The 2017 Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament tips off on Wednesday, March 8, at 12:00 p.m. Pacific Time in Las Vegas at the T-Mobile Arena with two afternoon games that comprise the first official session of the event. The Arizona State Sun Devils and the Stanford Cardinal get the ball bouncing first, followed by a matchup between the California Golden Bears and the Oregon State Beavers.
The winner of the tourney will earn the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, although the Pac-12 hopes to place as many as six teams in March Madness this year. The Oregon Ducks are both the top seed in the event and the defending tournament champions, although the Arizona Wildcats and the UCLA Bruins also are highly ranked in the national polls.
Game 1: No. 8 Arizona State vs. No. 9 Stanford, 12 p.m. PT (Click here for tickets)
Both the Sun Devils (14-17) and the Cardinal (14-16) experienced disappointing seasons this year, finishing under .500 both overall and in conference play. The two teams know the only way to earn a postseason tournament bid is to win the Pac-12 Championship by winning four games in four days. Neither ASU nor Stanford has anything to lose here, so both teams will throw everything possible at each other in order to win this opening game and take the first step toward achieving the dream.
Regular season recap: The Sun Devils swept the regular-season series from the Cardinal, earning a 98-93 victory on the road back in late December and then holding off the visiting Cardinal at home in mid-February, 75-69. Obviously, both games were close, so ASU is not a prohibitive favorite in this game. Both regular-season matchups could have gone either way, and fans can expect another close game between the two teams on Wednesday afternoon.
Players to watch: ASU's Shannon Evans is the best all-around player on the Sun Devils' roster, and the Stanford defense can't just limit his scoring if it wants to slow down the Arizona State attack. Evans passes, rebounds and steals the ball, too. He can do it all for ASU. On the other side, Reid Travis is what makes the Cardinal offense work, as his presence down low sets the Stanford offense. If the Sun Devils can deny him the ball, the Cardinal will have trouble scoring.
The Pick: On paper, Stanford is the better team, despite the ASU sweep this year. The Cardinal also played a tougher schedule, and that payoff comes in tournament action. The Sun Devils will want to push the pace to get a result like they did in December against the Cardinal, but Travis will have a big game for Stanford inside. That will be the difference in a close Stanford win.
Game 2: No. 5 California vs. No. 12 Oregon State, 2:30 p.m. PT (Click here for tickets)
The Golden Bears are fighting for an NCAA bid, and they were fortunate enough to win the tiebreaker over Southern California to claim the No. 5 seed. That means a matchup against the Beavers, the worst team in the conference this season by far. Cal needs one more victory for another 20-win season, and Oregon State was winless this year outside of its home court in Corvallis. That bodes well for the Bears.
Regular season recap: The Beavers won only one Pac-12 game this year, and it didn't come against the Bears. In fact, Cal beat Oregon State by 30 points on February 24 in Berkeley. Earlier in the year, the Bears went to Corvallis and dropped the Beavers in a closer game, 69-58. OSU really has struggled this year due to injuries and inexperience, and Cal was able to take advantage of that for two league victories.
Players to watch: Forward Ivan Rabb averaged a double-double stat line this year for the Bears, so you know he's a force to be reckoned with down low for Cal. He also averaged 1.1 blocks per game, so the Beavers won't find penetration down low so successfully. OSU has two talented sophomores, Drew Eubanks and Stephen Thompson, Jr., and both are capable of having big games depending on the matchups. Thompson is the one to watch in this game, however, as his game has versatility and range that can hurt Cal.
The Pick: There is nothing to suggest that the Beavers can win this game, as they've struggled all year and have just five wins total. That's one of the worst marks in all of Division I basketball. Upsets always can happen, of course; however, Cal has too much to play for to let down right now and lose this game. Look for the Bears to win by about 15 points, most of that margin earned in the first half so the team can rest up a bit in the second half in preparation for its next tournament game.