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Pac-12 tournament preview and predictions: How many bubble teams can sneak in?

The 2018 Pac-12 tournament tips off Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Here is an in-depth look at the tournament including a complete bracket, TV information, analysis and predictions.

WHO IS THE FAVORITE?

One of Arizona’s star players missed two games as a result of a positive drug test. Another had to refute allegations he received $100,000 to play for the Wildcats. The third missed 12 games because of lingering injuries.

It has been a tumultuous, distraction-filled season in Tucson, yet ultra-talented Arizona still found a way to finish where we all thought it would. The Wildcats won the Pac-12 by two games over USC and enter this week as the favorite to win an otherwise wide-open tournament.

Arizona’s strength is a formidable offense powered by the perimeter scoring of Allonzo Trier and the interior dominance of Deandre Ayton. That helps make up for a defense that has been shaky all season and is easily the worst of the Sean Miller era in Tucson.

WHO ELSE CAN WIN?

The list of teams who can’t win is probably shorter than the list of teams who can. Statistical guru Ken Pomeroy lists five teams with a 10 percent or better chance of winning the Pac-12 tournament and that doesn’t even include a Stanford team that finished tied for third in the league or an Oregon team that has either won or reached the title game four of the past five years.

Being in what appears to be the weaker half of the bracket certainly elevates USC’s, Utah’s and Oregon’s chances. Also don’t count out maddeningly inconsistent UCLA, which is playing for its NCAA tournament life and has tended to rise and fall with the level of its competition at times this season. The Bruins own a season sweep of USC and victories away from home against Kentucky and Arizona, but they’ve also dropped a trio of games to Oregon State and Colorado.

BUBBLE IMPLICATIONS

Arizona State (20-10, 8-10, RPI: 51, KenPom: 38): A Sun Devils team that rose as high as the top five in the polls after wins over Kansas and Xavier has rocketed back to earth in Pac-12 play. Saturday’s home loss to Stanford clinched an 8-10 finish in the Pac-12 for Arizona State, not ideal considering the league’s struggles this season. The Sun Devils should still sneak into the NCAA tournament by virtue of an 8-7 record in quadrant 1 and 2 games, but they would be wise to win their first-round game against Colorado to be sure.

USC (21-10, 12-6, RPI: 32, KenPom: 46): Could USC finish alone in second place in the Pac-12 yet still miss the NCAA tournament? It’s a realistic possibility. None of USC’s three quadrant 1 victories are against teams certain to make the NCAA tournament. The Trojans also have a bad loss to Princeton weighing down their profile. For USC to reach the NCAA tournament, a quarterfinal win over Washington or Oregon State is probably a necessity and a semifinal win over Utah or Oregon might also be.

UCLA (20-10, 11-7, RPI: 39, KenPom: 49): Saturday’s win at USC kept UCLA in contention for an NCAA tournament bid, but the Bruins are by no means safe. They have a collection of quality wins that includes two against USC, a road win at Arizona and a neutral-court win over Kentucky, but they also have head-scratching losses against Colorado and Oregon State. A Pac-12 quarterfinal victory against Cal or Stanford is probably a must for UCLA and a semifinal win over Arizona or Arizona State might be necessary for the Bruins to leave no doubt.

Washington (20-11, 10-8, RPI: 58, KenPom: 97): When Washington swept Arizona and Arizona State last month to improve to 17-6 overall, the Huskies vaulted themselves into strong position to make the NCAA tournament. They’ve since squandered that with five losses in their last eight games, all to teams unlikely to earn an NCAA bid. The case for Washington is a 4-5 record in quadrant 1 games including a road win at Kansas, a home win over Arizona and a road win at USC. The problem is the Huskies have six losses outside the top quadrant and a KenPom ranking hovering around 100. They need to string together two or three wins in Las Vegas to restore hope.

Utah (19-10, 11-7, RPI: 48, KenPom: 62): A solid finish has Utah within striking distance of the bubble. The Utes closed with six wins in their final seven regular season games capped by Saturday’s home victory against Colorado. While Utah boasts a sweep of Washington, home wins against UCLA and Missouri and a road win at Arizona State, the Utes’ lack of a Top 25 caliber win is a glaring flaw. Utah can’t correct that until the Pac-12 title game either since Arizona is on the other side of the bracket. It’s possible beating Oregon in the quarterfinals and USC or Washington in the semis would be enough for Utah, but the only way the Utes can be secure is to secure the Pac-12’s auto bid.

Arizona forward Deandre Ayton (13) cuts down the net after winning the Pac-12 title after an NCAA college basketball game against California, Saturday, March 3, 2018, in Tucson, Ariz. Arizona defeated California 66-54. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

PLAYERS TO WATCH

1. Deandre Ayton, F, Arizona: Ayton is a physical marvel, a freakishly athletic 7-foot-1 big man with a polished offensive game and the ability to alter shots around the rim.

2. Aaron Holiday, G, UCLA: Overshadowed by Lonzo Ball last season, Holiday has emerged as one of the Pac-12’s top shooters and shot creators during a breakout junior season.

3. Chimezie Metu, F, USC: The athletic 6-foot-11 forward is once again a force in the paint at both ends of the floor and he has added a 3-point shot to his arsenal this season.

ONE BIG STORYLINE

The bubble will be the story at the Pac-12 tournament this year. The league could get as few as two teams or as many as five depending on how things go in Las Vegas and around the country this week.

SCHEDULE

All times Pacific

Wednesday, March 7 | First round
No. 8 Colorado vs. No. 9 Arizona State — 12 p.m., PTN
No. 5 Stanford vs. No. 12 Cal — 2:30 p.m., PTN
No. 7 Washington vs. No. 10 Oregon State — 6 p.m., PTN
No. 6 Oregon vs. No. 11 Washington State — 8:30 p.m., PTN

Thursday, March 8 | Quarterfinals
No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 9 Arizona State/No. 8 Colorado — 12 p.m., PTN
No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 5 Stanford/No. 12 Cal — 2:30 p.m., PTN
No. 2 USC vs. No. 7 Washington/No. 10 Oregon State — 6 p.m., PTN
No. 3 Utah vs. No. 6 Oregon/No. 11 Washington State — 8:30 p.m., FS1

Friday March 9 | Semifinals
Winners of quarterfinals 1 and 2 — 6 p.m., PTN
Winners of quarterfinals 3 and 4 — 8:30 p.m., FS1

Saturday, March 10 | Final
Semifinal winners — 7 p.m., FSI

PREDICTIONS

First round
No. 9 Arizona State over No. 8 Colorado
No. 5 Stanford over No. 12 Cal
No. 10 Oregon State over No. 7 Washington
No. 6 Oregon over No. 11 Washington State

Quarterfinals
No. 1 Arizona over No. 9 Arizona State
No. 4 UCLA over No. 5 Stanford
No. 2 USC over No. 10 Oregon State
No. 6 Oregon over No. 3 Utah

Semifinals
No. 1 Arizona over No. 4 UCLA
No. 6 Oregon over No. 2 USC

Final
No. 1 Arizona over No. 6 Oregon

Other conference tournaments: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

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Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!