Pac-12 Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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Arizona hasn’t won the Pac-12 tournament since 2002 (AP Photo)

For the second consecutive season the Arizona Wildcats convincingly won the Pac-12 regular season title, beating Oregon and Utah by three games. Sean Miller’s team is poised to play well into March and maybe even the first weekend of April, as they have all the qualities that a championship-caliber team possesses. The biggest boosts of the last month have been the improved play of center Kaleb Tarczewski and the bench scoring of Gabe York.

READ MORE: NBC Sports’ latest Bracketology

With leading contributors such as point guard T.J. McConnell and wings Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson, Arizona has the tools needed to win their first Pac-12 tournament title since 2002. The Wildcats will be the clear favorite in Las Vegas, but there are multiple teams that harbor thoughts of winning the title themselves. Utah has one of the nation’s best players in Delon Wright, and Oregon’s headliner is senior guard Joseph Young. Like Arizona, the Utes and Ducks will hear their names called Selection Sunday.

That brings us to the team that’s under the greatest pressure when it comes to the NCAA tournament: UCLA. While the Bruins are the four-seed there’s still work to be done when it comes to their at-large resume, and that’s what makes this week so important for them. Stanford, at one point considered to be a safe bet to return to the NCAA tournament, is now in a spot where they likely need the automatic bid to do so.

While every team has hopes of cutting down the nets Saturday night, there’s a clear favorite to accomplish that. But with Arizona not having the best fortune in this event, it wouldn’t be wise to rule out the field.

Bracket

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MORE: NBCSports.com’s 2015 Conference Tournament Previews

When: March 11-14

Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas

Final: March 14, 11:00 p.m. (ESPN)

Favorite: Arizona

The last time Arizona won this event was in 2002, one year after their most recent Final Four appearance. If any motivation was needed for the Pac-12 tournament the conference’s coaches likely supplied that in their choices for the league’s top individual honors. Point guard T.J. McConnell, the heart and soul of this team, missed out on Pac-12 Player of the Year (Young won that) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson wasn’t named Defensive Player of the Year (Oregon State’s Gary Payton II won). Those two along with Stanley Johnson, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski make up one of the most talented starting units in the country and they’ve received solid contributions from the bench as well.

And if they lose?: Utah

Of Utah’s 13 conference wins just one was by fewer than ten points (at Washington State), but they didn’t finish the regular season playing their best basketball. Larry Krystkowiak’s Runnin’ Utes dropped three of their last five games, and they need junior guard Brandon Taylor to get back on track offensively. This is a group with depth and versatility, and with freshman Jakob Poeltl in the middle there’s skill in the post as well.

Other Contenders:

  • Oregon: Picked to finish eighth the Ducks are the two-seed in Las Vegas, and despite questions about the depth Dana Altman’s received contributions from a number of players. Joseph Young leads the way, but fellow vet Elgin Cook’s been good as have freshmen Jordan Bell and Dillon Brooks.
  • UCLA: Tony Parker’s been their barometer throughout Pac-12 play; when he’s engaged and productive inside the Bruins can be a handful. Norman Parker’s been outstanding and Kevon Looney is one of the best freshmen in the country. The key for UCLA’s guards this week: shot selection. When they remain under control and work the ball inside, good things tend to happen.

Sleeper: Arizona State

Given the number of new pieces it took some time for Herb Sendek’s team to mesh, but they arrive in Las Vegas having won five of their last seven. Tra Holder’s been good at the point as a freshman, and Gerry Blakes, Shaquielle McKissic and Savon Goodman are the leading scorers. They don’t match up particularly well with Utah, which won both meetings comfortably, but they lost two games to Oregon by a total of four points and have wins over Both Arizona and UCLA.

Deeper Sleeper: Stanford

Having lost three in a row and five of their last seven, the Cardinal stagger into Las Vegas. But they have experience in seniors Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown and Stefan Nastic, and Marcus Allen has earned more minutes as the season’s progressed. If Stanford is to have any hope of making a run they need Randle to shoot at a higher clip than the 39.3 percent he’s making for the entire season.

Pac-12 Player of the Year: Delon Wright, Utah

Wright’s one of the most versatile players in the country, as he’s averaging 14.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.1 steals per game game. And despite dealing with defenses that tend to dare him to shoot the three, Wright’s still shooting 52.2 percent from the field.

Pac-12 Coach of the Year: Dana Altman, Oregon

Oregon was picked to finish eighth and wound up tied for second, so from that angle this is an easy choice. And with their resume being what it was in early February, Altman’s Ducks arrive in Las Vegas as a lock to return to the NCAA tournament.

