Mike Sorensen: Pac-12 tourney may move to Vegas, too

Published: Sunday, March 4 2012 10:26 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Next year, local college basketball fans might have the chance to spend a week in Las Vegas enjoying three local college teams play in conference basketball tournaments.

It would be a pretty long week, mind you, but it's possible that BYU, Utah and Utah State could all be playing in the City of Lights within an eight or nine-day period.

BYU just finished up its West Coast Conference Tournament experience at the Orleans Arena. That's where Utah State will play in the WAC Tournament later this week.

Next year, Utah could be joining the Cougars and Aggies in Vegas at the Pac-12 Tournament. Nothing has been announced yet, but the Pac-12 is seriously looking to move its tournament to Las Vegas, probably at the MGM Arena, and could make the announcement this spring.

It would be played on the second weekend in March when the Mountain West Conference Tournament is being played at the Thomas & Mack Center and the WAC is at the Orleans.

The Pac-12 tournament has been played at the Staples Center in Los Angeles for the past decade, but it hasn't drawn very good crowds, hitting a peak of 84,000 for the week in 2007, but dropping to under 60,000 last year. The contract with the Staples Center is up after this week's tournament and Las Vegas is one of several cities being looked at, along with Salt Lake City. Knowing how commissioner Larry Scott works, he'll make sure the Pac-12 gets more fans and exposure by moving the basketball tournament to Las Vegas.

ASSIST FROM PAC-12: If BYU ends up getting an NCAA berth, it can thank the Pac-12 for an assist.

Most years, the West Coast Conference would not get three teams in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, it has only happened once, in 2008 when Gonzaga, Saint Mary's and San Diego all made it.

However, with the Pac-12 having a truly awful year, there are more at-large spots open in the NCAA Tournament, meaning BYU may join Saint Mary's and Gonzaga in this year's Big Dance.

The Pac-12, which often got as many as five teams in the tournament when it was known as the Pac-10, will probably get two teams in this year, and some have suggested it only deserves one. The league is ranked No. 10 in the country, just ahead of the WCC, but since BYU is better than the third place team from the Pac-12, the guess from here is that the Cougars will slide into the NCAA Tournament as an 11 or 12 seed.

4 FOR MWC?: Another beneficiary of the Pac-12's ineptness this year is the Mountain West Conference, which may be having its best-ever overall season, despite losing both BYU and Utah from its ranks this year.

The MWC will get three of its eight teams in — UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico — and could even get four with Colorado State firmly on the bubble. If the Rams can do some damage in this week's MWC Tournament, they could also crash the party, giving the MWC half of its teams in the tourney.

SOUTHERN MISS SUCCESS: Since getting into some embarrassing trouble at Iowa State, where he had a great deal of success, former Utah State coach and Utah assistant Larry Eustachy has been successful at Southern Mississippi.

Eustachy has done a nice job of building the program at Southern Miss over the past eight years, where he has the Golden Eagles on the verge of its first NCAA bid since 1991 with a 24-7 record this year. Also, last week Eustachy captured his 400th career victory.

LESS PRESSURE: Maybe it was best for Weber State that it didn't defeat Montana last week to earn the homecourt advantage for this week's Big Sky Tournament. The last two times that happened, in 2009 and 2010, the Wildcats lost in the finals on their homecourt.

Perhaps this week, playing in Missoula, the Wildcats can earn an NCAA berth.

They must first get by Portland State Tuesday night for the chance to play Montana Wednesday, assuming the Grizzlies get by Eastern Washington.

GETTING BETTER?: One of the biggest complaints about former Ute coach Jim Boylen was that his teams didn't get better during the season.

So what about the current basketball team under Larry Krystkowiak. Did it get better during the season?

You'd have to say yes if you watched most of the games, but comparing Utah's opening Pac-12 loss to Colorado (27-11 at halftime and 73-33 final) with Utah's season finale at Oregon two months later (52-14 at halftime and 94-48 final) you have to wonder.

FLOOR EYESORE: The Utah-Oregon game wasn't on local TV, which is good for a couple of reasons. First, no one had to watch that awful performance, which included an unbelievable opening 34-2 deficit for the Utes.

Then there's Oregon's court with the brown trees around the edges of the court. It may look neat in person, but on TV it looks horrible and takes away from the viewing. It's even worse than those Ram horns on Colorado State's floor.

MAKES SENSE: I guess it was fitting that Utah broke the record for its worst-ever basketball loss Saturday with the 46-point drubbing at Oregon. After all, the Utes already had set the records for worst-ever season record as well as the modern records for fewest number of points in a half and in a game.

Might as well get all the bad records out of the way in the same season.

email: sor@desnews.com

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