Pac-12 at-large options expand with Oregon, WSU


Seven weeks and change from Selection Sunday, the Pac-12’s outlook has improved incrementally in recent weeks.

Arizona, UCLA and USC remain on track for NCAA Tournament at-large bids, lofty seeds and manageable paths into the Sweet 16. But instead of standing alone, they have company lurking.

Oregon and Washington State are solidly on the bubble, and two more teams, Colorado and Stanford, have entered wing-and-a-prayer territory.

As we cast an eye to the Pac-12 tournament, which begins March 9, the picture is clear:

In order to collect a respectable number of NCAA bids, the conference will need a surprise winner in Las Vegas — a 2022 version of Oregon State.

Anybody but the Wildcats, Bruins or Trojans.

Welcome to the Hotline’s updated NCAA projections.

— For those unfamiliar with the NET rankings system: The result of each game played falls within one of four quadrants, based on the NET ranking of the opponent and location of the game. (The categorization changes over time as teams move up and down the NET.)

Quadrant 1: Home vs. Nos. 1-30, Neutral vs. Nos. 1-50, Away vs. Nos. 1-75
Quadrant 2: Home 31-75, Neutral 51-100, Away 76-135
Quadrant 3: Home 76-160, Neutral 101-200, Away 135-240
Quadrant 4: Home 161-353, Neutral 201-353, Away 241-353

Essentially, teams want to load up on Quad I and II wins and avoid Quad III and IV losses.

Listed in order of NET ranking (through Wednesday) …

NET Ranking: No. 2
Record vs. Quad I and II: 4-1
Record vs. Quad III and IV: 10-0
NCAA projection: No. 1 seed
Comment: See the ball, and the players, move: The Wildcats are averaging 22 assists (tops in the nation) on 32 field goals per game.

NET Ranking: No. 20
Record vs. Quad I and II: 4-2
Record vs. Quad III and IV: 7-0
NCAA projection: No. 3 seed
Comment: We sense a mid-season lull coming, and that wouldn’t be the worst thing for a tournament-tested roster if it created the opportunity for major momentum in March.

NET Ranking: No. 28
Record vs. Quad I and II: 4-2
Record vs. Quad III and IV: 10-0
NCAA projection: No. 4 seed
Comment: Combine the soft non-conference schedule with limited chances for first-class wins within the conference, and USC’s path to a No. 1 or 2 seed isn’t as wide as those of Arizona and UCLA.

Washington State
NET Ranking: No. 60
Record vs. Quad I and II: 1-5
Record vs. Quad III and IV: 9-2
NCAA projection: No bid
Comment: The Cougars won’t play Oregon on Thursday because of COVID issues within their program. The Saturday visit to Oregon State hasn’t been postponed, yet — rare is the team that only has one game impacted by the virus.

NET Ranking: No. 63
Record vs. Quad I and II: 3-5
Record vs. Quad III and IV: 7-1
NCAA projection: No. 10 seed
Comment: Oregon’s case for an at-large berth would benefit from an improvement in SMU’s resume from its current No. 64 NET ranking. As marquee non-conference wins go, that one doesn’t pack much of a wallop.

NET Ranking: No. 87
Record vs. Quad I and II: 1-3
Record vs. Quad III and IV: 11-1
NCAA projection: no bid
Comment: Too many wins against teams on the lower end of the NET scale and too few against those near the top. There’s time to fix that imbalance, but CU needs a win over the Bruins or Trojans this weekend.

NET Ranking: No. 90
Record vs. Quad I and II: 5-4
Record vs. Quad III and IV: 5-1
NCAA projection: no bid
Comment: Why no NET love despite the five Quad I and II victories? Perhaps because half of the Cardinal’s overall wins are against Quad IV teams. Even so, we suspect Stanford would fare better in a selection committee discussion than the metrics indicate.

NET Ranking: No. 118
Record vs. Quad I and II: 1-6
Record vs. Quad III and IV: 7-4
NCAA projection: no bid
Comment: No wins since Dec. 21, and yet the Utes haven’t slipped much. That’s good news for the conference in that a loss to Utah by one of the contenders won’t carry severe metric consequences.

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