The Pac-12 emerged as the surprise of the first weekend of the 2021 NCAA men’s basketball tournament by putting four teams in the Sweet 16.
Will that story be forgotten by the end of the second weekend? That’s in question for a conference trying to win its first national championship since 1997.
The Pac-12 is guaranteed one team in the Elite Eight. No. 6 USC and No. 7 Oregon meet in the East Region semifinal on Sunday. The conference also has a pair of double-digit seeds left in the field. No. 12 Oregon State meets No. 8 Loyola-Chicago in the Midwest Region semifinal Saturday, and No. 11 UCLA faces No. 2 Alabama in a West Region semifinal on Sunday.
Will that lead to a breakthrough to the Final Four? Sporting News looks at the Pac-12’s tournament trends and makes the case for each team left in the tournament:
Pac-12 in Sweet 16
The Pac-12 has four teams in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2001. Arizona lost the national championship that season.
Since 1990, the conference has put four teams in the Sweet 16 four times. That happened in back-to-back years in 1997 – when the Wildcats won the national championship – and again in 1998.
The success declined dramatically in the 2010s. The Pac-12 saw a decrease in Sweet 16 and Elite Eight teams, and Oregon was the only team to make a Final Four run in 2017.
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In the 2018 and 2019 tournaments, Oregon was the only team to make a Sweet 16 run. The Pac-12 is 20-31 in Sweet 16 matchups since 1990, and 9-11 in Elite Eight matchups in the same stretch. UCLA and Arizona have combined for seven of those Final Four appearances. Stanford and Oregon have one apiece.
Pac-12 in 2021
All four Pac-12 teams in this year’s tournament average 75 points per game or more in the Big Dance. Oregon (95.0) led the way with the best offensive output of the weekend. USC (78.5), UCLA (75.3) and Oregon State (75.0) also were high-scoring first-weekend teams.
Of those four teams, Oregon State was the only team that didn’t shoot at least 45 percent from the field. The Beavers just missed at 44.9 percent. The Ducks (55.9 percent) and Trojans (53.5 percent) were hot, and the Bruins had a three-game total of 47 percent.
If that hot shooting continues in the second round, then the Pac-12 schools will have a chance to advance to the Final Four.
Pac-12 Final Four odds
Here is a look at each Pac-12’s Final Four chances, via Fanduel.com:
USC has the best player of the four teams in 7-foot center Evan Mobley, who averaged 13.5 points and 12 rebounds in the first two rounds. The Trojans beat the Ducks 72-58 on Feb. 22, but the line is a 1-point tossup at this point. The Trojans have not played Gonzaga since 1992 and have not been to the Final Four since 1954. That is a lot of history to overcome, but this might be their best shot given the talent Andy Enfield has assembled. This remains the best bet of the four teams.
The Ducks are healthy, and that shows on offense. Oregon remains the Pac-12’s most consistent tournament team with four Sweet 16 appearances since 2016. They might be better-equipped for a shootout with Gonzaga in the Elite Eight if it comes to that. The teams met in 2019, and the Bulldogs pulled out a 73-72 victory. Oregon has to get to the Elite Eight first, and that won’t be easy against USC. The Ducks have the best track record among the four teams, with Dana Altman.
Guards Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez have combined to average close to 40 points per game in the tournament, and the Bruins have a guard-oriented offense that can challenge Alabama in the Sweet 16. The Crimson Tide match up well, however, and have an inside presence in Herb Jones that will be difficult to match. Even if UCLA pulls the upset, it will have to do it again with a tough matchup against either Florida State or Michigan. That’s a lot to ask of a First Four team.
Oregon State (+1100)
The only teams with longer odds to make the Final Four are Creighton (+1500) and Oral Roberts (+3000). The Beavers have the least chalk in their region, however, and they have won eight of their past nine games. That includes victories against USC, Oregon and UCLA. Oregon State is a much better free-throw shooting team than Loyola, too, and that could surface if it’s tight late. This is the best investment given the potential return.