Andy Katz, today:
Washington State can't get an at-large berth. But the Cougars now believe they have as much a shot as anyone to win the Pac-10 tournament in Los Angeles.
We all know we need to win the Pac-10 tournament to go to the NCAA tournament. We also know there's the nice bonus of "Pac-10 Conference Champion" to go along with that (although it's debatable if the regular season champ or the tournament champ is the "real" champion of the conference. I'd go with the former).
Anyway, there is one key thing we can do in the remainder of the regular season that would put us in the best possible position for the conference tournament.
I'm talking about earning the #7 seed.
They way the conference tournament is structured, the first day of the tourney features the 7th through 10th seeds battling it out to bring the tournament's number down to eight. The six seed gets a bye this day, and receives the added bonus of not having to face the #1 seed, potentially, until the tournament final. We're not getting the six seed. I'll explain why in a moment.
If the season ended today we'd be the #8 seed, and face #9 Stanford for the right just to play the #1 seed, Washington. That isn't good. If you can, in any tournament, you want to avoid the #1 seed. By making it to the other side of the bracket, we potentially allow someone else to beat the #1 seed before we have to. As sweet as it would be to slay the Huskies in the conference tourney, if we can avoid them, I'm all for it. The #6 or #7 seed might achieve that.
So - we are currently a game and a half behind USC for 6th place. Actually, make it two and a half games because we lost both head-to-head matchups against them. USC has four games left, and it's a pretty easy stretch: the trip to the Bay Area, and then home for the Oregon schools. We have to hope USC falls flat on their faces down the stretch - I'm talking 1-3 in four games to finish . That's not likely. It also means we'd have to win all three remaining games to surpass them. Also not likely.
The top six are pretty well locked in. Ahead of USC is Arizona, who is already 8-5 in conference. They need to win one game to bury us, and even though their final five are tough, they will most likely get at least that.
What we can do is pass Oregon State for seventh. We are only 1 game behind the Beavers in the standings, and have split the season series. But we have the edge in the tie-break, which is record against the top teams in the conference going down from #1. We already have wins against ASU, UCLA, and could potentially get Washington. OSU's only win in the top five is against Cal, and they've already been swept by ASU, Washington and Arizona. Even if they beat UCLA on 3/5, we still have the edge.
OSU has all three remaining games on the road. At Oregon, at UCLA and at USC. That's huge for us. The only game I see them winning is at Oregon, and I have a feeling the Ducks will be motivated to defend their home court and
finally get a get a second Pac-10 win. OSU could potentially lose all three, but most likely will go 1-2. That means all we have to do is win one or two of our final three games and we're in business. Easier said than done, but with the Arizonas at home and UW on the road, I feel all three are winnable.
So - if we pass OSU we earn the 7th seed and a first round game against the ne'er-do-well Ducks. Win that, and we most likely get a second round game against an ASU or UCLA team we've already beaten. Win that, and you get an equivalent semifinal game. Win that, and you've given yourself just one game to try and win the title.
It would be extremely hard for us to win the Pac-10 tournament. We'd have to win four games, and we'd have to get help along the way. I don't think we're going to do it. But we can dream.
And as we saw yesterday, this team is capable of beating anyone in the conference.