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Pac-12 tournament preview and postseason awards

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POSTSEASON AWARDS

PAC-12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jaylen Nowell, Washington

Nowell is the best player on the best team in the conference. He leads the Huskies in scoring (16.3 ppg) and assists (3.1 apg) and is the first player since Brandon Roy to with the league’s Player of the Year award, and perhaps the most telling part of this is that Nowell ended out his teammate Matisse Thybulle for the award. Both, frankly, have been terrific, but where Nowell is the guys that ignites Washington’s scoring, Thybulle is their best defensive weapon and the biggest reason their zone is so effective.

PAC-12 COACH OF THE YEAR: Mike Hopkins, Washington

Hop has done a good job with Washington this year, one that does not look as good at the end of the season as it did two weeks ago. That’s when they lost at Cal, the worst team in the Pac-12, and before they lost at home to Oregon in the season finale. But here’s the thing — they had already clinched the Pac-12 regular season title before those games tipped off. In a year where the conference was a dumpster fire, Washington was a beacon of consistency. That’s enough to get you a Coach of the Year award.

FIRST TEAM ALL-PAC-12

  • JAYLEN NOWELL, Washington
  • MATISSE THYBULLE, Washington
  • KZ OKPALA, Stanford
  • ZYLAN CHEATHAM, Arizona State
  • TRES TINKLE, Oregon State

SECOND TEAM ALL-PAC-12

  • MCKINLEY WRIGHT, Colorado
  • LUGUENTZ DORT, Arizona State
  • SEDRICK BAREFIELD, Utah
  • BENNIE BOATWRIGHT, USC
  • ROBERT FRANKS, Washington State

PAC-12 TOURNAMENT PREVIEW

WHEN: March 13-16
WHERE: Las Vegas
FINAL: March 16, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

(All odds are courtesy of DraftKings SportsBook)

FAVORITE: Washington (+300)

In-so-much as there is a favorite in this conference, it is the Huskies. They won the league by two full games and that’s despite going 2-2 in the final four. They have the best player in the conference in Jaylen Nowell, the best defender in Matisse Thybulle and arguably the best low post scorer in Noah Dickerson. Their zone flusters teams, and in a year where nothing in the league makes sense, Washington had wrapped up the conference regular season title by February 28th.

In a conference where nothing makes any sense, Washington makes … some?

SLEEPER: Oregon (+400)

The books are agreeing with me here, as Oregon is the No. 6 seed yet they have the same odds to win the Pac-12 tournament as ARIZONA STATE (+400), the No. 2 seed. What makes the Ducks interesting is that they are the best defensive team in the conference this side of Washington, they have a point guard in Payton Pritchard that has played in a Final Four and they are slotted in the bracket where a second round game would come against UTAH (+750), who they beat on the road. They’ve also won four straight heading into March, with two of those wins coming against Arizona State and at Washington. This team is hot.

BEST VALUE: Colorado (+650)

Honestly, I think that Washington is probably the best value here. There isn’t another conference in the country where you can bet on the conference champion and the favorite to cut down the nets and get 3:1 on it. I probably would not bet on the Ducks, seeing as they have to win four games in four days and are getting paid off at the same price as Arizona State to win three games in three days. I would not bet Arizona State either, for that matter.

The team that actually interests me is Colorado. They have won eight of their last ten games this season, and their 1-2 punch of McKinley Wright and Tyler Bey is as dangerous as anyone in the league. They would get Oregon State in the quarters and Washington in the semis, which isn’t ideal, but that’s baked into the odds.

BUBBLE DWELLERS

ARIZONA STATE (NET: 67, SOS: 71): So here’s the thing about Arizona State — they have three good wins that don’t look as good as they did three months ago thanks to Kansas (20) coming back to earth. They have 11 Q1 and Q2 wins and an 11-5 mark in those games, but they also have two Q3 losses and two hideous Q4 losses. They have some room to work with right now, but if they lose to either UCLA (118) or Stanford (106), that would be a fifth loss against a Q3 or Q4 team. If a few other teams on the bubble make a run and a few Bid Thieves strike, things could turn on Bobby Hurley. My guess: They’re back in the play-in game.

WHAT ELSE IS ON THE LINE?

Pride, man.

If Arizona State loses in the first round of the tournament, there is a very real chance that this could end up being a one-bid league.

Think about that.

The Pac-12.

A one-bid league.

That’s mortifying.

