Pac-12 Tournament Preview: Pump Your Brakes On Riding The ‘Zona Bandwagon

Where: MGM Grand Arena, Las Vegas

When: March 12- 15

ESPN’s Basketball Power Index which ranks teams based on an algorithm that measures their efficiency also released their favorites in each major conference tournament. Wisconsin is the most likely to encounter a pitfall along the way in the treacherous Big Ten and is given a slim 26 percent chance of a win.

Arizona is the favorite of the frontrunners with a 63 percent shot at taking the Pac-12 crown. The Wildcats are the only Pac-12 team ranked in the Associated Press’ Top 25 poll.

Offensively, the Wildcats are merely average. UCLA and Oregon, which handed Arizona a loss in their regular season finale, play at exhausting paces and are among the top-10 offenses in the nation.

UCLA point guard Zach Levine has left his fingerprints at the scene of a few assaults on rims around the nation, but 6-9 sophomore Kyle Anderson is the ball handler and decision-maker in the Bruins top-10 scoring offense.

The difference between Arizona and the rest of the field is defensive efficiency. The Wildcats are first in points per game and second nationally in points allowed per possession.  

In the Ken Pom era of adjusted defensive efficiency the 2005 UNC Tar Heels are the only team from outside the top 20 in defensive efficiency has won the NCAA title. When the focus is there, great defenses tend to prevail over gaudy offenses. Teams aren’t as emotionally invested in conference tournaments as they are in the Big Dance, but the Big Rehearsal ushers in an increased level of intensity.

There are four ACC teams in the Top 25 of Ken Pom's adjusted defensive efficiency rankings. Three Big Ten teams, not including Nebraska at 27th, four American Athletic Conference teams and a slew of mid-majors are encapsulated within that top 25.

The remainder of Arizona’s Pac-12 threats are an indistinct clump of five teams with 10-8 conference play records—and Utah at 9-9. However, if you drive the Arizona bandwagon blindly, you'll be driving on a one-way street going the wrong way. Arizona has been upset in the conference tournament three years in a row. 

In 2011, they were upset by Washington in a two-point loss. The next year, Colorado edged them by two and last March UCLA temporarily revived Ben Howland's job status by beating Arizona by two in the semifinals. Here are the top candidates to tip over the Wildcats runaway bus this week.

Arizona State – Jahii Carson and Jermaine Marshall highlight one of the highest scoring back courts in the nation and center Jordan Bachynski is the top shotblocker in the nation.

Utah – The Utes are fifth in field goal percentage and JUCO transfer guard Delon Wright is one of the most slept on stars in the entire nation. Like Kyle Anderson, he’s a threat to drop a triple threat every night in an offense that is one of the best in college hoops. The Wildcats are the ninth-best field goal defense in the league, but Utah counters with the fifth-best field goal shooting offense in the nation.

Oregon – The Ducks are offensively potent and have beaten UCLA, Arizona State and Arizona during their current five game winning streak that has propelled them into the tournament as a projected at-large team. They have to remain on this hot streak offensively if they’re going to

California – Since February 19, the Golden Bears have lost four of six, but the season-ending victory that stopped the bleeding was a one-point overtime over Colorado.

Colorado – This team makes the tournament without winning the automatic bid. Since Spencer Dinwiddie tore his ACL, the Buffaloes haven’t been the same. The Buffs were 14-2 when injury ended Dinwiddie's season. A 7-8 record since has them on the bubble.

Stanford – Johnny Dawkins is coaching for his job. An appearance in the Pac-12 title game would go a long ways towards propelling Stanford into the tourney or buying him a seventh year.

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