First Team All-Pac-12:

  • Wright
  • T.J. McConnell, Arizona: Competitor. Leader. Winner. McConnell averaged 6.3 assists per game and without him a very talented Arizona team isn’t as good as it currently is.
  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona: Averaging 11.2 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, Hollis-Jefferson is right there with Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein when it comes to the nation’s best (and most versatile) defender).
  • Joseph Young, Oregon: Young was the Pac-12’s leading scorer, averaging 19.8 points per game in addition to 4.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
  • Stanley Johnson, Arizona: The conference’s top freshman is averaging 13.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, leading the Wildcats in both categories.

Second Team All-Pac-12:

  • Tyrone Wallace, California
  • Norman Powell, UCLA
  • Anthony Brown, Stanford 
  • Gary Payton II, Oregon State 
  • Kevon Looney, UCLA 

Defining moment of the season: Gabe York’s offensive rebound in Arizona’s win at Utah

York was at the line for two free throws with Arizona trailing 57-55 with 1:39 remaining, less than 20 seconds after a Brandon Taylor free throw gave the Runnin’ Utes the lead. After making the first free throw, York followed his own miss to give the Wildcats a lead they would not relinquish. That sealed the game and another Pac-12 title for the Wildcats.

CBT Prediction: The motivated Wildcats win their first Pac-12 tournament title since 2002, beating Utah in the final.

Houston reaches No. 1 in AP poll for first time since 1983

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Make some room, Phi Slama Jama. Another Houston team has reached the top of men’s college basketball.

Nearly four decades after Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon took the Cougars to No. 1, the latest bunch led by Marcus Sasser and star freshman Jarace Walker took over the top spot in the AP Top 25. They received 45 of 63 first-place votes from the national media panel, easily outdistancing second-place Texas and third-place Virginia.

“It’s not like we went online and applied for it and waited for a response back. We’ve been working for this,” said Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, whose team is coming off a Final Four and Elite Eight trip the past two seasons. “But remember, it’s a rental. You don’t own it. You’re just renting it because someday somebody else is going to be No. 1.”

North Carolina had been No. 1 all season, but the Tar Heels lost to Iowa State and in a four-overtime thriller to Alabama at the Phil Knight Invitational to cede the top spot to Houston, which beat Kent State in its only game last week.

The last time the Cougars ascended to No. 1 was the final poll of the 1982-83 season, when “The Glide” and “The Dream” along with coach Guy Lewis were the favorites to win it all. They rolled through the NCAA Tournament before falling to Jim Valvano and North Carolina State in an iconic championship game in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“I’ve never been ranked No. 1,” said Sampson, now in his 34th season as a college basketball coach. “We were ranked all 12 years at Oklahoma. I’m sure we were ranked at Indiana. Then we’ve been ranked five or six straight years. We’re used to having a high level of success.”

Texas received eight first-place votes and Virginia received two. Arizona climbed from 14th to fourth after emerging from a stacked field to win the Maui Invitational. Purdue jumped from 24th all the way to fifth and scooped up eight first-place votes after beating West Virginia, Gonzaga and Duke at the Phil Knight Legacy tourney.

“Our guys are competitive. They’re fun to coach. They get along. They’re out there playing with purpose and that’s what you have to have,” said Boilermakers coach Matt Painter, whose team was briefly No. 1 about this time last season.

“Early in the season, very few teams play with the purpose collectively,” he said. “I thought our guys played with a purpose.”

Baylor was sixth, Creighton seventh and U Conn climbed from 20th to eighth after beating Oregon, Alabama and Iowa State to win the Phil Knight Invitational. Kansas fell from third to ninth after losing to Tennessee in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis, while Indiana rounded out the top 10.

There was a tie for 11th between SEC rivals Alabama and Arkansas with the Volunteers, another conference foe, right behind them. Gonzaga dropped from sixth to 14th, its first time outside the top 10 since Feb. 5, 2018, and Auburn was 15th.

Illinois was next followed by Duke and North Carolina in a tough week for Tobacco Road. The Blue Devils fell from eighth after their 75-56 loss to the Boilermakers.

Kentucky and Michigan State joined UCLA, Maryland, Iowa State, San Diego State and Ohio State in rounding out the poll.

RISING AND FALLING

Purdue made a rare 19-spot jump as the poll underwent a massive shakeup. UConn climbed 12 spots, Arizona moved up 10, Tennessee climbed nine and Alabama seven. On the flip side, the Tar Heels tumbled 17 spots, Duke dropped nine, Gonzaga fell eight and San Diego State fell seven.

