There is a notion in college basketball that in any given year, the success of a league is directly tied to how many teams it sends to the NCAA Tournament.
If you subscribe to that, then you should believe that the Pac-12 has not been very good lately. The league sent three teams to the NCAA Tournament last year, and it would have been two had Oregon not gone on a late-season run and won the Pac-12 Tournament.
Three teams went in 2018 and four in 2017. The fact the Pac-12 sent a league-record seven to the field of 68 in 2016 was nothing short of an anomaly if you research the last decade, but that shooting star of a season may come back around on Selection Sunday.
“I think the Pac-12 is looking good for seven bids right now,” Bleacher Report national college basketball writer and Bracketologist Kerry Miller told The Salt Lake Tribune. “They had seven in 2016, but these might all be 6-seeds or worse. It just doesn’t feel like there is a real contender in the bunch.”
Oregon, Colorado and Arizona are stone-cold locks to make the NCAA Tournament. Arizona State is right there, then things get tricky. Last weekend was a big one for the Pac-12 after all of its bubble teams handled business.
UTAH VS. COLORADO
At the Huntsman Center
When • Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network
USC swept the Arizona schools at the Galen Center and Stanford swept the Mountain schools at Maples Pavilion. According to BracketMatrix.com, which compares the bracket projections of over 100 amateur (and some professional) Bracketologists, the Trojans average seed through Monday is 9.79, while the Cardinal are at 10.9. In layman’s terms, the Bracketologists believe USC is safely in for now, while the Cardinal, although in, have work to do in order to stay in.
“If you get more than half your league in, it says something about your league,” Miller said. “The Big Ten could get 10 in (out of 14 teams), maybe 11, and then you have to start looking at things from a historic perspective.”
The seventh Pac-12 team in this equation is the hottest team in the league, UCLA. After ugly non-conference losses to Cal State Fullerton and Hofstra, and a 1-3 start in league-play, the Bruins have ripped off seven straight wins and sit alone atop the Pac-12 at 12-5. Like USC, UCLA swept the Arizona schools last weekend at Pauley Pavilion.
That sets up a critical Battle for Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon at the Galen Center in a game that will be televised nationally on CBS.
“USC could still be in with a loss, as long as it shows up for the Pac-12 Tournament,” Miller said. “A UCLA loss, you have to go win one or two in the Pac-12 Tournament.”
Producing NCAA Tournament teams is the mark of a good conference. A conference’s ability to get teams to the second weekend, or even the Final Four, is an entirely different conversation.
With seven Pac-12 teams to the NCAA Tournament a possibility, the question then becomes, without seeing the matchups, how many of those seven would be contenders? The answer might be zero with the way things are going.
Colorado, which looked good for a 4-5 seed for weeks in the middle of the season, has lost three straight and four of six as it heads to Utah on Saturday afternoon (12:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks). Pac-12 preseason favorite Oregon has the best player in the conference in Payton Pritchard, but the Ducks’ road gets harder now with Chris Duarte on the shelf with a broken finger on his shooting hand. Arizona’s three-best players are freshmen, and as such, the Wildcats have had an up-and-down year.
Increasingly, there is belief that the Pac-12’s most-dangerous NCAA Tournament contender could be UCLA, but the Bruins have to get there first. For what it’s worth, UCLA coach Mick Cronin went to the NCAA Tournament each of the last nine seasons he coached Cincinnati. In that time, the Bearcats advance to the Sweet 16 once, in 2012, and that was as a 6-seed.
“It’s always tough when I’m doing preseason or postseason conference rankings,” Miller said. “Who has the most-legitimate title contenders, biggest basement of bad teams, it’s always subjective.
“Sure, maybe the Pac-12 gets a higher percentage of its teams in, but a league like the ACC has more Final Four contenders.”
PAC-12′S TOURNAMENT HOPEFULS
Oregon: Lock, looking like a solid No. 4 seed at the moment as it hosts the Bay Area schools this weekend.
Colorado: Lock, hovering around a 6-7 seed with their recent struggles.
Arizona: Lock, but has largely underwhelmed. An 8-seed, with room for advancement if it shows up for the Pac-12 Tournament.
Arizona State: Firmly in around the 9-line. Getting at least a split of the Washington schools this weekend in Tempe is sage advice.
USC: Off the bubble, firmly in as an 8-9 after sweeping the Arizonas last weekend. Status moves to lock with a win over UCLA Saturday, but the Trojans could survive that loss.
Stanford: Swept Utah and Colorado to get off the bubble, currently sitting around a 10-11. Cardinal would be in if we’re picking 68 teams today, but still work to do.
UCLA: Quintessential bubble team, but trending well. A win over USC Saturday may get the job done for an at-large berth, but Bruins are a real threat to win the Pac-12 Tournament.