No. 23: The West Is Best
Last season, six Pac-10 teams earned a trip to the tournament, including an 18-13, 10-8 Stanford team that entered Selection Sunday squarely on the bubble and out of some people’s final brackets. Those six entrants certainly made the committee look smart, as three made the Sweet 16 and two (UCLA and Oregon) made the Elite 8.
Where does the Pac-10 do for an encore? How about making bracket history? No league has ever sent 70 percent of its teams to the dance, but this year, with a ton of star power returning and a crop of stud recruits (Mayo, Love, etc.) ready to make their debuts, the Pac-10 will do just that - and earn a record seven tourney bids. UCLA, Washington State, Oregon, and Washington State are virtual locks, and Stanford (with the Lopezes back) are a pretty safe bet as well.
The battle for the last two spots should be a three-horse race between Washington, Arizona, and Cal. The Wildcats are as young as they come and have a brutal schedule, but when all is said and done we feel that they will be able to gel come Fabruary and March and make a run in the Pac-10 tourney to lock up a bid. For the final Pac-10 bid, the Bears get the nod for now over the Huskies. Even without Spencer Hawes, Washington is deep and talented, but it's hard to overlook the frontcourt that Cal returns. It's still a mystery who will get the ball to DeVon Hardin and Ryan Anderson (who could both be 2008 first-round picks), but that duo should be dominant enough to make thee Bears one of the last few teams in come Selection Sunday.
So, our Bold Prediction No. 23 is that a record seven Pac-10 teams will make this year’s final Field of 65: UCLA (1 seed), Washington State (3 seed), Oregon (4 seed), USC (4 seed), Arizona (6 seed), Stanford (7 seed), and Cal (a dangerous 11 seed).