PREDICTION

I’m going to stick with my guy and say that Oregon beats Washington for the second straight time to give the Pac-12 their second bid to the tournament.

Tennessee survives scare from No. 15-seed Colgate

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Tennessee survived a scare from No. 15 seed Colgate as the Volunteers claimed a 77-70 win on Friday afternoon in a South Region NCAA tournament first-round game in Columbus.

The Volunteers led by 12 at the half and by as many as 14 points in the second half before Colgate responded with a furious push to take a 52-50 lead with under 12 minutes left. But Tennessee responded with scoring from a variety of sources to regain the advantage and close out the game.

Admiral Schofield (19 points) buried back-to-back three-pointers when it was a one-possession game to put this game out of reach for Tennessee. Jordan Bone (16 points), Jordan Bowden (14 points) and Lamonte Turner (13 points) also finished in double-figures while All-American Grant Williams (nine points, eight rebounds) had a quiet game.

Playing most of Friday without leading scorer and Patriot League Player of the Year Rapolas Ivanauskas (vision issues; 0 points, 0-for-4 shooting), Colgate (24-11) gave Tennessee a legitimate scare during its first NCAA tournament appearance in 23 years. Conference tournament title-game hero Jordan Burns had another great day shooting from the perimeter as he finished with 32 points on 8-for-13 three-point shooting.

Colgate was 15-for-29 from distance as a team on Friday as treys kept them in the game. Junior forward Will Rayman (10 points) and freshman guard Tucker Richardson (10 points) also finished in double-figures for the Raiders.

Tennessee advances to face No. 10 seed Iowa on Sunday in a second-round matchup in Columbus. The Vols will need to play much better in order to get past Iowa as the Hawkeyes used hot second-half shooting to get past No. 7 seed Cincinnati.

Williams had an off-day and wasn’t putting up his normal production, but it’s a positive sign for Tennessee that its guards all stepped up to contribute double-figures.

No. 13-seed UC Irvine pulls off upset of No. 4-seed Kansas State

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And the Anteaters go marching on.

Max Hazzard hit five threes, including a critical three with less than two minutes left on the clock to give UC Irvine a five-point lead, and scored 19 points to lead the No. 13-seed to the first real upset of the NCAA tournament.

Evan Leonard added 19 points, six boards, four assists and four steals, making four free throws to ice the game in the final 20 seconds, as No. 4-seed Kansas State went down, 70-64.

Kansas State entered this game as the co-Big 12 champion, but they were playing without their star, Dean Wade, who is dealing with foot issues that cost him the Big 12 tournament as well. His absence hurt. He is the best shooter, the best passer and the best player for the Wildcats, and his absence contributed to Kansas State’s 38.6 percent shooting now and an 8-for-27 performance from three.

But that should not take any of the credit away from Irvine. Remember, Kansas State reached the Elite 8 last season with Wade playing.

The credit belongs to Russell Turner, his game plan and the way his team executed it. Turner is a former Standford assistant that had a shot at getting the Cal job when the Bears hired Wyking Jones. He’s won four of the last six Big West regular season titles and advanced to the NCAA tournament twice in his five year tenure. This is the kind of performance that will make him an in-demand coach during the carousel this season, and he should have been all along.

But that’s neither here nor there.

The truth is that this Irvine team is really, really good. They take away the paint, they are as good defensively as any high-major that you’ll find and they have the size to match up with anyone. They are going to be a tough out for whoever wins tonight’s Wisconsin-Oregon first round battle.

Jarrett Culver’s big game leads No. 3 Texas Tech past No. 14 Northern Kentucky

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All-American Jarrett Culver had a monster outing as No. 3 seed Texas Tech cruised to a 72-57 win over No. 14 seed Northern Kentucky during a Friday afternoon NCAA tournament first-round game in the West Region.

Finishing with 29 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, Culver was efficient and dominant for the Red Raiders as they opened up the game in the second half. Only a 30-26 lead for Texas Tech at the break, the Red Raiders clamped down and used the offense of Culver and it’s No. 1 overall defense to break the game open.

The Big 12 Player of the Year had one of the best individual games of any player in the first round as he was 10-for-17 from the floor and 3-for-5 from three-point range. Big man Tariq Owens also finished in double-figures for Texas Tech with 12 points while Davide Moretti added 10 points.

