Only one week remains in the Pac-12 season. With only four games separating the top nine teams in conference, this is an important week for teams to create some separation and make a statement in regards to NCAA tournament seeding and inclusion. What are three things Utah fans should pay attention to this week?
1. Will Oregon lose?
The Runnin' Utes sweep of the Arizona schools last week was huge for Utah's conference title hopes. However, with Oregon beating both Washington schools, Utah continues to sit a half game back of the Ducks entering the final week of the season. In order for Utah to capture a Pac-12 regular season title, they will need some help from the L.A. schools.
Oregon closes their season on the road in southern California. Utah's title hopes rest on the shoulders of UCLA and USC. The Bruins have struggled this year, but are a tough out at Pauley Pavilion. Utah fans should hope Bryce Alford has a hot hand on Wednesday night. If UCLA isn't able to get the job done, Andy Enfield's Trojans will have the last crack. Unlike the Bruins, USC is a potential tournament team with some dynamic playmakers like freshman guard Jordan McLaughlin.
Of the two teams, USC has the best shot to knock off Oregon. The Trojans are slumping lately however, losing their last three. There is no question a road swing through LA is no cake walk, but Oregon is playing really well at the moment and might escape with a regular season conference title.
2. Can Utah close out strong?
Not to be forgotten in all this conference championship talk, is Utah still has one game left. The fact that this game comes at home is a big help, but the opponent will be tough. Colorado lost by just two points last time the two met in Boulder, with Lorenzo Bonam hitting the game winner with just a couple ticks on the clock.
Colorado is playing well right now, having just knocked off Arizona and Arizona State. Josh Scott is one of the better big men in the conference not named Jakob Poeltl, and has always played tough against the Utes. Colorado is battling for NCAA tournament seeding, and win against a surging Utah team to close out the season would certainly help their argument. The Buffs have lost four straight against Utah as well, so they will be focused on breaking that streak.
Utah must win this game to remain in contention for a Pac-12 title. An Oregon loss won't mean a thing if the Utes don't take care of business at the Huntsman Center on Saturday night. After knocking off Arizona last week, Utah is suddenly on the national radar and receiving heaps of praise from the national media. For the Utes it will be important ignore the recent adulation and focus on beating Colorado. A win against Colorado likely locks up a 3 or 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.
3. How will Pac-12 tournament shape up?
Come conference tournament time, we already know Utah will have a first round bye, but who are some potential matchups when they do play in the second round?
As it stands now, Utah is slated as the no. 2 seed and would face a winner of the 7 vs. 10 game. If the season ended today that would be Washington against UCLA. However, Oregon State, USC and Stanford are tied with Washington with eight conference wins. Depending how this last week shakes out, Utah could face any of the above mentioned teams as a two seed.
If Utah beats Colorado and Oregon drops their final two games, Utah would grab the number one seed, which would play the winner of Stanford vs. Oregon State at the moment. Again, depending on how the last week of the season plays out, OSU, Stanford, Washington, USC and even UCLA are all candidates for the 8 and 9 seeds. With only two games left to play for most teams, and only one game for a few, there is a lot of separation yet to take place in the Pac-12.