Why this Tournament is becoming a showcase of West Coast basketball


I am biased for the West Coast. I was raised in the Pacific time zone, where Saturday Night is (pre-recorded) Live and Stuart Scott was already flipping his own pillow before he could give holla backs to guys on my squads.

By Andrew Pridgen

I didn’t learn much growing up in California. But I know never to fly out of Ontario. I know ketchup is not salsa. And I know basketball is better here.

Oregon’s senior guard Joseph Young is more annoying for opposing defenders than a pay wall. UCLA’s Bryce Alford seems to have Klay Thompson’s stroke on loan. Arizona super seniors Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill make for the most formidable front court in the round of 32. And Utah’s freshman 7-footer Jakob Poeltl has positioning like Detroit-era Rodman and the automatic touch of a Chipotle girl.

That the Pac 12 may comprise a quarter of the Sweet 16 comes as little surprise to me.

The conference’s Vegas-based tournament featured a checklist of a dozenish NBA stars of tomorrow. Shooters who can defend. Rebounders with handles. Scorers who score more in the clutch. If Texas and Florida are incubators for burly linemen and genuflecting quarterbacks, the ignored coast on the left is the place where next-gen hoops happens.

Maybe it’s because they grew up in the palm frond shadow of Mullin and Magic, emulating Kobe and Curry—out here they place a premium in the three-ball, in the mid-range jumper, in the no-look. A true shooting guard or a power forward here? It’s like rain. Maybe it happened at one time but now is just a memory. Six-foot-six gets you a shot at point guard and 6’11” you better be able to launch one from the perimeter then D up the kid who’s a foot shorter.

Oregon’s first-round win against Oklahoma State was to the untrained eye sloppy and undisciplined basketball. At least that’s what the third-stringers on truTV called it between fawning over the antics of those Impractical Jokers.

Admittedly, the first half looked like someone took a neon green can of Krylon and splotched the back court with Young’s tag. Oregon’s ball screen-heavy O connotes the jumbled mess of the Chick-fil-A in Rancho Cucamonga the day they gave a bunch of food away to same-sex marriage supporters as a mea culpa. And yet, Dwayne Benjamin with his Louisiana drawl and afro puffs seems to draw teams into a smoky green haze.

Arizona’s defense makes all comers look more awkward then when French Montana hangs out on camera with the Kardashians. And Utah and UCLA are like 8-month-old labs when you get home from work.

They just want to run.

If you’re from the East Coast and didn’t deign to catch the Pac 12 tournament and are still biding your time googling ‘Allie LaForce Boyfriend’, take a moment to check out the Pac-12 tourney semis Oregon/Utah from 10 days ago—it may give you a glimpse of what’s to come in the next week.

The 17th-ranked Utes were treated to Young’s, the conference’s most notable player of the year since Gary Payton, 25 points and a long-distance three with less than two on the clock to fall 67-64 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

But it wasn’t just about last-second heroics, it was the rebounding and the physicality. The sweat mopper kids had their own sweat moppers by the second half. While it was the Utes who showed their inexperience by committing 11 turnovers in the first half, the squad seemed to grow up when the game got to crunch time.

Go ahead and open your bracket up today. You’ll see the four left on the Southwest side could well be San Diego State vs. Utah and Gonzaga vs. UCLA.

In the West Regional, Ohio State matches up against Arizona worse than the time Hulk Hogan challenged Andre the Giant to a Thumb War. And while Wisconsin may have the biggest front court with skin the color of sausage casing in decades, they’ll have a tough time keeping up with Track Town’s speedsters should Oregon find a transition rhythm.

Just remember, there are many turtleneck’d girls in red lipstick and stripper glitter flashing frozen sideline smiles for the cutaways but only one squad has the cojones moxie to rock the powder blue short-short jumpsuits and go-go boots.

If that, plus year-round 70-degree weather and all the al pastor you can eat doesn’t guarantee the next wave of McDonald’s All-Americans gives this coast a shot—nothing will.