By Matt Youmans
VSiN senior editor
While most of the media hype goes to the star freshmen, Oregon junior Dillon Brooks earned more respect from the coaches.
But there is plenty of hype and respect to spread around in the Pac-12 this season. The conference is bringing three Top 10 teams — No. 3 UCLA, No. 5 Oregon and No. 7 Arizona — to its tournament at T-Mobile Arena on the Las Vegas Strip.
Brooks was voted Player of the Year by the league’s coaches, and at least one oddsmaker ranks the Ducks as the top team.
“Everybody loves UCLA, but Oregon is the most dangerous team here,” VSiN oddsmaker Vinny Magliulo said. “I have Oregon 1 to 1½ points better than UCLA.”
At the South Point sports book, the Ducks are 7-5 favorites to win the Pac-12 tournament, followed by the Bruins (8-5) and the Wildcats (7-2). The separation on the odds board is narrow, and it’s too close to call on the court.
Oregon (27-4, 16-2) is the No. 1 seed, which means the Ducks get an easier path to Saturday’s championship game. No. 2 Arizona (27-4, 16-2) and No. 3 UCLA (28-3, 15-3) would meet in a Friday semifinal matchup sure to excite Bill Walton.
There are four games on today’s schedule, and three of the teams in action are sitting on the NCAA Tournament bubble. But all three are big favorites.
California, which has lost five of its past six games, is a 14-point favorite over Oregon State at 2:30 p.m. Colorado is an 11-point favorite over Washington State at 6 p.m. The Buffaloes have won eight of 11 since starting 0-7 in league play.
The nightcap features Washington freshman guard Markelle Fultz, who could be playing his final college game before jumping for the NBA. Fultz is averaging 23.2 points for a team that is 9-21 overall and 2-16 in the conference. The Huskies are 11½-point underdogs to Southern California.
If USC advances, it will get a third look at UCLA freshman point guard Lonzo Ball, who directs the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense at 91.3 points per game.
“UCLA has a tough draw. The Bruins might have to beat USC, Arizona and Oregon on consecutive nights,” said Bernie Fratto, ESPN Radio host in Las Vegas. “Their questionable defense, which is not ranked in the top 100, will be an issue. In addition to that, those teams already have beaten UCLA during conference play.
“This tournament is very top heavy. Outside of UCLA, Oregon and Arizona, only Utah might have a puncher’s chance, but that's a real long shot."
A significant bet on the fourth-seeded Utes caused the South Point’s oddsmakers to lower Utah from 16-1 to 8-1.
Oregon and UCLA could be playing for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, although Gonzaga might have solidified its status as the top seed in the West Region by blowing out Saint Mary’s in the West Coast Conference final on Tuesday.
“If the Ducks win this tournament,” Magliulo said, “I have them as a No. 1 seed.”
Brooks, averaging 16 points and shooting 41.6 percent from 3-point range, leads a veteran team that is coached by an underrated wizard, Dana Altman.
“Oregon is deserving of a No. 1 seed,” said Fratto, who’s predicting the Ducks will top UCLA in the title game. “It’s the most complete team in the field. They have the most postseason experience, the strongest defense and the best player in Brooks. I also believe Altman is the best coach in the Pac-12.”
PAC-12 TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE
No. 8 Arizona State vs. No. 9 Stanford (-5)
No. 5 California (-14) vs. No. 12 Oregon State
No. 7 Colorado (-11) vs. No. 10 Washington State
No. 6 USC (-11½) vs. No. 11 Washington
No. 1 Oregon vs. Arizona State/Stanford
No. 4 Utah vs. California/Oregon State
No. 2 Arizona vs. Colorado/Washington State
No. 3 UCLA vs. USC/Washington