If you can get at least half of your teams into the NCAA Tournament, that should be considered a good year for your conference.
The Pac-12, which has had mixed results this decade, is currently flirting with that half-the-league mark as conference play begins Thursday.
Of course, it is only late December, so bracketology will be ever-changing as we march towards March, but for now, the league has collectively put itself in a good position for a bunch of NCAA Tournament bids. That’s all anyone can ask to this point.
Here’s a look at each Pac-12 program with conference play set to begin.
For the uninitiated, NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool) is the how the NCAA evaluates teams. NET takes into account game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin, net offensive and defensive efficiency, and the quality of wins and losses. KenPom refers to a team’s ranking on KenPom.com, an authoritative stats-driven website, which takes its own set of metrics into account.
Key wins: Illinois
Key losses: Baylor, Gonzaga, St. John’s
Arizona plays Utah: Jan. 16 in Tucson
The skinny: If the NCAA Tournament were seeded right now, Arizona is in line for a top-4 seed, but the Wildcats do not have any real notable wins to speak of. They certainly do not scream confidence, not after dropping its two huge nonconference opportunities, at Baylor and at home against Gonzaga. Arizona is supremely talented, but a lot of that talent is in the freshmen, namely Zeke Nnaji, Nicl Mannion, and Josh Green. Nnaji, Mannion and Green represent the Wildcats’ three leading scorers. It’s one thing to be young, it’s quite another to have to lean on the youth to carry the load.
Key wins: St. John’s, San Francisco
Key losses: Creighton, Colorado, Virginia
Arizona State plays Utah: Jan. 18 in Tempe
The skinny: The jury is out on the Sun Devils, NCAA Tournament qualifiers each of the past two seasons under Bobby Hurley. St. John’s is their lone Quadrant 1 win, although credit Hurley for his willingness to play at San Francisco and at Princeton. The win over the Dons qualifies as a Quadrant 2. The Sun Devils will be up against it right away, traveling to Arizona, Oregon State and Oregon to open conference play. FYI, Arizona State has already lost to Colorado in Shanghai on Nov. 8, a game that officially counted as nonconference.
Key wins: None
Key losses: Boston College, St. Mary’s, San Francisco, Santa Clara
Cal plays Utah: Feb. 8 in Salt Lake City, Feb. 29 in Berkeley
The skinny: Things are not going swimmingly in Berkeley for first-year head coach Mark Fox. The Golden Bears were handled on Sunday at home by Harvard, the capper on a nonconference slate that includes an 0-4 mark against Quadrant 2 teams and 1-2 vs. Quadrant 3 teams. In fairness, Fox inherited a mess from Wyking Jones, but the fact remains, Cal has been to the NCAA Tournament only four times this decade, and has not been to the second weekend since getting to the Sweet 16 in 1997. If you’re scoring at home, that’s 23 seasons and four coaches ago.
Key wins: Dayton, Arizona State
Key losses: Kansas, Northern Iowa
Colorado plays Utah: Jan. 12 in Boulder, March 7 in Salt Lake City
The skinny: People were bullish on Colorado entering this season, and why not? The Buffaloes returned every key piece from a team that went 23-13 and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NIT last season. Colorado figures to be a player in the top quarter of the Pac-12 standings, but the resume to this point feels a touch light. A loss at Kansas and a loss in Boulder to perennial mid-major threat Northern Iowa are the blemishes, while a Quadrant 1 win over Dayton and its NET of 13 will carry weight on Selection Sunday. If the NCAA Tournament were being seeded today, the Buffaloes would very likely be in, potentially as a single-digit seed.
NET (through Saturday’s games): 11
KenPom (through Saturday’s games): 9
Key wins: Memphis, Michigan, Seton Hall
Key losses: Gonzaga, North Carolina
Oregon plays Utah: Jan. 4 in Salt Lake City, Feb. 16 in Eugene
The skinny: The preseason pick to win the Pac-12, Oregon is the class of the league, with what is easily the best resume among the 12 teams. The “glaring” loss came at Battle 4 Atlantis against North Carolina, which still had freshman sensation Cole Anthony at its disposal. But they also wracked up a neutral-court win against Memphis, with James Wiseman; a win at Michigan, which won Battle 4 Atlantis; a neutral-floor win over preseason Big East favorite Seton Hall before it was ravaged by injury. The Ducks have the early resume of a 3-4 seed, and the personnel to do some real damage come March.
Key wins: Iowa State
Key losses: Oklahoma, Texas A&M
Oregon State plays Utah: Jan. 4 in Salt Lake City, Feb. 13 in Corvallis
The skinny: It would be a genuine waste of a really strong college career if Tres Tinkle only plays in one NCAA Tournament game. The Beavers went dancing with Tinkle, the son of head coach Wayne Tinkle, in 2016 when he was a freshman, but not since. This nonconference resume won’t help matters if Oregon State performs poorly the rest of the way. Eight Quadrant 4 results, combined with one Quadrant 1 game (loss to Oklahoma on a neutral floor) and one Quadrant 2 opponent (beat Iowa State on a neutral floor) is quite ugly.
