Tony Wroten, Mike Ladd

Pac-12 conference tournament preview

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There’s not need to even dance around the subject: the only thing that anybody is going to be paying attention to heading into the Pac-12 tournament is whether or not this league is capable of sending more than just their automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. So in lieu of actually writing something worth while in this space, who wants some bubble watch goodness?!?

– Cal: They have a strong RPI and a decent strength of schedule. They’ve gone 3-0 against Washington and Oregon. But their loss to archrival Stanford on the last day of the regular season could end up being a killer is they lose in the quarterfinals to Stanford again? What about to Oregon in the semifinals? They might want to make the finals to be safe.

– Washington: Watching Washington play, this team is certainly talented enough to make the Sweet 16. But they backed into the outright league title when Cal lost on Sunday, went just 4-8 against the top 100 and have wins over Oregon and Arizona. And that’s it. They probably want to make the finals to be safe.

– Oregon: The Ducks are the most interesting team in the Pac-12. Their resume is ‘meh’, but they have been the hottest team in the conference down the stretch — they won six of their last seven, including a 25 point win over Washington — and finished tied for second in the regular season. They are also a much different team with Devoe Joseph in the mix. How will the committee judge that?

– Arizona: Yeah, no. Win the auto-bid or make NIT plans.

The Bracket

Where: Los Angeles

When: March 7th-March 10th

Final: March 10th, 6 p.m. CBS

Favorite: Washington

The Huskies may not be the most consistent team in the conference, but they are the regular season champions and the most talented team in the league. And Lorenzo Romar always gets his teams peaking late in the season. It feels like each of the last four or five years, Washington has been underwhelming during the regular season before making a run in both the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournaments. Without fact-checking I can tell you that’s probably false, but that just goes to show you the reputation that Romar has developed with his program. I think they live up to it again.

And if they lose?: Cal

Jorge Gutierrez is the league’s Player of the Year, Allen Crabbe is one of the league’s most dangerous scorers and Justin Cobbs has turned out to be a pretty good option at the point. The only issue for Cal has been interior play. Harper Kamp is banged up and Richard Solomon is out for the year because of academics.

Other contenders?: Oregon has been a completely different team with Devoe Joseph in the mix. He’s averaging 16.9 ppg and the Ducks are 18-6 with him in the lineup. Over the last seven games, they are 6-1 and Joseph is playing as well as he has all season long. He’s not alone, either. EJ Singler and Garrett Sim both had good years and Olu Ashaolu and Carlos Emory have been big inside.

Sleeper: Arizona

The Wildcats are just a young group right now, and its cost them some games. That said, they are a talented group, and while they are probably still a year or two away from really being a factor nationally, they are good enough that stringing together a run in March isn’t out of the question.

Deeper sleepers: I picked Oregon State to win the conference at the midseason break. So I’ll pick Oregon State as the deeper sleeper in the conference tournament. See what I did there?

Studs:

Jared Cunningham, Oregon State: Aggressive driver, terrific defender, convicted posterizer.

Jorge Gutierrez, Cal: The best compliment you can give a player is that he is miserable to play against. Gutierrez is miserable to play against. He’s a leader, a defensive presence and the toughest kid in the country.

Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten, Washigton: Wroten has been putting up the biggest numbers for the Huskies, but Ross is probably their most talented player.

Devoe Joseph, Oregon: He’s been the difference-maker for the Ducks this year.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.

VIDEO: New Mexico loses game on blown call by officials

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Nothing like a nice, controversial finish to get the blood flowing.

New Mexico was on the receiving end of a rule misinterpretation on Saturday afternoon, and that interpretation likely cost the Lobos a win over San Diego State and, arguably, a shot at the MWC regular season title.

Here’s the situation: New Mexico is up by three with 12 seconds left and the ball under their own basket. Their allowed to run the baseline, so Craig Neal calls a play where the inbounder throws the ball to a player running out of bounds.

Totally league as long as the player establishes out of bounds before touching the ball. The referee rules that he doesn’t.

Here’s the video:

The problem?

According to the rules, Xavier Adams — the player receiving the pass from Cullen Neal — only needed one foot on the floor out of bounds in order to establish himself as an inbounder that was able to catch that ball. He got one foot down (see the picture above), but the referees appeared to rule that he needed to have both feet down.

That was incorrect, according to the Mountain West office.

“While this was a very close judgment call made at full speed, it has been determined after careful review of slow-motion video replays the call was in fact incorrect,” the league said in a release. “The New Mexico player did get one foot down (two feet are not required) out-of-bounds before receiving the ball, thus establishing his location in accordance NCAA Basketball Playing Rules 4.23.1.a and 7.1.1.  By rule, the officials were not permitted to go to the monitor during the game to review this play.”

And here’s the kicker: When SDSU got the ball back, they hit a three to send the game into overtime, where the Aztecs won. But if New Mexico had won this game, they’d be sitting at 8-2 in MWC play, one game behind SDSU in the loss column with a return game against them in The Pit.

Instead, they’re now three games back with seven to play, meaning that the race is effectively over.

It’s tough to blame the referees here — it was a bang-bang call that is only clear in slow-motion replay — but man, that’s a big call to miss.