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Pac-12 Tournament preview: Top half of conference should have their way

Utah, Stanford, Colorado, UCLA, Arizona and USC are the legitimate contenders to win the Pac-12 Tournament.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Colorado at Stanford
Stanford’s Hannah Jump
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Pac-12 season lived up to the hype. We ended the season with co-champions, the Utah Utes and Stanford Cardinal, six teams in the AP Top 25 and surprising seasons from the USC Trojans and Colorado Buffaloes. Now we head to the Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas to crown a Pac-12 Tournament champion. Here is a rundown of the contenders.

1) No. 3 Utah Utes (25-3, 15-3 Pac-12)

Who had Utah as a title favorite for the Pac-12? Yeah, me neither. I knew they were talented and thought they were a bit underrated, but I was not picking them to match Stanford game for game in the Pac-12. Utah is legit. With Gianna Kneepkens playing as the best version of herself against Stanford this weekend, scoring 28 points, and Alissa Pili taking care of the boards, beating the Utes this week will be an uphill climb.

2) No. 6 Stanford Cardinal (27-4, 15-3 Pac-12)

One of the teams up for that challenge is Stanford. They were season-long favorites and even though they had a couple of surprise losses and narrow victories this past month, they are still right where they want to be. Co-champions of the regular season with a chance to win the Pac-12 Tournament and earn a No. 1 seed. They'll need Hannah Jump, Cameron Brink and Haley Jones clicking on all cylinders to do that. Stanford may have underperformed this year, but not sophomore forward Kiki Iriafen. She's been a great role player who has performed well against USC, ASU and Arizona. I can see her being an X factor this weekend.

3) No. 20 Colorado Buffaloes (22-7, 13-5 Pac-12)

Another surprise team this season has been Colorado. The Buffaloes have a nice rotation with four players averaging double digits on the season, but Quay Miller is the key to it all. Averaging 14.1 points and 8.8 rebounds in 31.5 minutes of play, she leads the team in each category. They split the season series with Utah and played Stanford well last month, so while they won't be favorites, they are dangerous.

4) No. 19 UCLA Bruins (22-8, 11-7 Pac-12)

The Bruins are struggling entering the Pac-12 tournament. They'll need Charisma Osborne to repeat the 23-point performance she had against the Arizona Sun Devils earlier this season in their opening-round matchup against ASU on Wednesday to reach the second round.

5) No. 21 Arizona Wildcats (21-8, 11-7 Pac-12)

Arizona has been up and down this season. They've had disappointing losses against Washington State and big wins against Colorado. 21-8 on the year and ranked 21st in the country isn't bad. With Shaina Pellington and Cate Reese at the helm, they are one of a handful of contenders that can win big in Vegas this weekend.

Other teams to watch

The fun in a one-game knockout tournament is the way things can fall apart. Cinderellas are born, giants fall and chaos ensues. I doubt we will see much of that this weekend in Las Vegas. I expect one of the top five to win it all, but if I could predict another team to pull off the upset, it'd have to be the USC Trojans. They, at one point, reached the Top 25 and have wins against Stanford and Colorado. It's hard to imagine anyone outside of the Lady Trojans making a semifinal run. The top half of the conference is just too good.

The Pac-12 Tournament will be played through Sunday. Each game will be nationally televised on the Pac-12 Network, with the championship game on Sunday being on ESPN2.

Pac-12 Tournament schedule

All games at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas, NV

First Round — Wednesday, March 1

Game 1: No. 5 UCLA vs. No. 12 Arizona State 12 p.m. PT (PAC 12 Network)

Game 2: No. 8 Washington vs. No. 9 Oregon, 2:30 p.m. PT (PAC 12 Network)

Game 3: No. 7 Washington State vs. No. 10 California, 6 p.m. PT (PAC 12 Network)

Game 4: No. 6 USC vs. No. 11 Oregon State 8:30 p.m. PT (PAC 12 Network)

Quarterfinals — Thursday, March 2

Game 5: No. 4 Arizona vs. Game 1 winner, 12 p.m. PT (PAC 12 Network)

Game 6: No. 1 Stanford vs. Game 2 winner, 2:30 p.m. PT (PAC 12 Network)

Game 7: No. 2 Utah vs. Game 3 winner, 6 p.m. PT (PAC 12 Network)

Game 8: No. 3 Colorado vs. Game 4 winner, 8:30 p.m. PT (PAC 12 Network)

Semifinals — Friday, March 3

Game 9: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 6 p.m. PT (PAC 12 Network)

Game 10: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 8:30 p.m. PT (PAC 12 Netwrok)

Championship — Sunday, March 6

Game 11: Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 2 p.m. PT (ESPN2)