Last year, as I pointed out in the first edition of these power rankings, was a very disappointing NCAA Tournament for the Pac-12, Mountain West and West Coast conferences, with no teams advancing past the Sweet 16.
Arizona (No. 6 seed) and Oregon (No. 12) were the only two that even got out of the Round of 32.
Gonzaga, you may remember, was a No. 1 seed last year but lost to the now-famous Wichita State Shockers (who went all the way to the Final Four) in the Round of 32.
Others that lost in the second round were San Diego State (No. 7 seed), Colorado State (No. 8) and California (No. 12).
Several other teams from these conferences were first-round casualties: New Mexico (No. 3 seed) and UCLA (No. 5 seed) endured embarrassing upsets while Colorado (No. 10), Saint Mary’s (No. 11), Boise State (No. 13) and Pacific (No. 15) also failed to win a game in the tournament.
Meanwhile, none of our Utah teams even made the Big Dance, though BYU made a nice run to the NIT Final Four.
This season has not been overly impressive for these three conferences, either. The top three conferences in the west combined to get just 10 teams into the tournament (two less than last year, if you count Pacific).
The seeds were slightly better on average this season, however. Last year the average seed for teams from these conferences was an 8.6. This year, thanks to having no teams seeded lower than a No. 10, the average seed is a 6.9.
In my bracket, published today as part of my weekly Utah Sports Ruckus column, I picked Arizona State and New Mexico to make the Round of 32; San Diego State, UCLA and Oregon to make the Sweet 16; and I picked Arizona to win it all.
So, this would certainly be an improvement over last year for these conferences.
Here are is my NCAA Tournament Preview Edition of the power rankings, with teams ranked according to how far I think they will go in the tournament.
1. Arizona Wildcats (Pac-12)
I think Arizona (30-4), which kicks off the tournament by playing Weber State, has by far the easiest bracket in the tournament. I think Wisconsin is the weakest of the No. 2 seeds, Creighton is the weakest of the No. 3 seeds and San Diego State is the weakest of the No. 4 seeds.
The Wildcats absolutely suffocated the Utes in the Pac-12 Tournament, and I think they will have just enough offense to win the tournament with their defense.
2. UCLA Bruins (Pac-12)
The Bruins, who won the Pac-12 Tournament, have a great draw in the first two rounds starting with Tulsa and then playing either VCU or SF Austin in the second round. If Florida somehow loses before the Sweet 16, look for UCLA to go to the Final Four by beating Kansas in the Elite 8 round.
3. San Diego State Aztecs (MWC)
The Aztecs (29-4) have a tough opening opponent in the New Mexico State Aggies. These are the same Aggies that won at New Mexico earlier this season. I like the Aztecs’ draw with Oklahoma in the second round and look for them to make the Sweet 16 before bowing out to Arizona.
4. Oregon Ducks (Pac-12)
I think Oregon got a fantastic draw in the tournament as a No.7 seed facing a BYU team that is not only over-seeded, but substantially wounded with Kyle Collinsworth out. I also like the Ducks’ matchup with Wisconsin in the second round and think they will beat the Badgers before losing to Baylor in a Sweet 16 bout.
5. New Mexico Lobos (MWC)
I was tempted to pick the MWC Tournament champion Lobos to upset Kansas in the Round of 32 in my bracket. In the end I didn’t pick them, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see it happen. I would take the Lobos over any team in that bracket except Florida, Kansas and UCLA.
6. Arizona State Sun Devils (Pac-12)
It’s impossible to know which Sun Devil team will show up versus Texas in the opening round. I think Jahii Carson will step up and have a huge game and propel his team to a victory. It wouldn’t be surprising if they got blown out, though, as they did by Utah and several other teams this season.
7. Gonzaga Bulldogs (WCC)
Of the other four teams that made the NCAA Tournament from these conferences, I think the WCC regular season and tournament champion Bulldogs have the best chance to advance to the Round of 32. Oklahoma State, the Bulldogs’ first round opponent, is an unpredictable team. I expect the Cowboys’ star, Marcus Smart, to rise to the occasion and knock Gonzaga out.
