Why you should care
Because the quest for bracket knowledge is a lifelong pursuit.
Yes, adjusting the alarm clock for daylight saving time is what got me up this morning, but we’re here to discuss what will keep millions of like-minded college basketball fans up tonight. Selection Sunday, tipoff of the greatest unofficial holiday of the year, has arrived. Now is the time when we fans begin to strategize. At 6:00 p.m. ET on TBS, the field of 68 NCAA Tournament participants and, more important, the March Madness brackets will be revealed.
So, who’s your pick?
Whether you’re a basketball junkie or an office pool novice, March Madness brackets should be completed with care. One rule that has worked well this decade? Pick against the Pac-12. The West Coast’s premier athletic conference loves to complain about a certainly tangible East Coast media bias, but only UCLA (2008) and Oregon (2017) have made the Final Four in the past decade. This year, though, if you’re thinking that teams from the ACC, Big East, Big Ten or even the SEC are the only worthwhile investments, remember that the seemingly mediocre Pac-12 may be deceiving.
The Pac-12 is as deep as it’s ever been — its nine teams in the RPI top 100 ties a conference record.
The rating percentage index (RPI) is based on a team’s record and the strength of its schedule. Essentially, a stronger schedule earns teams respect in the RPI, and vice versa. The NCAA selection committee has used the polarizing barometer since 1981 to assist it in placing tournament teams and, while not perfect, it does offer insight. This season, Pac-12 Arizona is ranked 19th in the RPI and three other schools (USC, UCLA and Utah) fall in the top 50. Arizona State (No. 51) follows, and the nine top 100 teams is the third most by any conference, trailing only the ACC and SEC.
After a strong showing in the conference tournament, Arizona looks frightening heading into March Madness.
“That’s a testament to those teams playing a competitive schedule and beating up on each other,” says former UCLA guard and NBA Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, who now works as a Turner NCAA analyst. “The Pac-12 has not been as great as it has in years past, but [its teams] could be a tough out.”
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi currently predicts only four Pac-12 teams (Arizona, UCLA, USC and Arizona State) will make the NCAA Tournament. That’s down considerably from the conference’s record seven teams in 2016, but not surprising. Out West, this season has been a bizarre disappointment. Still, that could all be turned around by a strong NCAA Tournament. “It starts at the top with what Arizona has been going through the last few weeks,” says Miller.
Miller’s talking about Arizona’s star junior guard Allonzo Trier, who tested positive for trace amounts of the same steroid that got him suspended for 19 games last season. Trier and Arizona appealed the results of the Feb. 22 test, claiming that a remnant of the same substance had somehow resurfaced. Trier, Arizona said, should be eligible immediately. Astonishingly, the NCAA agreed, and Trier is back to getting buckets for the ’Cats.
Days later, in a season clouded by the FBI’s ongoing investigation into college basketball corruption, an ESPN report stated that Arizona head coach Sean Miller was recorded on a wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment for star freshman center DeAndre Ayton. Miller sat out one game, then vehemently denied the report and defended Ayton. Subsequently, the report was shown to have some inaccuracies, and now it seems that public favor has swung behind Miller and his team. Ayton was named Pac-12 Player of the Year, and after a strong showing in the conference tournament, Arizona looks frightening heading into March Madness.
But the Wildcats aren’t the only show in town. USC (23-11, 12-6) won four of its last five Pac-12 regular-season games and has three pro prospects with the potential to break out in March Madness. Across town in Los Angeles, the UCLA Bruins are peaking at the right time. UCLA trounced USC in the regular-season finale behind 34 points from Aaron Holiday — younger brother of NBA players Jrue and Justin. “There will be three Holidays in the NBA soon,” Reggie Miller tells OZY. “Coach [Steve] Alford has a young team, so the steady influence of Holiday, along with [Thomas] Welsh, that’s why UCLA could make some noise.”
As of Sunday morning, Lunardi currently sees both USC and UCLA as 10-seeds, with Arizona State sliding in at an 11. After a 12-0 start to a season that saw the Sun Devils climb to No. 2 in the national polls, ASU has been in free fall. Bobby Hurley’s squad finished the year 20-11, with every loss coming in Pac-12 play.
Maybe this conference is tough after all?