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Scott D. Pierce: Pac-12 title game will be a (mid-major) thriller

Published March 7, 2012 1:17 pm

College basketball • CBS's Bonner says loser can't be assured of getting an at-large bid.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

CBS Sports analyst Dan Bonner expects that Saturday's Pac-12 tournament championship game will be a thriller no matter who is playing in it.

"I would think that that would be a very fiercely contested battle, because I don't think the loser can be at all comfortable that they'll get an at-large bid" to the NCAA Tournament, said Bonner, who will work the game with Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller on Saturday at 2 p.m. MST on Channel 2.

"That doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be great basketball, but it's going to be a really fiercely contested game, I would think."

Bonner is among those who is more than a bit surprised at how down the Pac-12 is in basketball this season. He worked the Arizona-UCLA game a couple of weeks ago, and recalled that expectations were high for both teams as the season began.

"Arizona was in most top 10s and UCLA was in everybody's top 25, so the fact that they have stumbled so badly certainly is a surprise to everyone," he said. "It's an extremely unusual situation for them.

"I think that it's just one of those cyclical things. But I don't know that it's ever been this bad for one of the six major conferences, that everybody has been so down. How long has it been since they had a team ranked in the Top 25?"

About three months.

And as we head toward Selection Sunday, Pac-12 teams find themselves having more in common with Drexel than with Duke.

"As I sit and watch these games from the various mid-major tournaments, it's what I expect with the Pac-12 on Saturday," Bonner said. "A game like VCU and Drexel, for example, was played with tremendous intensity because the loser just can't know that they're going to get an at-large bid."

Yikes. The Pac-12 is on the level of the Colonial Athletic Association?

Bonner thinks the loser of the Pac-12 title game will be in pretty much the same position as Drexel, which lost to Virginia Commonwealth in the CAA title game.

"Drexel's numbers are very, very shaky," he said. "But Drexel's numbers aren't that much different than the Pac-12 teams."

Bonner didn't work any games involving Utah, which finished 11th in the Pac-12, but he did catch some of the Utes' games on TV. And, not surprisingly, came away unimpressed.

"What did they go, 6-24? And what did they average, like, 56 points a game?" he said. "Nobody puts that high on their list of goals at the start of the season."

At least part of the Utes' problems came because it was their first year in a new league. Even though that league had a bad year.

"I think it's very difficult to switch leagues," he said. "Particularly when you're in any kind of a rebuilding mode. It's hard to go to a new league where everything is unfamiliar to you. That's hard to do with a really good team, much less a team that you're just starting out with the rebuilding.

"I guess the only thing that you can take positively out of it if you're Utah is you've got everybody back next year."

Although he's not sure that's all that positive.

"It's like that old joke," Bonner said. "The good news is you have everybody back — the bad news is you have everybody back."