It’s easy for oddsmakers to pick the favorite in this week’s Pac-12 Conference basketball tournament in Las Vegas. It all starts with senior point guard Payton Pritchard and Oregon, the regular-season champion.
Predicting how the bracket will play out will be an extreme test for handicappers.
Seven teams have legitimate shots to make the NCAA tournament field. Aside from the Ducks, Arizona and Colorado are considered locks. The four teams perched on the fringe are USC, UCLA, Arizona State and Stanford. Are you ready for a rumble?
“Obviously, the Pac-12 is wide open,” said Nick Bogdanovich, William Hill sportsbook director. “But I think the teams are all just a little above average. I don’t see any team that frightens me.”
Oregon (24-7) should scare the rest of the Pac-12 pack. The Ducks are 6-1 straight up and against the spread (ATS) in their past seven games behind the leadership and playmaking of Pritchard, who scored 29 points Saturday in a victory over Stanford. He led the Ducks to last year’s conference tournament title, the third in the last seven years for coach Dana Altman.
The Westgate SuperBook opened Oregon as the 2-1 tournament favorite, followed by Arizona (7-2) and Colorado (9-2). But the Wildcats are stumbling, losing four of five, and the Buffaloes have dropped four in a row.
Arizona State (10-1) and Stanford (10-1) are in NCAA bubble trouble, with neither slumping team packing any March momentum.
The three teams with the most odds value are UCLA (8-1), USC (14-1) and Washington (20-1). The Trojans denied the Bruins a share of the regular-season title Saturday when Jonah Mathews made a three-pointer with one second remaining in a 54-52 win. The Huskies finished last in the standings, but they are hot and just swept their two-game trip through Arizona, beating the Wildcats as 10½-point underdogs Saturday in Tucson.
An Arizona-Washington rematch is Wednesday, with USC facing the winner. Oregon is in the same half of the bracket, so the Trojans’ road to the title game has a couple of serious obstacles. If the seeds hold, the Bruins would play Arizona State in a semifinal Friday.
Best Bet: Oregon (+200) over UCLA in the championship. The Bruins need to win at least one and maybe two games this week to feel good about their NCAA chances, but running the table with a freshman point guard is a lot to ask when Pritchard is on the other side. The Ducks, who were seeded sixth last year and won four games in four days, look likely to repeat.
A look at the other five major tournaments (Westgate odds):
ACC: Duke is the 7-5 favorite despite being the No. 4 seed in Greensboro, N.C. Regular-season champ Florida State (7-2), Louisville (3-1) and Virginia (6-1) are the other teams posted at single-digit odds, and the Cavaliers are streaking with eight straight wins. North Carolina (60-1) needs an unlikely title run to get into the NCAA tournament. The Blue Devils are in their backyard, and Tre Jones is the conference’s top point guard. Pick: Duke over Louisville.
Big East: Creighton goes to New York as the top seed and the 3-1 favorite ahead of Seton Hall and Villanova each at 7-2 odds. Providence (7-1) is on a six-game winning streak. Markus Howard is the nation’s leading scorer, but Marquette (7-1) is ice cold after losing six of seven. Villanova coach Jay Wright has won the last three conference tournaments, but Pirates senior Myles Powell is a shooting star aiming for payback for last year’s final. Pick: Seton Hall over Butler.
Big Ten: March is the prime time to ride Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, and the Spartans (5-2) are tournament favorites after sharing the regular-season title with Maryland (4-1) and Wisconsin (6-1). Twelve teams are power rated in the Kenpom.com top 40 and as many as 11 could reach the NCAA field, though the likely number is 10. Expect upsets in Indianapolis, yet Izzo is always the most reliable bet. Pick: Michigan State over Michigan.
Big 12: Win or lose this week, Kansas seems set to be the NCAA’s No. 1 overall seed. The Jayhawks are odds-on favorites (-125) in Kansas City, Mo. Baylor (11-4) and West Virginia (7-1) are safely in the NCAA field, so Texas Tech (7-1) will be the most motivated team. The Red Raiders are 0-2 against the Jayhawks this season, with the losses by three and four points, and the teams could meet again Friday in a semifinal. Upset alert. Pick: Texas Tech over Baylor.
SEC: John Calipari’s teams tend to peak at this time, and Kentucky (5-2) is the tournament favorite in Nashville. Auburn (7-2), Louisiana State (9-2) and Florida (6-1) are the top contenders, but the Gators have been underachievers and LSU plays little defense. Kentucky is the best bet to make a deep NCAA run. The momentum is with Bruce Pearl this week. Pick: Auburn over Kentucky.