IN AND OUT

Despite all the movement, Iowa State was the only newcomer this week, checking in at No. 23 after beating Villanova and North Carolina before falling to UConn. The Cyclones replaced Iowa, which dropped out after a one-week stay following its loss to TCU in the title game of the Emerald Coast Classic.

CONFERENCE WATCH

There are six difference conferences represented in the first seven teams in the poll. The Big Ten leads the way with six in the Top 25 while the SEC has five and the Big 12 has four, though three of them are in the top 10.

South Carolina tops women’s AP Top 25; Stanford, UConn next

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South Carolina remained the unanimous No. 1 choice in The Associated Press women’s poll, as the Gamecocks keep close watch on the foot injury of reigning Player of the Year Aliyah Boston.

The Gamecocks received all 29 first-place votes in the poll, a day after Boston left a game with her injury. Coach Dawn Staley said Boston was “questionable” going forward but added that the “team doctor wasn’t too, too concerned.”

South Carolina’s next game is at home against No. 15 UCLA.

Stanford remained No. 2 after cruising through a tournament in Hawaii. It’s the 618th appearance for Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer, tying the late Pat Summitt for most all-time. Summitt’s teams only missed being in the poll 14 times during her Hall of Fame career at Tennessee.

UConn, Ohio State and Indiana rounded out the top five.

The Huskies are one of four Big East teams to be ranked this week as Marquette entered the poll at No. 24. It’s the first time the Big East has four ranked teams since the conference realigned in 2014. The league is 56-14 so far this season, including going 8-2 against ranked teams.

“We’ve been trying to earn a little more respect,” Marquette coach Megan Duffy said of the Big East. “Tried to schedule tougher non-conference (games). ‘Nova’s playing people. Us going to the Bahamas was great. Creighton’s doing what they’ve been doing since last season. Getting some of those quality wins is everything.”

North Carolina moved up two spots to No. 6 after rallying to beat then-No. 5 Iowa State in the Phil Knight tournament. The Cyclones fell to eighth.

The Tar Heels visit the Hoosiers on Tuesday in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Indiana returns home after winning two games in Las Vegas at a subpar venue that lacked basic necessities.

Notre Dame remained No. 7 while Virginia Tech and Iowa finished off the top 10. At No. 9, Virginia Tech has matched its best ranking ever and is in the top 10 for the first time since 1999.

Tennessee fell out of the poll this week marking the 56th time in the 827-week history of the poll that the Lady Vols weren’t ranked. Kansas State also fell out with Gonzaga moving in at No. 23.

FALLING CARDINALS

Louisville dropped to 18th in the poll this week after falling to South Dakota State in the fifth place game at the Battle 4 Atlantis last week. It’s the Cardinals lowest ranking since Jan. 11, 2016.

Louisville entered the top 10 in the preseason poll in 2017 and hadn’t been out since, a span of 98 consecutive weeks. It was the longest active streak.

“It’s a compliment to the consistency that we built here,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said of being ranked in the top 10 for so long. “Obviously are goal would have been to stay in the top 10, but it’s a new team and growing.”

Edey scores 21 as No. 24 Purdue beats No. 8 Duke 75-56

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Zach Edey and No. 24 Purdue shook off a slow start. When No. 8 Duke tried to rally in the second half, the Boilermakers finished strong.

Edey had 21 points and 12 rebounds, and Purdue beat Duke 75-56 on Sunday in the championship game of the Phil Knight Legacy men’s tournament.

Fletcher Loyer scored 18 points for Purdue (6-0), and reserve Caleb Furst finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

“I feel like we weren’t getting the looks we wanted early. As we settled into the game, we kept our poise and kept getting the shots that we wanted,” Edey said. “They were making some tough twos at the beginning of the game, shots we’re OK with all season.”

The 7-foot-4 Edey was 7 for 13 from the field and 7 for 8 at the line. He was named tournament MVP.

“They have the most unique player in the country,” Duke coach Jon Scheyer said of Edey. “He’s a hard guy to prepare for because there’s nobody else like him.”

Duke (6-2) shot 36.2% (21 for 58) from the field. Tyres Proctor scored 16 points for the Blue Devils. Kyle Filipowski and Jeremy Roach each had 14.

Ethan Morton had a steal and a dunk to help Purdue open a 58-41 lead with 15:37 left in the second half.

Duke countered with an 8-0 run, capped by two foul shots by Dariq Whitehead. But Furst made a layup and a jumper to help hold off the Blue Devils.

A hook by Edey and a 3-pointer by Loyer made it 68-56 with 5:03 remaining.

Duke got off to a 14-7 start before Purdue worked its way back into the game.

“I don’t feel like we came out bad today, but they matched our energy,” Edey said.

