If Utah cuts down the nets after the Pac-12 Conference tournament, Jakob Poeltl won’t need to climb a ladder. The 7-foot sophomore has been the league’s dominant big man this season. But it’s a league with no dominant team, and it’s a tournament that’s tough to predict.
Top-seeded Oregon is the second choice at 3-1 odds, according to William Hill sports books. Fourth-seeded Arizona is the 2-1 favorite. Utah also is posted at 3-1, followed by California (9-2), Colorado (12-1), Southern California (12-1) and UCLA (18-1). The Bruins show up at the MGM Grand Garden with a losing record (15-16) and the No. 10 seed, putting coach Steve Alford on a hot seat going into the offseason.
The Ducks lost to two Mountain West opponents — Boise State and UNLV — in December before posting a 14-4 conference record. The Utes are riding a seven-game win streak.
And the winner is … The Wildcats, not Poeltl and the Utes, will cut down the nets for the second year in a row. Arizona brings the strongest fan support, and coach Sean Miller has a well-rounded team with talented guards and a big front line.
Las Vegas handicapper Bruce Marshall, editor of The Gold Sheet (goldsheet.com), analyzes Wednesday’s games:
* Washington (-2½) vs. Stanford (total 150)
Stanford (15-14) will likely find a future in the expanding minor postseason tourney slate with a win in this one. But young, improving Washington is resting on the NCAA Tournament bubble and has bigger things in mind. The Cardinal did a good job of slowing down the tempo versus the Huskies in their only meeting this season. But Washington holds the talent edge in terms of depth and shot-blocking (No. 1 in the nation with 6.8 blocks per game). Senior point guard Andrew Andrews (21.2 points per game) could be the difference. TGS pick: Washington 66, Stanford 56.
Matt Youmans’ pick: Washington 72, Stanford 67.
* Colorado (-9½) vs. Washington State (total 140½)
Big Dance-bound Colorado is surely in a nasty mood after failing to reach a school-record 22 wins in the regular season after its come-from-ahead 57-55 loss at Utah, where the Buffaloes blew a 45-31 second-half advantage. Colorado figures to shoot much straighter and exhibit crisper ball movement against defensively-lax Washington State (yielding 77.1 points per game). The sloppy, cellar-dweller Cougars, who rank the near the bottom nationally in turnover margin (minus-3.3; 333rd), figure to meekly exit in the first round again, as they did last year in a 84-59 ouster at the hands of Cal. TGS pick: Colorado 84, Washington State 65.
Matt Youmans’ pick: Colorado 80, Washington State 67.
* USC (-2½) vs. UCLA (total 157)
That the Bruins should act as a life preserver for the Trojans’ weakening Big Dance hopes might appear odd. But for this season, at least, USC should be able to rehabilitate its NCAA argument against a UCLA team that disappeared from the Pac-12 race as quickly as Jeb Bush left the GOP presidential field a few weeks ago. The Bruins must deal with the questionable status of star guard Bryce Alford after he took a belt on the jaw in UCLA’s latest loss Saturday to Oregon State. The Bruins are short on athleticism on the perimeter and cannot effectively play at a faster pace, lacking defenders to slow opposing transition games, which is what USC used to run the Bruins ragged in a pair of regular-season romps, 89-75 and 80-61. Even after losing six of eight going into the tourney, the Trojans’ more-varied offensive weaponry gives them an advantage. USC coach Andy Enfield is not likely to take it easy against Alford. TGS pick: USC 85, UCLA 69.
Matt Youmans’ pick: USC 82, UCLA 74.
* Oregon State (-3) vs. Arizona State (total 142)
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and other metrics-centric bracketologists are in love with the Beavers because of their impressive RPI (29) and strength of schedule (3) numbers. Still, the Sun Devils ran the Beavers off the court 86-68 on Jan. 28, when Arizona State shot 59 percent from the floor. Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley’s quick-handed guards disrupted Oregon State counterparts Gary Payton II and Malcolm Duvivier. However, the electric Payton (15.9 points per game) expects to fare better in the rematch, and recent Arizona State form (1-5 straight up in its past six) has not been good. The metrics guys might be right about the Beavers, after all. TGS pick: Oregon State 73, Arizona State 65.
Matt Youmans’ pick: Arizona State 72, Oregon State 71.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247