Session 2 of the 2017 Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament tips off on Wednesday, March 8, at 6:00 p.m. Pacific Time in Las Vegas at the T-Mobile Arena with two evening games. The Colorado Buffaloes and the Washington State Cougars get the ball bouncing first, followed by a later matchup between the Southern California Trojans and the Washington Huskies.
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 3: No. 7 Colorado vs. No. 10 Washington State, 6 p.m. PT (Click here for tickets)
The Buffaloes have a shot at a postseason tournament bid, although the NCAA may not come calling for Colorado. Nonetheless, the team is motivated to build upon its 18-13 record and secure an invitation to the NIT. The Cougars would love to pull the upset and give themselves a long-shot opportunity at running the table in this conference tournament to extend their season. WSU has earned just six NCAA bids in school history, and it would need to win four games in four nights to get a seventh invite.
Regular season recap: The teams did split the regular-season series, with the Cougars winning a close one in Pullman after an overtime session was needed and the Buffaloes winning a blowout in Boulder later in the schedule. That uneven split, so to speak, would seem to give the edge to Colorado in terms of point differential, but with tournament basketball, you never know how it's going to turn out. That's why tourney games are so exciting.
Players to watch: Buffaloes senior point guard Derrick White is already one of the best players in the conference, and his all-around game is special to watch. He scores, he passes, he blocks, he steals, he rebounds ... White does it all for Colorado. For the Cougars, senior Josh Hawkinson is an experienced big man who can score, clean the glass and make the pass from down low. His fundamentals are fun to watch, and without Hawkinson, WSU would have no chance in this game.
The Pick: Two things are important to remember here. First, Colorado still has attainable goals on the table, and second, the Buffaloes were very close to sweeping this regular-season series. Factor in White's presence as an all-around playmaker, and Colorado is winning this game to give itself a better chance at that special postseason opportunity.
Game 4: No. 6 Southern California vs. No. 11 Washington, 8:30 p.m. PT (Click here for tickets)
The Trojans are one of the best teams in the conference, and they have a very good chance to make the NCAA Tournament and do some damage there. Look no further than the USC win over No. 3-ranked UCLA earlier this season. The Huskies are having a down year, of course, managing just two conference wins in Pac-12 play this season. The Trojans can't afford to lose this one.
Regular season recap: USC notched two convincing wins against Washington during the regular season, winning by eight points on the road and 16 points at home. The Huskies currently are on a 12-game losing streak, and they've seemingly mailed it in since their last win (an overtime victory over Colorado on January 18). In fact, both Trojans wins in the series have come during this long downward slide for Washington.
Players to watch: The Trojans feature four players that score in double figures each game, so picking just one of them to watch is not practical. But sophomore forward Chimezie Metu is a very defender as well as a good scorer, and his presence impacts both ends of the court for USC. On the Washington side, freshman guard Markelle Fultz has been the team's best player all season, but he is injured and probably won't suit up against the Trojans on Wednesday. That's a shame for both the Huskies and the fans in attendance.
The Pick: Washington hasn't won a game in a long time, and USC is playing for pride and opportunity in this tournament, where everyone is touting other schools as favorites. The Trojans have a big chip on their collective shoulder, while the Huskies pretty much just want their season to end as soon as possible. USC should dominate in this game, and it should do enough in the first half that the Trojans can rest key players and save them for Thursday's quarterfinal matchup against the Bruins.