College basketball teams desperate to win a trip to the NCAA Tournament are heading to Las Vegas this week in what really could be termed Vegas Madness.
The Pac-12 men’s tournament at T-Mobile Arena is surrounded by drama, both on and off the court, heading into Wednesday’s first round. The top-seeded Arizona Wildcats are bringing more than their fair share of storylines before they take the court in a quarterfinal game on Thursday at noon.
The ‘Cats, with a trio of NBA-bound stars, are likely the only team in the conference that can make it into the field if they don’t win the tournament championship game. Second-seeded USC and fourth-seeded UCLA are in the most precarious of positions heading into their quarterfinal games later on Thursday.
Already teetering between the teams first-in and first-out even before the Bruins knocked off the Trojans for the second time this season on Saturday, 83-72 at Galen Center, the rivals are now even closer together on the proverbial bubble and may need to win just to get in, especially if there are several “bid-stealers” in other conference tourneys.
Fourth-seeded Utah plays its quarterfinal in the late game Thursday at 8:30 p.m. (FS1). Despite getting the bye into the quarters, the Utes are in the same position as the rest of the teams playing in the first round, needing to win out in order to make it to the big dance.
The tournament is so wide-open, however, the list of decent contenders may run six deep. The semifinals are on Friday at 6 (P12N) and 8:30 p.m. (FS1), while the title game is on Saturday at 7 p.m. (FS1).
The Mountain West Conference also opens here on Wednesday at Thomas & Mack Center. The MWC has been looked upon as a one-bid league over the last two years, but top-seeded Nevada ended with such a strong ranking that if it did not win the tournament, the Wolf Pack could still end up with an at-large bid.
Mountain West regular-season champion UNR plays its first game on Thursday at noon. All quarterfinal and semifinal games are televised by CBS Sports Network. Second-seeded Boise State and third-seeded New Mexico highlight the evening quarters session on Thursday at 6 and 8:30.
The semifinals are on Friday at 6 and 8:30, while the championship game is on Saturday at 3 p.m. (CBS) where a Mountain West upstart could end up being one of the bid thieves.
Arizona State (-6, 150) vs. Colorado (Wed., noon): Sure ASU can be considered one of the Pac-12 contenders, though it hardly passes any eye tests of late. Buffs won 90-81 in OT at home, but lost later in the season in Tempe, 80-66. Consensus ratings still rank Sun Devils considerably higher though this is the 8-9 matchup. Winner gets Arizona.
California (+10.5, 141.5) vs. Stanford (Wed., 2:30): Bears have been bad news against the number with an 11-18 mark for the season, along with 11-16 to the UNDER. Cardinal lost conference opener at home to Cal, but got their revenge on Feb. 18, as the games were decided by 3 and 4 points, respectively. The winner faces UCLA.
Oregon State (PK, 140) vs. Washington (Wed., 6): Another game where the lower-seeded team, in this case OSU, comes in at least no worse than toss-up in this 7-10 affair. The Huskies lost to the Beavers, 79-77, at home just last Thursday to avenge a 97-94 2OT loss in Corvallis on Feb. 10. The winner of this one meets USC.
Washington State (+8.5, 151) vs. Oregon (Wed., 8:30): Sure, give the Ducks a chance out of the sixth-seed, but consider Cougars beat Oregon in Pullman, 78-76, last Thursday, though WSU got walloped in Eugene, 84-57, on Feb. 11. Still, Cougs won three of their last six. Winner will take on Utah.
Air Force (+11, 151) vs. UNLV (Wed., 11): Mountain West Conference freshman of the year Brandon McCoy and the Runnin’ Rebels drag a five-game losing streak into this tricky 8-9-seed AM opener. UNLV won both meetings this season, by five and seven points, respectively. Falcons 15-9-1 ATS this season. Winner gets Reno.
Colorado State (+6, 147) vs. Utah State (Wed.,1:30): Rams’ rocky finish included 11 losses over their last 12 games and a 9-16-1 ATS record, though one of their four conference wins was at Logan in their only meeting back on Jan. 10. Aggies beat UNLV last Saturday to snap four-game losing streak. Boise State awaits winner of this 7-10 game.
San Jose State (+12, 147) vs. Wyoming (Wed., 4): Sixth-seeded Cowboys won both regular-season meetings, including a 90-86 OT win on the road. Wyoming was upset in its conference tourney opener last year by Air Force, though this one rates an easier task. The winner faces the Lobos in the quarters.
San Diego State (-2, 142) vs. Fresno State (Thu., 2:30): The fourth-seeded Bulldogs and fifth-seeded Aztecs were already placed in the quarterfinals. The Aztecs, winners of six-straight got big news when their top player Malik Pope remained eligible and it appeared to stoke his play in a season-ending win over Nevada.
There are no byes at the Western Athletic Conference Tournament at Orleans Arena, which also starts Wednesday. Top-seeded New Mexico State has taken the bid in five of the last six years, but second-seeded Utah Valley State will be looking for its first NCAA Tournament appearance.
The main attraction, however, will be the first WAC tournament appearance for Grand Canyon University, which is sure to have plenty of rowdy, purple-clad “Havocs” in tow around town this week.