Key wins: Oklahoma
Key losses: Butler, Kansas
Stanford plays Utah: Feb. 6 in Salt Lake City, Feb. 26 in Stanford
The skinny: Paced by the Pac-12’s most-improved player, junior forward Oscar da Silva, Stanford has been one of the league’s pleasant surprises. The Cardinal were voted 10th in the preseason poll, but at 11-2, they have played their way into at-large contention at this still-early juncture of the season. That said, Stanford scheduled soft to the tune of a whopping 10 Quadrant 3 or 4 opponents, so it feels like an enigma as conference play begins. The Cardinal split Quadrant 1 games with Butler and Oklahoma, but when they stepped up in class against fifth-ranked Kansas on Sunday, the Jayhawks were a hurricane early and never looked back in a 16-point win at Maples Pavilion.
Key wins: None
Key losses: Hofstra, Cal State Fullerton, Michigan State, BYU
UCLA plays Utah: Feb. 2 in Los Angeles, Feb. 20 in Salt Lake City
The skinny: Mick Cronin surely had some idea what he was getting himself into when he decided to take on a rebuild in Westwood. The loss to Hofstra, a generally-competitive mid-major from the CAA, was one thing, but a loss on Saturday to Cal State Fullerton at Pauley Pavilion was quite another. The Titans have a NET of 253, are 4-10 overall, and have a combined seven losses to Quadrant 3 and 4 teams. Of their four wins, one came against a Division II team, and of the other three, the highest KenPom rating was Wyoming’s 240 on Nov. 13. Cronin has won everywhere he’s been, so chances are better than not he gets this turned around, but things might get worse before they get better.
Key wins: LSU
Key losses: Marquette, Temple
USC plays Utah: Jan. 30 in Los Angeles, Feb. 23 in Salt Lake City
The skinny: USC is 11-2, but the problem is, the two losses are to the two best teams the Trojans played. They lost to Marquette (NET 37) on a neutral floor and Temple (NET 45) at the Galen Center. That leaves Andy Enfield’s team with a light resume, one highlighted by a 7-0 mark combined against Quadrant 3s and 4s. That is not nearly enough to be in the NCAA Tournament mix.
Key wins: Kentucky, Minnesota, BYU, Nevada
Key losses: Coastal Carolina, Tulane, San Diego State
The skinny: With the second-youngest roster in the country, if you were told Utah would have the resume it does through 12 games, would you have signed on? The question is rhetorical, the answer is yes. Even with a road loss against Coastal Carolina and a cringe-worthy neutral-floor loss to Tulane, the Utes have played well, certainly beyond their collective age and experience. Utah keeping this up against the Pac-12 remains to be seen, but Larry Krystkowiak has a history of coaching his teams beyond their preseason projections. For what it’s worth, the Utes were voted ninth in the preseason coaches poll.
Key wins: Baylor
Key losses: Tennessee, Gonzaga, Houston
Washington plays Utah: Jan. 23 in Salt Lake City
The skinny: Anyone familiar with Mike Hopkins knew it wouldn’t take him long to get things going in Seattle. The Huskies won the Pac-12 regular-season title and went to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season. With Hopkins recruiting at a high level, namely with five-star McDonald’s All-Americans Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart, Washington will again challenge for the Pac-12 crown, while at times looking like a second-weekend NCAA Tournament team. Like Arizona, Washington is buoyed by some youth and has less marquee wins then one would prefer, but Kentucky transfer Quade Green offers experience at the point, while 6-foot-6 wing Nahziah Carter has taken a step forward as a junior.
Key wins: None
Key losses: Santa Clara, Idaho, New Mexico State, Nebraska
Washington State plays Utah: Jan. 25 in Salt Lake City
The skinny: Kyle Smith won at previous stops in Columbia and San Francisco, but taking over at Washington State is going to be a decidedly more difficult endeavor. To start, Smith scheduled light, with mixed results. Zero Quadrant 1 games and three of the Cougars’ four losses are to Quadrant 3 or 4 teams. For an abundance of reasons, this is one of, if not the toughest job in the Pac-12. It may take a while for Smith to get things turned around, but doesn’t it always take a while in Pullman? The Cougars have been to the NCAA Tournament just six times since 1941, and haven’t made the field since going to the Sweet 16 in 2008 under Tony Bennett.
PAC-12 NCAA TOURNAMENT BIDS THIS DECADE
2019: 3 (Washington, Arizona State, Oregon)
2018: 3 (Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA)
2017: 4 (Arizona, Oregon, UCLA, USC)
2016: 7 (Pac-12 record; Oregon, Utah, California, Arizona, Oregon State, Colorado, USC)
2015: 4 (Arizona, Oregon, Utah, UCLA)
2014: 6 (Arizona, UCLA, Oregon, Arizona State, Colorado, Stanford)
2013: 5 (Arizona, UCLA, Colorado, California, Oregon)
2012: 2 (Colorado, California)
2011: 4 (Arizona, Washington, UCLA, USC)
2010: 2 (Washington, California)