This year’s March Madness men's tournament was just as crazy as the previous years. Massive upsets, thrilling finishes and a championship game that did not disappoint. One conference made a lot of noise at these tournaments.
Many, at first, would assume the ACC since that conference features teams such as Duke, Louisville and North Carolina. However, North Carolina was eliminated in their first game and Duke and Louisville did not make the tournament.
Another conference that comes to mind is the SEC. Teams such as Kentucky, Alabama, Florida, Missouri, LSU and Arkansas had to have dominated the tournament, right? While Arkansas did make it to the Elite Eight, Missouri lost in the first round, Florida was upset in the second round by a No. 15 seeded team, Alabama was upset in the Sweet Sixteen and Kentucky did not make the tournament.
If not these conferences, then surely the Big Ten dominated right? There is no way Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State, Illinois, Wisconsin, Maryland or Rutgers could be stopped right? Wrong again. Purdue and Ohio State were upset in its first games, Illinois was upset in the second round, Michigan lost in the Elite Eight and the rest of the teams did not make it past the second round.
Who is this mystery conference then? Believe it or not, it is the Pac-12. A conference more known for football, baseball and softball, many did not expect the Pac-12 to make a difference in the tournament. Instead, the Pac-12 became the story of the tournament.
The teams representing the Pac-12 were USC, UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State and Colorado. Before the tournament even started, UCLA was a play-in team against Michigan State and nobody expected anything from UCLA. The Bruins beat Michigan State anyways.
Once the tournament started, every Pac-12 team made it past the first round. After that, every team other than Colorado made it to the Sweet Sixteen. Then USC, UCLA and Oregon State made it to the Elite Eight. Oregon would have probably made it but unfortunately, they had to play USC to advance.
When the Final Four rolled around, UCLA was the last Pac-12 team standing. The Bruins would face No. 1 Gonzaga and the winner would advance to the title game. UCLA managed to tie the game with a little over two seconds left, but Zags point guard Jalen Suggs threw up a prayer at the buzzer and banked in a game-winning three-point shot.
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Even though a Pac-12 team did not win the tournament, they sent a message to the other conferences.
Stop sleeping on us because we are here to stay.
Of the 14 games won by Pac-12 teams, nine of those wins would be classified as upsets. These Pac-12 teams also knocked out eight top-10 teams in their brackets. A conference that came in as underdogs left as the conference of top dogs.
The cherry on top was the women’s championship game, which featured Pac-12 teams Stanford and our very own Arizona Wildcats. While Arizona did not win the championship, they and the conference earned something more important.
I expect big things from the Pac-12 conference next year too. Who knows, maybe the men’s team will get things together and go in and break some brackets too.
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Sean (he/him) is a business administration major from California. He enjoys playing video games and watching Disney+ in his free time.