Northern Kentucky (26-9) stayed in the game for a half thanks to the hot shooting of junior guard Tyler Sharpe as he finished with 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting. The Norse couldn’t generate much consistent offense outside of Sharpe, however, as Northern Kentucky shot 5-for-21 from the three-point line. Horizon League Player of the Year Drew McDonald was held to only five points on 2-for-12 shooting as he struggled to get going. Dantez Wilson (11 points) was the only other double-figure scorer for the Norse.

The Red Raiders advance to face either No. 6 seed Buffalo or No. 11 seed Arizona State in Tulsa on Sunday.

Oklahoma advances past Ole Miss in rout

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Rashard Odomes and Christian James both popped off for 20 points and Kristian Doolittle added 19 points, 14 boards and five assists as No. 9-seed Oklahoma blew out No. 8-seed Ole Miss, 95-72, in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The Sooners, with the win, will advance to face No. 1-seed Virginia as long as Virginia can get past Gardner-Webb in the first round.

This was something of a cathartic win for an Oklahoma team that was among the handful of at-large invites that had thoroughly mediocre performances in league play. The Sooners opened the Big 12 season with eight losses in their first 11 games and finished with a 7-11 record in the conference.

One game samples really should not determine whether or not a body of work merited inclusion in an event like that, but it’s hard to see the performance that this team — and the Big 12 as a whole — put together thus far in the event and think the committee was wrong to add a sub-.500 team from the Big 12 to the field.

It’s also a sign for what this Oklahoma program is and can be under Lon Kruger.

It’s difficult to compare things like this year over year, but it is certainly interesting to note than not only did Oklahoma get a better seed this year than they did last year, with Trae Young on the roster, but they advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament, which is something they did not do with Trae.

That’s not to say that the team is better without him — frankly, I think that’s a silly argument to make. Guys are a year older and a year better, which matters, and I think that the 7-11 mark in Big 12 play says more than the result of a one-game knockout tournament.

It is, however, important to note that Kruger has this thing to the point that they can lose a guy that is now averaging 18.5 points and 7.8 assists in the NBA and still be good enough to get a bid and win a game.

No. 10 Iowa rallies past No. 7 Cincinnati

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Iowa rallied from a slow start to get past No. 7 seed Cincinnati with a 79-72 win on Friday in a South Region NCAA tournament game in Columbus.

Cincinnati generated an early 18-5 lead in the first half as they fed off of the Bearcat-friendly Columbus crowd only to see the No. 10-seed Hawkeyes get hot in the second half.

Things turned in Iowa’s favor about midway through the first half when the Hawkeyes started working the ball more inside. Behind sophomore big man Luka Garza (20 points, 8-for-11 shooting), the Hawkeyes were able to establish an inside presence while opening up the team’s perimeter-shooting options.

In the second half, freshman Joe Wieskamp (19 points) and the Hawkeyes started to make an abundance of threes as they finished 11-for-22 (50 percent) from the perimeter — including a blistering 7-for-10 mark in the second half. Junior guard Jordan Bohannon also tallied 13 points while Nicholas Baer added 10 points as Iowa outscored Cincinnati 48-36 in the second half.

Using the hot shooting of senior point guard Justin Jenifer (19 points), Cincinnati appeared to be completely in the driver’s seat in the first half. But once Iowa started responding with a flurry of second-half threes, the Bearcats struggled to play from behind in the final minutes. Jarron Cumberland (18 points) didn’t get rolling as a scorer until the second half while big man Nysier Brooks (11 points) fouled out with a few minutes left. Tre Scott also finished with 10 points on the afternoon for the Bearcats. Cincinnati struggled to match Iowa’s hot perimeter shooting as they were 6-for-27 from three-point range (24 percent) on the day.

This is a great comeback win for Iowa, as they overcame the bad start by working to take better shots. Forcing a lot of early looks, once the Hawkeyes started getting Garza comfortable on the block, it opened up looks for their shooters. It’s also notable that junior forward Tyler Cook, one of Iowa’s best players, was limited to only five points on 1-for-9 shooting.

Iowa was playing sluggish basketball the final three weeks of the regular season. Friday’s second half was a reminder of how dangerous the Hawkeyes can be if they are hitting shots. And for Iowa to rally when Cook was playing this poorly is yet another positive sign that the Hawkeyes are not to be taken lightly going forward.

With Iowa’s win, the Big Ten now moves to 6-0 in the 2019 NCAA tournament after a 5-0 start on Thursday. Iowa advances to face the winner of No. 2 seed Tennessee and No. 15 seed Colgate on Sunday in Columbus.