When I look at the first day of the tournament, I see a day of chalk. I think the regular season proved that there was separation between the top-eight teams and the bottom-four, leaving a series of apparent miss-matches in the first round. Yes, lines aren't necessarily a indicator of actual talent disparity, just an attempt to get equal action on both sides, but you have to sense a landslide of convention coming when every favorite is giving up at least five and a half points.
There's good news hiding in this. Assuming the chalk holds, Thursday could see some fantastic action, including the final resolution of that five-way tie for third. Sit tight, Pac-12 fans, if the action is a little staid today. This beast could get real interesting come day two.
- #8 Utah vs #9 Washington - 1pm MT - Pac-12 Network -
The day starts with one of my favorite dark horse teams, the Utes, trying to survive to play in what could be a very interesting quarterfinal. Should Utah survive on Wednesday, I'm going to be very interested to see how they play against the tournament favorite Arizona Wildcats. First thing's first, however, taking care of the Washington Huskies.
These two played to a draw in the regular season, with each winning their home portion. You have to like Utah, however, as they've been playing some great basketball over the last few weeks. Since losing in overtime at CU, the Utes have gone 6-3, with those losses only coming at UCLA, home against Arizona in overtime, and at Stanford. Those aren't cupcakes. Conversely, the Huskies have been mostly beating up on the three teams lower than them in the standings, which is none too impressive.
Utah is favored by 5.5, which I think is fair. I say Utah barely covers behind a all-encompasing performance from Delon Wright. Utah 65 - UW 59.
- #5 Colorado vs #12 USC - 3:30pm MT - Pac-12 Network -
Obviously, the meat of the day for yours truly is CU's opening round matchup with the Trojans. Since the Buffs couldn't take care of business against Cal on Saturday, they have to go through the motions of this first round affair. Unlike the last two seasons, however, the 'easy' tournament opener won't be against a team destined to make them sweat.
Whereas Utah in '12 and OSU in '13 were fantastic at forcing uncomfortable performances from CU (read play slow, and drive the action into the mud), the Trojans are tailor-made to let the Buffs get into what they like to do best. There will be transition, there will be a fast pace... I might even get to enjoy myself! There's a reason, after all, that these two teams have played to 150 possessions in two games. Both coaches like to run, and both squads have shooters who would love to oblige with missed jumpers and outlet opportunities.
I don't want to come off as too overconfident. This is a tournament, after all, and anything can happen. I'm just really excited that a first round game featuring CU might actually be watchable. In the end, however, I find it hard to see anything but a victory for the Buffs. For the record, CU has only lost three games this season played at 70 possessions or higher, and it would be a major upset for these two teams to miss that mark today. This is a good matchup, much better than playing Washington State would've been, and there's really no excuse for the team not to be playing on Thursday.
CU is favored by 8.5, which is a lot, but still an amount I'll give. CU 79 - USC 70.
- #7 Oregon vs #10 Oregon St - 7pm MT - Pac-12 Network -
The Beaver State has the third game all to themselves, when the intra-state rivals square off for the right to play UCLA. Oregon has been the hottest team in the league over the past month, winning seven-straight to salvage their season. As a result, it's hard to envision a win from OSU, even though they managed the feat back in January.
When last they met, these two played to 176 combined points, which leaves the hope that the game should be highly entertaining. Even if it isn't, I'll be enthralled by the antics of the Beaver Basketball Band, featuring former CU conductor Dana Biggs. Since I'm picking OSU to lose, this may be Vegas' only look at what Biggsy is up to. Catch him while you can.
The Ducks are giving 6.5, and I like them to crack that in a high scoring affair. OU 85 - OSU 75
- #6 Stanford vs #11 Washington St - 9:30pm MT - Pac-12 Network -
The evening concludes with my least anticipated game of the day. This one seems destined to be a slog, with the Cougars playing some of the slowest ball in the nation. In a neutral site, against a more physically gifted opponent, I expect them to gum up the works even further, maybe even attempting to keep this thing under 60 possessions. Ugh!
The Cardinal is favored by 10.5, which seems high for me. WSU is nowhere near a good team, but they could stay within that margin just by slow-playing for the full 40 minutes. The Cougars still lose, but by single-digits. Stanford 60 - WSU 53
HAPPY MARCH! GO BUFFS! PROVE ME RIGHT, AND BEAT THE TROJANS!