The Conference of Champions enjoyed another wonderful weekend in March. The Stanford women’s swimming and diving team successfully defended its NCAA title, giving the Pac-12 a 505th national championship.
So disregard anything that happened in that other little exercise being conducted by the NCAA this month. The Pac-12 performed poorly in the men’s basketball tournament, notably Arizona’s 21-point loss in the first round as a No. 4 seed. But that event awards only one trophy, just like the sports of men’s soccer and women’s swimming that the Pac-12 keeps dominating.
The Pac-12′s combined 1-11 showing in football bowl games and the NCAA Tournament distinguishes Utah as the conference’s only athletic department to deliver a win during the 2017-18 school year. The Heart of Dallas Bowl victory over West Virginia looks better all the time.
Outside the Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center, though, the Pac-12′s postseason performances have to be labeled an embarrassment. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott and his staff will have to create a diversion like last year’s appearance of the Washington women’s rowing coach during the Football Media Days.
That was reasonable, after the Huskies won the national championship. Next summer, though? Scott’s opening address in Hollywood will have to skip some of the traditional highlights.
The conference failed to reach the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1986, the second year of the 64-team event. Even in 2012, when the league received only two bids in the first season of the expanded Pac-12, Colorado staged a first-round upset as a No. 11 seed.
PAC-12’S GRISLY TALLY
Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State 38, Oregon 28
Heart of Dallas Bowl: Utah 30, West Virginia 14
Cactus Bowl: Kansas State 35, UCLA 17
Foster Farms Bowl: Purdue 38, Arizona 35
Alamo Bowl: TCU 39, Stanford 37
Holiday Bowl: Michigan State 42, Washington State 17
Sun Bowl: North Carolina State 52, Arizona State 31
Cotton Bowl: Ohio State 24, USC 7
Fiesta Bowl: Penn State 35, Washington 28
NCAA Tournament play-in: St. Bonaventure 65, UCLA 58
NCAA Tournament play-in: Syracuse 60, Arizona State 56
NCAA Tournament first-round: Buffalo 89, Arizona 68
But in a year when the West Coast Conference, the Mountain West and the Missouri Valley are represented in the Sweet 16, the Pac-12 couldn’t even get past Thursday, as its flagship basketball program (Arizona) lost to a No. 13 seed.
“Yeah, it’s a bummer,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “I don’t think that Virginia’s [loss] is going to be a reflection of the ACC. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re seen in the same light.”
That’s because even with Virginia’s historic first-round defeat as a No. 1 seed, the ACC has four Sweet 16 teams. The Pac-12 sent three teams into the Sweet 16 last March, and Oregon went to the Final Four. Next season generally looks better than this one with some good recruiting classes, although questions persist about Arizona’s future. For now, all anyone knows is the conference went 0-3 in the NCAAs.
“I try not to overreact to any one year,” Scott said during the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. “I try to look at the trajectory, the growth, the trends, and I think Pac-12 men’s basketball is in a very strong place.”
But then things got worse. Scott complained publicly about USC’s exclusion on Selection Sunday, when only Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA were picked. ASU and UCLA then were knocked out in the First Four and Arizona was blasted by Buffalo.
Within the conference, Pac-12 football and basketball were fun in 2017-18. The football season was entertaining and dramatic, and the conference basketball tournament was highly competitive.
And I don’t blame Scott for the Pac-12′s postseason failures. He’s not going anywhere; the conference’s presidents and chancellors have extended his contract through the 2021-22 school year.
Maybe correcting some scheduling issues would have helped a Pac-12 program make the College Football Playoff, but late-night kickoffs and a lack of TV distribution were not the reasons USC and Washington lost New Year’s Six games. Same story with Arizona’s 21-point loss in basketball.
So the issue is simply playing better when it counts. The revenue comparisons to the Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference aside, Pac-12 schools are making and spending enough money when you compare them to Loyola, as an example.
The reality is their athletic programs just have underperformed on bigger stages lately. That’s a problem only they can solve.
Sixteen sweet, bittersweet and semi-sweet sentiments at this stage of the NCAA Tournament:
1 – Gonzaga is in the Sweet 16 for the fourth year in a row, the longest active streak in the country. Bulldog seniors Silas Melson and Josh Perkins have played all four years.
2 – Remaining teams by conference: Atlantic Coast (four), Big 12 (four), Big Ten (two), Southeastern (two), Big East (one), West Coast (one), Mountain West (one) and Missouri Valley (one).
3 – Nevada’s comeback from 22 points down vs. Cincinnati was a breakthrough for the West. If not for the Wolf Pack, Gonzaga would be the only Sweet 16 team west of Lubbock, Texas.
4 – Makol Mawien, a Kansas State forward from Granger High School, is the most prominent Utah left in the tournament. Mawien, who redshirted at Utah in 2015-16 before transferring to a junior college, has averaged 8.0 points and 5.0 rebounds in the Wildcats’ two NCAA wins.
5 – Davis graduate Jesse Wade, a freshman guard, did not play in Gonzaga’s two narrow victories.
6 – Remaining teams by seeds: No. 1 (two), No. 2 (two), No. 3 (two), No. 4 (one), No. 5 (three), No. 7 (two), No. 9 (two) and No. 11 (two).
7 – That leaves only seven top-four seeds overall and none in the South, where No. 5 Kentucky is now the favorite to emerge from Atlanta after being shipped to Boise.
8 – Catholic, non-football schools Gonzaga and Loyola took down Power Five teams Ohio State and Tennessee in the Elite Eight, but No. 1 seed Xavier lost its lead against Florida State.
9 – With a 27th NCAA Tournament appearance that ended short of the Final Four, Missouri is challenging BYU’s record of 28. The Jazz’s Quin Snyder coached the Tigers in four of those trips.
10 – Loyola coach Porter Moser and current Jazz assistant Alex Jensen worked together on Rick Majerus’ Saint Louis staff.
11 – Thanks to signing Gonzaga product David Stockton to a 10-day contract, the Jazz have a Sweet 16 school listed on their roster. Snyder and assistant coach Antonio Lang played for Duke.
12 – Gonzaga assistant coach Donny Daniels is in the Sweet 16 for the 11th time, four each with Utah and Gonzaga and three times with UCLA.
13 – Clemson is the only Sweet 16 contestant that finished in the final AP Top 25 in football in 2017.
14 – BYU lost three games to Gonzaga this season by an average of 14 points; Utah State lost twice to Nevada by an average of 16 points.
15 – Utah Valley can say it opened the season by playing two Sweet 16 teams (Kentucky and Duke) in 24 hours, losing by an average of 20 points.
16 – I endorse Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim’s strategy of ordering fouls twice in the last eight seconds vs. Michigan State with the Orange leading by three points. More coaches should do that.