Pac-10 tournament preview

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Dates: March 9-12
Location: Staples Center, Los Angeles
Championship Game: March 12th, 3:10 p.m. on CBS

Outlook: Don’t expect things to go as planned. The regular-season Pac-10 champ hasn’t won the tournament since ’08 and only twice since 2003. The tournament’s up for grabs, but only among a handful of teams — Arizona (25-6), UCLA (22-9), USC (18-13) and Washington State (19-11).

Why no Washington? Two reasons. First, the Huskies (20-10) won’t have senior Venoy Overton, their best defensive player. More importantly is the health of wing Justin Holiday, who’s nursing a concussion and might not play. That’s bad news for Thursday’s game against Wazzu, which has beaten the Huskies twice already this season.

That’ll create a pair of delectable semifinal showdowns pairing the top-seeded Wildcats against USC and Wazzu against No. 2 seed UCLA. The Wildcats and Trojans split this season – and feature the conference’s top two players – while the Cougars get a chance to avenge an OT loss in their season finale vs. the Bruins.

Provided you ignore the Wednesday games (trust me), it’ll be an entertaining show in L.A.

Players to Watch: Derrick Williams, Arizona and Klay Thompson, Washington State

Williams is the Pac-10 player of the year and best pro prospect. That makes him a must-see player  purely for the highlight factor (like this). But Thompson might be the more intriguing player this week.

The conference’s leading scorer missed the UCLA game because of a suspension, offered apologies and got roasted on the air by his dad. He’ll be back for the tournament. How he’ll play is anyone’s guess.

Champion: USC

This is a gamble, but one worth taking. The Trojans are playing better than any other Pac-10 team right now, with five wins in their last six games, including at home vs. Arizona. Forward Nikola Vucevic is on a tear – eight straight double-doubles – and is surrounded by plenty of talent, including the conference’s best defender in Marcus Simmons.

The one problem? USC can … how to put this? … play like morons. Coach Kevin O’Neill relies on a short bench, so he doesn’t have many options if anyone struggles, but I like the Trojans here. A title would be par for the course in an odd Pac-10 season.

Complete tournament bracket

Tournament standings, stats, more.

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