A 3-pointer by Brandon Newman pushed the Purdue lead to 46-28. A late run by Duke cut the Boilermakers’ lead to 46-35 at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: It looked as if Roach had an issue with his left foot at one point, but he went back into the game. Scheyer said Roach had hurt his toe.

Purdue: Although neither team had great offensive games, Purdue was the better team from range. Purdue made seven 3-pointers to just two for Duke.

UP NEXT

Duke: Hosts Ohio State on Wednesday.

Purdue: Visits Florida State on Wednesday.

No. 18 Alabama beats No. 1 North Carolina 103-101 in 4 OTs

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Mark Sears had 24 points, five rebounds and five assists, and No. 18 Alabama sent top-ranked North Carolina to a second straight loss with a 103-101 victory in a quadruple-overtime thriller on Sunday in the third-place game of the Phil Knight Invitational tournament.

Jahvon Quinerly added 21 points off the bench for the Crimson Tide (6-1), who knocked off the top-ranked team for the first time since upsetting Stanford in the 2004 NCAA Tournament.

“I was losing track of how many overtimes we were in there at the end,” Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats said. “A lot of credit to our guys. I thought they showed a lot of character when we could have folded.”

Charles Bediako had 14 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks, while Brandon Miller also scored 14 points.

Caleb Love led the Tar Heels (5-2) with 34 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals. Armando Bacot contributed 20 points and 10 rebounds, and R.J. Davis had 19 points and nine rebounds in the second four-overtime game in North Carolina history. The other was a victory over Tulane in 1976.

“At the end of the day, Alabama made one more play than we did,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said. “I walked in the locker room and a number of the guys had their head down and I told them to pick their head up. I’m just as disappointed (as the players) in terms of the final outcome, but I couldn’t be any more proud about the way they competed.”

Bediako gave the Crimson Tide the lead for good on a layup with 26 seconds remaining in the fourth overtime.

The Tar Heels, who lost to Iowa State in the semifinals, led by as much as eight in the second half before Alabama came back to tie it. The Crimson Tide retook the lead on a pair of free throws from Gurley with 2 minutes remaining, and later tied with another free throw from Sears with 51 seconds remaining in regulation.

Alabama starting forward Noah Clowney took a hard fall on a dunk attempt four minutes into the first half and had to be helped off the court. He did not return.

The Crimson Tide were 16 for 38 (42.1%) from 3-point range, with Sears making seven.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: The Tar Heels figure to take a deep drop in the Top 25 poll.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide bounced back nicely following their loss to No. 20 UConn in the semifinals, beating a top-ranked team in the regular season for the first time since a 66-64 victory over eventual national champion Arkansas on Jan. 8, 1994.

UP NEXT:

North Carolina: The Tar Heels travel to Bloomington to face No. 11 Indiana on Wednesday.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide return home to face South Dakota State on Saturday.

Clingan lifts UConn past Iowa State for Phil Knight title

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
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PORTLAND, Ore. – Donovan Clingan had 15 points and 10 rebounds to power No. 20 UConn to a 71-53 win over Iowa State in the championship game of the Phil Knight Invitational on Sunday night.

Tristen Newton scored 13 points for the Huskies (8-0), who went 20 for 25 at the free-throw line. Alex Karaban and Andre Jackson, Jr. each had 10 points.

Osun Osunniyi led Iowa State (5-1) with 14 points. Tamin Lipsey had 12 points and Jaren Holmes finished with 11.

“They were the more aggressive team,” Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “We wanted a physical game. We didn’t want a physical game with them getting the rebounds and then also us putting them on the foul line. Lesson that we’ve got to learn is we need to embrace being the aggressor at both ends of the floor at all times.”

The Huskies had more offensive rebounds (20) than the Cyclones had total rebounds (19), and capitalized on that disparity with 20 second-chance points.

“Those guys are tough,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “T.J.`s an excellent coach. They grind people up. To outrebound them, it just speaks to how tough we were.”

Clingan, who was named tournament MVP, scored eight points to help UConn to a 38-28 lead at the break.

Iowa State closed to 53-48 on Holmes’ 3-pointer midway through the second half. But Karaban made a 3 and a dunk, and Newton’s jumper made it 60-48 with 7:13 remaining.

BIG PICTURE

UConn: The Huskies couldn’t have asked for a better showing in Portland, winning all three of their games.

Iowa State: The Cyclones picked up nice wins over Villanova and top-ranked North Carolina in the earlier rounds but ended with their first loss of the season.

UP NEXT

UConn: The Huskies return home to face Oklahoma State on Thursday.

Iowa State: The Cyclones return home to face North Dakota on Tuesday.