Normally, when we hear Bill Walton refer to the Pac-12 as the “Conference of Champions,” we’re wondering exactly how much pot he’s smoked. But in the 2021 Men’s NCAA Tournament, the western based conference has stepped up in a way that the “Conference of Champions” moniker may actually have some merit.
The Pac-12 had five teams go to Indianapolis and those five have combined for a 9-1 record, along with a no-contest win by Oregon, in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, four of those five teams are in the Sweet 16. Only the ACC, Big East, and SEC have two teams in the Sweet 16 while the rest have one. The Pac-12 is covering 25 percent of the remaining tournament teams and they came in a bit under the radar.
UCLA and Oregon State are in the Sweet 16 as double-digit seeds. As an 11 seed, UCLA had to play in the First Four but got through Michigan State in while upsetting BYU by 11 in the First Round and destroying No. 14 seed Abilene Christian by 20 points. Sure, getting Abilene Christian was fortunate but you can only play against the teams who are presented in front of you. In the Sweet 16, UCLA will have their biggest test so far, facing No. 2 seed Alabama.
Oregon State had to get through No. 5 seed Tennessee and No. 4 Oklahoma State but the 12 seed beat both teams in dominating fashion, winning by 14 and 10 points respectively. Oregon State avoided top seed Illinois but will instead face No. 8 seed Loyola-Chicago. The Ramblers might be better than their seeding suggests so if Oregon State wants to advance, they’ll have to pull out all the stops to send Sister Jean back to Chicago.
USC and Oregon will be playing against each other for a spot in the Elite Eight but both teams got there through utter domination. The No. 6 seed Trojans got past No. 11 Drake and then on Monday night, totally destroyed No. 3 Kansas 85-51. Oregon didn’t have to play in the First Round but when they got to face No. 2 Iowa, the No. 7 seed Ducks put up 95 on the Hawkeyes.
The only Pac-12 team who failed to make it to the Sweet 16 was Colorado but even they impressed with a 26 point win against No. 12 seed Georgetown in the First Round. Colorado was the highest seed (No. 5) among Pac-12 teams and their 71-53 loss to Florida State remains the only blemish to the Pac-12’s resume after the first two rounds.
Will the Pac-12 continue their winning ways? It’s going to be tough. While the Pac-12 has four teams in the Sweet 16, none of them are favorites. The highest seed among the four teams is sixth and none of them are really favored to make the Final Four. Not to mention, USC and Oregon will be playing against one another so while that guarantees one team goes to the Elite Eight, it also guarantees one team will be eliminated.
One thing the Pac-12 will have going for them is that because of many reasons, this year’s tournament has become very unpredictable. While it’s unlikely any of these four teams will be lifting the trophy at the end of the day, stranger things have already happened so it’s entirely possible.