Five Pac-12 team received berths in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, which starts Thursday, but the UCLA Bruins made it by the skin of their teeth.
UCLA was one of the last four at-large teams to get into the tournament, and the 11th-seeded Bruins have to face 11th-seeded Michigan State in a preliminary-round game in what is known as the First Four.
“When I saw it I was like, man, that’s a heck of a play-in game,” UCLA forward Cody Riley said, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.
UCLA would have to win that game to play a first-round game on Saturday against sixth-seeded BYU.
By the time their name came up on the screen the Bruins were relieved just to be in the 68-team field because they were one of the last teams to be revealed during Sunday's selection show.
“I’m sure the players were going through emotions, but I’ve been on the last page before," UCLA coach Mick Cronin told the L.A. Daily News.
Pac-12 tournament champion Oregon State, regular-season Oregon, Colorado and USC are the other Pac-12 teams in the tournament.
This is the most Pac-12 teams to qualify for the NCAA tournament since 2016, when the conference qualified seven teams, which is the most the conference has ever had in the NCAA tournament.
All games will be played in Indiana with most of them scheduled for the Indianapolis area.
Here are the opening games of the five Pac-12 teams, with point spreads where available through Fan Duel.:
No. 11 seed UCLA (17-9) vs. No. 11 Michigan State (15-12), Thursday, East Region (preliminary round). Michigan State favored by 1.5 points.
No. 12 Oregon State (17-12) vs. No. 5 Tennessee (18-8), Friday, Midwest Region. Tennessee favored by 7.5 points.
No. 5 Colorado (22-8) vs. No. 12 Georgetown (13-12), Saturday, East Region. Colorado favored by 5 points.
No. 6 USC (22-7) vs. No. 11 Wichita State (16-5) or Drake (25-4), Saturday, West Region
No. 7 Oregon (20-6) vs. No. 10 Virginia Commonwealth (19-7), Saturday, West Region. Oregon favored by 6 points.
---The highlight is UCLA's preliminary-round game against Michigan State, a matchup of national powers battling just to get to the first round.
The teams seem to be headed in opposite directions, and the Bruins are headed the wrong way. UCLA comes into the tournament riding a four-game losing streak, the last two losses coming in demoralizing fashion. A three-point shot at the buzzer by USC beat UCLA by a point in the regular season finale. Then a missed free throw by Jules Bernard with three seconds left in regulation put its opening Pac-12 tournament game against Oregon State into overtime and the Bruins lost in the extra period.
The Bruins have only one win of real significance, a Jan. 2 victory over Colorado.
Meanwhile, Michigan State had to play their way into the NCAA tournament with a strong finish. Although they wound up tied for eighth in the Big Ten standings with a 9-11 conference mark, the Spartans had wins over two teams that own No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament -- Michigan and Illinois -- as well as victory over No. 2 seed Ohio State, all in the final three weeks of the season.
The winner of the UCLA-Michigan State game will play a first-round game on Saturday against sixth-seeded BYU, which led Gonzaga by nine points with nine minutes left in the West Coast Conference tournament finals before losing by 10.
.---The USC Trojans do not know who they will play in their first-round game on Saturday. USC will face the winner of Thursday's First Four preliminary game between Wichita State and Drake, both of whom are seeded 11th.
USC freshman Evan Mobley was Pac-12 player of the year and was outstanding in the two conference tournament games, scoring 26 points in the overtime win over Utah and collecting 26 points, nine rebounds and five blocks in the loss to Colorado. You need to see him now because he will be a top-five pick in the 2021 NBA draft.
Wichita State was the regular-season champion in the American Athletic Conference, ahead of Houston, but the Shockers lost to Cincinnati in the conference tournament semifinals. A win over Houston highlighted their eight-game winning streak that was halted by Cincinnati. The Shockers head coach is Isaac Brown after Gregg Marshall resigned in November following complaints from former players.
Drake started the season 18-0, but finished second to Loyola-Chicago in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Bulldogs won one of their three games against Loyola, but did not do anything remarkable.
If USC wins its opener as expected, it will probably face third-seeded Kansas in a second-round game on Monday.
---Oregon had its six-game winning streak halted by Oregon State in the conference tournament, but the Ducks have been playing well lately, having won, having won 11 of their last 13 games.
They will face a VCU team that finished second in the Atlantic-10 and lost to top-seeded St. Bonaventure in the conference tournament finals. The Rams' star is Atlantic-10 player of the year Nah-Son Hyland, who averages 19.4 points and scored 30 points or more three times this season.
If Oregon wins that game, it would probably play second-seeded Iowa and national player of the year Luka Garza in the second round on Monday. The Ducks are small, and facing a strong, talented 6-foot-11 player like Garza will be a challenge.
The Ducks would play USC in the Sweet 16 if both win their first- and second-round games in the opening weekend.
---On paper it looks like Colorado got a break by drawing a 13-12 team seeded 12th as a first-round opponent. But Georgetown is one of the hottest teams in the country, as the Hoyas showed while rolling through the Big East tournament.
Georgetown, which is coached by former Hoyas star Patrick Ewing, only finished eighth in the 11-team Big East, but in the conference tournament, the Hoyas beat two ranked teams, Villanova and Creighton, and their 73-48 rout of Creighton in the finals made everyone pay attention.
Seth Davis said during Sunday's selection show that he expects Georgetown to beat Colorado, which has been playing well lately but had its six-game winning streak halted by Oregon State in the conference tournament finals.
Colorado would likely play Florida State in its second-round game on Monday if it beats Georgetown.
---Oregon State, picked to finish last in the Pac-12 in the preseason media poll, was outstanding while beating UCLA, Oregon and Colorado in the conference tournament. The Beavers were particularly effective from long range, hitting 29 three-pointers in their three tournament games. Athletic but raw Warith Alatishe looks like a budding star.
Nonetheless the Beavers will be underdogs against Tennessee, which finished fourth in the Southeastern Conference and beat Colorado by nine points early in the season.
If Oregon State should pull another upset, it would likely face Oklahoma State in the second round on Sunday. That would be interesting because it may be difficult to tell which team is which, since both teams go by OSU and feature orange and black uniform colors. The OSU team from Stillwater, Oklahoma, features freshman Cade Cunningham, very possibly the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft.
Cover photo of Tyger Campbell by Stephen R. Sylvanie, USA TODAY Sports
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