8. Stanford Cardinal (Pac-12)
The Cardinal (21-12) go up against the red-hot New Mexico Lobos in the first round, which is too bad for them. I would have picked Stanford to beat several higher-seeded teams in that bracket, including Ohio State, VCU, Pittsburg and Colorado, but I couldn’t pick them to beat the Lobos.
9. Colorado Buffaloes (Pac-12)
The Buffs proved me wrong this season. After their star player, Spencer Dinwiddie, went down with a season-ending injury, I expected them to fall apart and miss the NCAA Tournament. Not only did they make the tournament, they got in comfortably as a No. 8 seed. I think they will lose to Pitt in the first round, however. If not they will get bounced hard by Florida in the Round of 32.
10. BYU Cougars (WCC)
I was almost as stunned as the Cougars themselves to see them get a No. 10 seed in the tournament. They also got a decent draw against Oregon in the first round since they played them earlier this season and almost beat them. Losing Kyle Collinsworth — the team’s MVP, in my opinion — is a massive blow, however. I think Oregon wants and needs the game more, and I think the Ducks’ experience from the tournament last year will help them, too. It's pretty obvious the Cougars are very happy just to be there.
11. Utah Utes (Pac-12)
Man, the Utes got seriously manhandled by Arizona, which I don’t think anyone saw coming after the Utes took them to overtime previously. Even with the blowout loss, I expected the Utes to get a higher seed than they did in the NIT Tournament (No. 5 seed). With NIT rules, Utah will have to travel to Saint Mary’s to face the Gaels on their home court. Despite that, I think the Utes will beat the Gaels and then beat Minnesota in the second round before finally falling in the Elite 8 round (if you can call it that for the NIT).
12. California Golden Bears (Pac-12)
Having missed the NCAA Tournament, the Bears may not really care much about playing in the NIT. It’s hard to say. If the California team that beat Arizona shows up, they could win the whole tournament. If not, they could lose in the second round. If they lose to Utah Valley in the first round then, well, ouch.
13. San Francisco Dons (WCC)
The poor Dons (a No. 4 seed in the NIT) lost to BYU for the third straight time this season in the WCC Tournament. Try as they did, they just couldn’t get over the hump versus BYU or Gonzaga. For those who didn’t hear, after yet another loss to BYU San Francisco’s head coach, Rex Walters, said with a straight face: “I would say we are the best team in this tournament. The best team may not have won tonight. Our hat’s off to BYU.
There may be a lot of Mormons mad at me, but I don’t give a rat’s you-know-what what the state of Utah thinks of me. I’m proud of our guys. They won the game tonight. They deserved it. They played better tonight. But I wouldn’t trade one of my guys for any player in this tournament. Not one.”
In other words, Walters claims he wouldn't trade the last player on his bench for Kevin Pangos, Sam Dower, Kyle Collinsworth, Tyler Haws or any other player in the conference. That's a little bit of what I like to call "crazy" right there.
After reading that I tweeted to Walters: “Rex, the state of UT will trade you 500 of our extra wives and Luke Worthington for a rat’s you-know-what and Dickerson” (referring to SF’s best player). I got no response, so I guess the offer is rejected. Sorry, Cougar fans. I tried.
14. Saint Mary’s Gaels (WCC)
How the Gaels got a higher seed in the NIT than Utah and, therefore, get to host the Utes, I have no idea. The Utes will rectify that when they win anyway.
15. UNLV Rebels (MWC)
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The Rebels finished the year at 20-13. They lost to San Diego State in the MWC Tournament in a fairly close game (SDSU led just 33-31 with 16 minutes left and 54-48 with a minute to go). Despite finishing third in the MWC, it was a disappointing season for former BYU coach Dave Rice and the Rebs.
Nate Gagon is a published sports, music, and creative writer. He is also a wholehearted father, grateful husband and ardent student of life. He shoots roughly 94% from the free throw line and can be reached at: email@example.com or @nategagon.