NCAA Tournament projections: Pac-12 currently has 3 locks and a handful of hopefuls

UCLA head coach Mick Cronin talks with players during a timeout in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against the Long Beach State in Los Angeles, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021.

UCLA head coach Mick Cronin talks with players during a timeout in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against the Long Beach State in Los Angeles, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. (Ashley Landis, Associated Press)



Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

On Tuesday afternoon, Stanford returned from a COVID-related hiatus to hand USC its first loss of the season and, in the process, collect a significant victory for the Pac-12.

Allow us to explain …

The Trojans are a lock for the NCAA Tournament, but the Pac-12 is hurtling toward a lowly three-bid existence in March Madness, with UCLA, Arizona and USC as the only participants.

It needs teams on the second tier, like Stanford, to position themselves for the tournament bubble. The upset of USC counted as a Quad 1 result for the Cardinal and improved its NET ranking by 16 spots overnight, to No. 85.

That's not nearly enough for comfort. The limited NET history available — the metric has been in use since the 2018-19 season — suggests teams in the 60s are on the outskirts of the bubble.

But the Cardinal is within sight of that point and joins Washington State, Oregon and Colorado as the only teams with a speck of a fleck of a chance to reach the NCAAs outside of the league's three heavyweights.

Our latest NCAA projections are below.

— For those unfamiliar with the NET rankings system: The result of each game played falls within one of four quadrants, based on the NET ranking of the opponent and location of the game. The categorization changes over time as teams move up and down the NET.

Quadrant 1: Home vs. Nos. 1-30, Neutral vs. Nos. 1-50, Away vs. Nos. 1-75

Quadrant 2: Home 31-75, Neutral 51-100, Away 76-135

Quadrant 3: Home 76-160, Neutral 101-200, Away 135-240

Quadrant 4: Home 161-353, Neutral 201-353, Away 241-353

Essentially, teams want to load up on Quad I and II wins and avoid Quad III and IV losses.

Listed in order of NET ranking (through Wednesday night) …

Arizona

NET Ranking: No. 2

Record vs. Quad I and II: 4-1

Record vs. Quad III and IV: 8-0

NCAA projection: No. 2 seed

Comment: The Wildcats' pursuit of a No. 1 seed depends, in part, on a course correction by Michigan, which has stumbled badly since the early-season loss to Arizona in Las Vegas. That's currently a Quad II win for Tommy Lloyd and Co.

UCLA

NET Ranking: No. 17

Record vs. Quad I and II: 4-1

Record vs. Quad III and IV: 6-0

NCAA projection: No. 2 seed

Comment: At the moment, UCLA is scheduled to play 26 games, plus the Pac-12 tournament. That doesn't leave much room for additional cancellations in order for the Bruins to clear the NCAA Tournament minimum of 25 — unless the powers-that-be in Indianapolis change the requirement.

USC

NET Ranking: No. 18

Record vs. Quad I and II: 5-1

Record vs. Quad III and IV: 8-0

NCAA projection: No. 4 seed

Comment: The Trojans don't have a signature win and certainly don't need one to make the at-large field. But it's something to monitor with just three opportunities available (two vs. UCLA and one vs. Arizona).

Washington State

NET Ranking: No. 48

Record vs. Quad I and II: 1-4

Record vs. Quad III and IV: 8-2

NCAA projection: no bid

Comment: The NCAA selection process isn't entirely metrics-based. There's a subjective component — and a real possibility that the committee will recoil when it examines WSU's non-conference schedule (No. 279 nationally in the Pomeroy efficiency ratings).

Stanford

NET Ranking: No. 86

Record vs. Quad I and II: 2-4

Record vs. Quad III and IV: 7-0

NCAA projection: no bid

Comment: In addition to the assessment of Stanford above, we should add this: The Cardinal is one bad loss away from wasting all that NET progress.

Oregon

NET Ranking: No. 91

Record vs. Quad I and II: 0-5

Record vs. Quad III and IV: 8-1

NCAA projection: no bid

Comment: Critical weekend in Los Angeles for the Ducks, who have precious few chances to collect first-class wins. They need a split to jump-start their push for the at-large pool.

Colorado

NET Ranking: No. 95

Record vs. Quad I and II: 1-2

Record vs. Quad III and IV: 10-1

NCAA projection: no bid

Comment: CU's non-conference schedule (No. 310) is ranked even lower than Washington State's, but at least the Buffaloes played Tennessee and were under contract with Kansas. Intent matters to the committee.

Utah

NET Ranking: No. 123

Record vs. Quad I and II: 1-5

Record vs. Quad III and IV: 7-3

NCAA projection: no bid

Comment: The 5-0 start feels like it was five years ago for the Utes, who have dropped four in a row in conference play — three of them by double digits.

Cal

NET Ranking: No. 126

Record vs. Quad I and II: 1-6

Record vs. Quad III and IV: 8-2

NCAA projection: no bid

Comment: We suspect the Bears will tarnish a few resumes before the season concludes — perhaps not on the road but in Berkeley, where they are capable of toppling anyone on the middle tier.

Arizona State

NET Ranking: No. 153

Record vs. Quad I and II: 2-7

Record vs. Quad III and IV: 3-1

NCAA projection: no bid

Comment: According to the Pomeroy Ratings, the Sun Devils have the strongest non-conference schedule in the Pac-12 (No. 21 nationally), and nobody's close. But they own too many losses to make use of the SOS.

Washington

NET Ranking: No. 164

Record vs. Quad I and II: 2-3

Record vs. Quad III and IV: 5-4

NCAA projection: no bid

Comment: The conference needs UW to climb a few more spots (above No. 161) so that a home loss to the Huskies by any of the at-large hopefuls wouldn't count as a Quad IV defeat.

Oregon State

NET Ranking: No. 215

Record vs. Quad I and II: 0-6

Record vs. Quad III and IV: 3-5

NCAA projection: no bid

Comment: Based on the current NET, a road loss to OSU counts as a Quad III result while a home loss to OSU counts as a Quad Infinity result.


Jon Wilner's Pac-12 Hotline is brought to KSL.com through a partnership with the Bay Area News Group.


Jon Wilner has been covering college sports for decades and is an AP Top 25 football and basketball voter as well as a Heisman Trophy voter. He was named Beat Writer of the Year in 2013 by the Football Writers Association of America for his coverage of the Pac-12, won first place for feature writing in 2016 in the Associated Press Sports Editors writing contest and is a five-time APSE honoree. You can follow him on Twitter @WilnerHotline or send an email at jwilner@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Pac-12 Hotline: Subscribe to the Pac-12 Hotline Newsletter. Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.

Jon Wilner

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