The Pac-12 Conference hasn’t had much representation in the Men’s Basketball AP Top 25 Poll relative to the other power five conferences in 2017-18. The only regular in the poll has been Arizona. In spite of their connection with the FBI probe, Arizona remains one of the most talented teams in the country. USC slipped from the Top 25 with a trio of sloppy losses early on after starting the year ranked 10th. Ditto for UCLA, who started the campaign at the 21 spot. Meanwhile, Arizona State made a quick cameo inside the top 10 early in non-conference play. This comes after a pair of shock upsets over Xavier and Kansas. However, Arizona State has cooled off dramatically with an underwhelming 7-9 conference record.
The popular conclusion is drawn, therefore, is that the conference is having a down year. But what is much less well known is that the Pac-12 has actually been one of – if not the deepest – conferences in the nation this season. The problem is the high level of parity is going to backfire on Selection Sunday.
Pac-12 Conference Will Be Victim of Its Own Depth on Selection Sunday
In ESPN’s February 26th Bracketology update, Joe Lunardi had nine teams from the ACC in the tournament and eight apiece from the Big 12 and SEC. Lunardi had only three from the Pac-12 – Arizona as a four seed, Arizona State as a 10, and USC as a 12 as one of the last four in.
This is a reflection of the resumes of teams in each of those conferences. However, a number of schools in the ACC and SEC have slightly more impressive resumes than their Pac-12 counterparts. Not to be confused as a knock on the Pac-12, it doesn’t detract from the talent of the teams. Especially in the top half of the conference. Rather, it’s a testament to the depth and quality of opposition in the bottom half.
The individual resumes and RPI/BPI metrics don’t tell the whole story, and that’s where the eye test comes in. The basement dwellers in the Pac-12 – of which there are few – are better than in other conferences, and the middle of the pack teams – of which there are many – are all having to scratch and claw against each other for position on the committee’s list. As a result, win totals are evenly spread in the Pac-12.
What that means for the Pac-12’s seven legitimate contenders pushing for an NCAA tournament berth (Arizona, Arizona State, USC, UCLA, Utah, Oregon, and Washington) is that they are finding themselves a win or two behind the collection of bubble teams from these other conferences.
By contrast, the ACC and SEC are far more top heavy, which has greatly aided their case to get more teams into the tournament. Not only do Pac-12 teams have much less of an ability to feast on the weaker opposition in the cellar of the conference, everyone in the Pac-12 has been doing damage to each other’s resumes and likewise had damage done to their own. Pac-12 teams don’t benefit from a pair of games on their schedule against the likes of Ole Miss, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, or Pitt, just to name a few.
Pac-12 Tournament Will Be Must See TV
Usually, strong competitive balance is something that all conferences and sports leagues, in general, strive for. Due to the nature of the NCAA tournament selection process, depth is ultimately going to hurt the Pac-12’s bid to send teams to March Madness. The few that are selected, however, will be decided next weekend at the Pac-12 tournament March 7-10 in Las Vegas.
Arizona aside, six teams (Arizona State, USC, UCLA, Utah, Oregon, and Washington) will head to Vegas with a very real shot to make the NCAA tournament. It’s also likely that a loss for any of the above in their first game would end their tournament hopes. Unfortunately, four or five of the six won’t get into the tournament – teams that have just as much or more talent than several others from other conferences who are headed for the big dance. That means that those six teams will be playing for their NCAA tournament lives right from the opening tip.
Every game is a tough game in the Pac-12. It’s very difficult to go on the road and get a win at Colorado, Stanford, or Oregon State. Even Washington State (3-13) and Cal (2-14) have given numerous teams close calls and are better than their records suggest. Factoring the element of travel, which is worse in the Pac-12 than any of the other power five conferences.
Come Selection Sunday, it’s likely the Pac-12 isn’t going to be sending more than three teams to March Madness. But that’s not a sign that the conference is weaker than in year’s past; it’s a reflection of the conference’s competitiveness top to bottom. Still, that’s not much of a consolation for the four or five bubble teams. In particular, their respective seniors who won’t be getting a taste of the Madness later this month.
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