Jayhawks and that proved to be just the case as they out-rebounded Kansas 43-27 on the night. The Trojans led the game the whole way and did not look back.
Oregon has had a bit of an odd route to this point after seeing their first-round game against VCU cancelled after the Rams received multiple positive COVID-19 tests the same week as the game. This gifted the Ducks a spot into round two.
Similar to what we saw from USC this round, Oregon also ran their opponent out of the building as they defeated the No. 2 seed Iowa by a score of 95-80. This was a very fast-paced game that saw the Ducks drop 56 points in the first half. They were led by 20-point performances from senior guards Chris Duarte and LJ Figueroa, while senior forward Eugene Omoruyi also added in 17 points.
My prediction: We saw these two teams meet last month, a game in which the Trojans won 72-58. It is not very easy to beat the same team twice in the same season, but I believe the Trojans will do just that. I do believe this contest will be much closer though, but I am once again expecting the size of USC to be the difference maker. The Trojans outrebounded the Ducks 39-25 overall and 15-9 on offensive rebounds in their last meeting, and I am expecting to see a similar result in this game. The winner here will play the winner of the Gonzaga-Creighton game in the Elite Eight for a trip to the Final Four.
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