The Pac-12 Tournament has kicked off in Las Vegas with as many as seven teams looking to bolster their argument for NCAA tournament at-large bids and seeding. The Washington State Cougars are not one of those teams with a chance for an at-large bid, so there is only one way the Cougs can go dancing: Win the whole thing.
Considering WSU didn’t win four games in a row at any point during the Pac-12 season, the probability of Wazzu gaining that automatic NCAA tournament bid seems low. Ken Pomeroy’s laptop confirmed it, quantifying Washington State’s chances of winning the Pac-12 Tournament at 0.3 percent—or three out of every 1000.
Unfortunately for WSU, this is not a video game where you can quickly turn off the console before the game saves. The Pac-12 Tournament will not give WSU hundreds of opportunities to try and win the necessary four games in four days. Let’s preview how that best case scenario would work out.
WSU’s best route to NCAA Tournament glory
Of the possible first round matchups WSU could get at the No. 11 seed, the Colorado Buffaloes were the most favorable outcome. The Arizona Wildcats and Stanford Cardinal were other likely possibilities, both teams that have proven to be terrible matchups for the Cougs. WSU opens the tournament against CU on Wednesday night (8:30 pm PT, Pac-12 Network).
Colorado did blow out WSU back in January, but that win was in Boulder. WSU stuck around for the first 28 minutes until a 24-3 run did them in. The Buffs have the best homecourt advantage in college basketball, according to KenPom—maybe WSU can avoid that long stretch outside of elevation.
WSU is still a heavy underdog and they also missed CU star Tyler Bey in that first matchup, but Colorado feels less scary than Stanford or Arizona. KenPom gives the Cougs a 19 percent chance to advance. If they can take the ball away more than they give it away, and hit 3s at a high clip, the Cougs could get the upset. (Honestly, just breaking that 10-game conference tournament losing streak would be a great start.)
If that happens, WSU’s path is set up about as favorable as can be for an 11 seed. The Arizona State Sun Devils would be next—a team the Cougs have beaten at home and taken to the final minutes on the road. If Wazzu keeps the good times going and takes out ASU, it would likely be either Stanford or the UCLA Bruins in the semifinals.
UCLA, despite being the No. 2 seed against Stanford as the No. 7 seed, would obviously be the team that WSU wants. The Cougs beat UCLA in OT in Pullman before falling to UCLA in OT on the road.
Should the unthinkable happen and WSU advances to the finals, the most likely opponent is the Oregon Ducks. The Cougs beat Oregon once this year already. Why not do it again? It could also be Arizona, which would not be ideal.
So, four wins in four days over Colorado, Arizona State, UCLA, and Oregon could be fun. Will it happen? Yeah, probably not. But hey, dare to dream—and this is the only way the Cougs can play in a postseason tournament after the CBI shut it down.