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Pac-12 Basketball: Our All-Conference Team and Tournament Thoughts

We make Player of the Year and Coach of the Year selections and point out things to know about the Pac-12 tournament
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The Pac-12 basketball regular season is complete, which means we need to select an All-Pac-12 team and offer some notes of significance regarding the conference tournament, which starts on Wednesday in Las Vegas.

Our all-Pac-12 team consists of five players who could take the court together. Four choices were relatively easy, but the fifth slot – the center position – was difficult and we vacillated among four players for that final spot.

All-Pac-12 Team

KJ Simpson, point guard, Colorado – His number speak for themselves (19.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 45.1% 3-point) and he was the leader of the Buffaloes six-game winning streak to end the regular season.

Caleb Love, guard, Arizona – He is averaging 18.7 points and is the best player on the regular-season champion. He played some of his best basketball against the best opponents.

Jaylon Tyson, guard/forward, Cal – He’s averaging 19.6 points and 6.8 rebounds, and he handled most of the ball-handling and playmaking chores for the Bears.

Keion Brooks Jr., forward, Washington – The Pac-12’s leading scorer at 21.3 points, and he scored at least 15 points in each of the final 14 games.

Branden Carlson, center, Utah – We considered three other centers:

---Isaac Jones, Washington State – His 24-point, 13-rebound game in the January win over Arizona was impressive.

---N’Faly Dante, Oregon – 20 points, 10-for-10 shooting, 12 rebounds, 5 blocks, 4 assists, 3 steals in a three-point loss to Colorado on Thursday is hard to ignore.

---Oumar Ballo, Arizona – Double-doubles in 10 the final 11 games for the regular-season champs.

However, Carlson is the choice. He is averaging 17.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks, and his performance over the final three games put him over the top. The 7-foot Carlson averaged 29.7 points in those three contest while making 12-of-21 three-pointers (57.1%). He had 19 points three minutes int the second half of Saturday’s game against Oregon, and the Utes had a five-point lead, at which point Carlson went out with an arm injury and did not return. His absence was noticeable as Oregon rallied to win the game.

Player of the Year

KJ Simpson, Colorado -- Caleb Love (best player on the best team) and Simpson were in a virtual dead heat for this award heading into their final games Saturday. Love’s 1-for-10, two-point showing in the loss to USC left a bad taste, while Simpson has put the Buffaloes in position to land an NCAA tournament berth with his standout play the final three weeks.


Coach of the Year

Kyle Smith, Washington State – Smith took a roster of spare parts that was picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12 and beat Arizona twice while finishing second in the conference, assuring itself its first NCAA tournament berth since 2008.


Pac-12 Tournament: Things to Think About

---Betting Lines to win the tournament

Draft King odds

Arizona – 5-to-8

Colorado – 5-to-1

Washington State – 5-to-1

Oregon – 10-to-1

Utah – 15-to-1

Washington – 30-to-1

UCLA – 45-to-1

USC – 65-to-1

Stanford – 65-to-1

Cal – 130-to-1

Arizona State – 150-to-1

Oregon State – 350-to-1

PointsBet odds

Arizona – 10-to-11

Washington State – 5-to-1

Colorado – 6-to-1

Oregon – 8-to-1

Utah – 10-to-1

UCLA – 18-to-1

USC – 30-to-1

Washington – 30-to-1

Arizona State – 35-to-1

Cal – 120-to-1

Stanford – 120-to-1

Oregon State – 500-to-1


---History Lesson

The No. 1 seed has won only one of the past four Pac-12 tournaments. A No. 5 seed (Oregon State) won it in 2021, and a No. 6 seed (Oregon) won it in 2019. However, a No. 1 seed has reached the championship game in 15 of the past 19 Pac-12/Pac-10 tournaments.

Washington State, Cal, Utah and Arizona State have never won a Pac-12/Pac-10 tournament title.


---Momentum Counts

Colorado is the hottest team in the conference. The Buffaloes have their first six-game conference winning streak since 1996-97 when they were in the Big 12. They won the final six games of the regular season for the first time since 1954-55. Their 22 wins are the most regular-season victories in school history.

They did all this with expected NBA lottery pick Cody Williams sidelined the past four games with an ankle injury. It’s possible -- but not certain -- that Williams will return for the conference tournament.

Colorado may need to win a game in the conference tournament to ensure a berth in the NCAA tournament. In fact, Joe Lunardi of ESPN's Bracketology reported Sunday that a Colorado loss in its first Pac-12 tournament game against the Utah-Arizona State winner would leave the Buffaloes out of the March Madness field.


---Arizona is favored, but . . . .

Arizona is the No. 1 seed, but the Wildcats had losses this season to teams seeded ninth (USC), 10th (Stanford) and 12th (Oregon State). They lost their final regular-season game to USC by 13 points.


---The team the favorites want to avoid


Two weeks ago Cal was the team no one wanted to play in the Pac-12 tournament, but the Bears have lost three in row, the last two by margins of more than 20 points. Stanford ended a six-game losing streak by beating Cal by 22 points on Thursday, and the Cardinal faces Cal again in the first round of the conference tournament.

Now the team to fear is USC. The Trojans have won three in a row and four of their last five. The only defeat in that five-game span was a three-point road loss against Washington State, and it includes wins over UCLA on the road and Arizona at home. With freshman Isaiah Collier healthy and playing at a high level, USC is playing like the team that was picked to finish second in the pregame poll.


---The key injury

Utah center Branden Carlson has been the hottest offensive player in the conference. He totaled 89 points over the past three games, and he played only 18 minutes in the finale against Oregon. He spent the second half of that game with his arm in a sling, and coach Craig Smith did not know afterward whether Carlson would be able to play in the Pac-12 tournament.

The Utes dropped off the NCAA tournament bubble by losing both games this week to Oregon State and Oregon. Now they may need to win the Pac-12 tournament to get into the NCAA's 68-team field, and accomplishing that without Carlson would seem to be next to impossible.


---Twenty-something, but does it matter?

With Saturday’s victory over Utah, Oregon has now won at least 20 games for 14 straight seasons. No other Pac-12 school has an active streak of more than five straight 20-win seasons. 

Oregon finished fourth in the Pac-12 standings, which gives the Ducks a first-round bye, but they may need to win the conference tournament to get into the NCAA tournament. If they fall short, this is likely to be Oregon’s third straight season without a berth in March Madness.

bracket 5

Cover photo of Kyle Smith by James Snook, USA TODAY Sports

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