By Tony Solorzano
UCLA and USC’s season will continue as they join Arizona and Washington as the final representatives of the PAC-10 conference into the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament starting Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio, while Cal and Washington State will represent the conference in the NIT Tournament.
The Trojans (19-14) thought their season had ended in controversy after Head Coach Kevin O’Neill was suspended before last Thursday’s quarterfinal loss to the University of Arizona in the Pacific Life PAC-10 Tournament. However, before the brackets were announced on Sunday, USC Athletic Director Pat Haden reinstated O’Neill to his position as coach, ending speculation that the incident involving an Arizona booster would end his coaching career at Southern Cal.
However, according to a statement released by the school, Haden said that the suspension had served its purpose.
“It was a difficult lesson for Coach O’Neill. I believe the suspension served its purpose and will eliminate any such inappropriate behavior by Coach O’Neill in the future,” Haden said in the press release. “Although he has been reinstated, Coach O’Neill knows that he still faces additional institutional discipline and a fine.”
The Trojans will be part of the new “First Four” opening round that makes its debut this season. They will take on Virginia Commonwealth Wednesday night at approximately 6 p.m. local time, with the winner moving on to face the sixth seeded Georgetown Hoyas Friday night in Chicago.
After falling to Oregon Thursday, UCLA (22-10) was hoping not it didn’t end up on the bubble for the NCAA Brackets. However, the Bruins will get their chance to redeem their poor showing in the PAC-10 Tournament as the seventh seed in the Southeast Bracket when they face Tom Izzo and the 10th-seeded Michigan State Spartans (19-14) Thursday in Tampa.
Although they were the regular season Pac-10 champs, Arizona (27-7) was unable to overcome the shooting of Isaiah Thomas for the Automatic bid. But the selection committee decided to reward the Wildcats for their season-long excellence with a five-seed in the West Bracket. They journey to Tulsa, where they will face former USC Head Coach Tim Floyd and the Memphis Tigers (25-9) on Friday.
On the strength of their repeat win as Pac-10 Champions, Washington (23-10) heads out to NASCAR Country as the seventh seed in the East Bracket to take on the 10th seeded Georgia (21-11) Friday in Charlotte. The Bulldogs are coming off a bad stretch where they’ve gone .500 in their last 14 games, including losing two of their last three games, both to Alabama.
While they failed to get out of the quarterfinals, both Cal and Washington State earned bids to the NIT tournament. Despite losing to USC in the opening round of the Pac-10 Tournament, the Golden Bears (17-14) will host the Rebels of Ole’ Miss (20-13) in an opening round NIT match. Should they prevail, they will face the winner of Wednesday’s Colorado-Texas Southern game and a potential Pac-12 preview could occur should both the Buffaloes and Golden Bears win their first round game.
Although Klay Thompson’s career-high 43 points failed to advance Washington State (19-12), The Cougars will host the Long Beach State 49’ers (22-11), the runners-up of the Big West Tournament, up in Pullman. The winner of this contest will face the winner of the match between Oklahoma State and Ivy League runner-up Harvard.
For both Utah and Colorado, the two newest members of the soon-to-be PAC-12 conference, the results were mixed for both schools. Colorado (21-13) ended their final season in the Big 12 Conference when they lost on Friday to Kansas, 90-83, in the Semi-finals of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Basketball tournament, but despite earning conference wins against ranked opponents, including three wins over Kansas State and a win over then fifth-ranked Texas, the Buffaloes were snubbed by the selection committee. However, that snub resulted in the Buffs earning a top seed in the NIT and they will host Texas Southern on Wednesday night.
Meanwhile, the Utes ended their final season in the Mountain West with a 64-50 loss to San Diego State in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Tournament. The Utes will also begin play in the Pac-12 next year with a new coach at the helm come next season, the school fired Head Coach Jim Boylen who compiled a 69-60 record, including a 32-32 record in the conference. This season, however, the Utes dropped eight of their last 11 games and finished 6-10 in conference.