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The Pac-12 was an afterthought during the college basketball season, but the narrative has changed with 4 teams in Sweet 16

The last time the Pac-12 sent four teams to the Sweet 16 was 2001

(AJ Mast | The New York Times) Brandone Tischbein, left, and Shane Margherini, of Sports Graphics, work to update the NCAA men's basketball tournament bracket on the front of a hotel in downtown Indianapolis, Monday, March 22, 2021.

The Pac-12 has seemingly been disregarded in recent seasons as far as major college basketball goes, but much of that was self-inflicted.

In 2018, the league sent just three teams to the NCAA Tournament, and none of them advanced beyond the first round, marking the first time a Power Six conference failed to send at least one team to the round of 32 since 1996.

Things weren’t much better in 2019. Three Pac-12 teams got to the NCAA Tournament, but only one, Oregon, got to the Sweet 16. For what it’s worth, those Ducks were a 12-seed, only getting to the Big Dance after a late-season surge helped win the Pac-12 Tournament.

A year after COVID-19 canceled an NCAA Tournament in which six, maybe seven Pac-12 teams were in line to go, the first five days of this Indianapolis-hosted, pandemic-impacted version of March Madness were a revelation.

Five Pac-12 teams showed up in Indy, all of them won first-round games, and four are through to the Sweet 16. The league is collectively 9-1 in this NCAA Tournament, which does not include Oregon advancing through the first round via no-contest after its opponent, VCU, couldn’t compete due to COVID troubles. Four Pac-12 teams are through to the Sweet 16 for the fourth time, but for the first time since 2001.

No other Power Six league has more than two. The Big Ten, which sent nine teams to the NCAA Tournament, has just one still playing, No. 1 seed Michigan, which needed a second-half comeback against eighth-seeded LSU on Monday night to advance in the East Region.

“We’ve got some talented, talented teams in our league,” Oregon State head coach Wayne Tinkle said late Sunday night after the second-round win over the Cowboys. “We’re obviously putting everybody on notice. I’m very happy for our program, but I’m extremely happy for the Pac-12 conference. Maybe now we’ll get some damn respect.”

Added Oregon head coach Dana Altman, whose program is through to its fifth NCAA Tournament in nine years: " I’ve been at Oregon 11 years. We’ve had some years that we haven’t played well in the tournament, and I thought we played pretty good during the year, but the tournament didn’t prove it out, and this year we had a good conference season, but whether it’s matchups, whatever it is, our teams are playing really well.”PAC

Predictably at this stage of the NCAA Tournament, there are storylines abound involving Pac-12 teams.

Oregon State, the 12-seed in the Midwest Region, survived a Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal vs. UCLA, beat Oregon and Colorado to steal the league’s NCAA Tournament automatic bid, and has now beaten Tennessee and Oklahoma by double digits to arrive at a regional semifinal vs. Loyola-Chicago.

That Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal loss to the Beavers was UCLA’s fourth-straight defeat, pushing it to the bubble and nearly out of the Big Dance entirely. The Bruins registered a big second-half comeback in the First Four vs. Michigan State, then beat BYU and Abilene Christian to advance to the program’s fourth Sweet 16 in eight seasons.

USC and Oregon were both awfully impressive in West Region second-round wins over Kansas and Iowa, respectively, and will now play each other for the right to go to the Elite Eight. The Ducks, one might argue, were under-seeded as a No. 7, meaning this game shouldn’t even be taking place, but either way, that matchup is good for the league’s bottom line.

The Trojans and Ducks playing each other in a regional semifinal means the Pac-12 is guaranteed at least one team going to the Elite Eight, which ultimately equates to more league revenue.

Each game played is equal to one NCAA unit. Through two rounds of this NCAA Tournament, the Pac-12 has earned 15 NCAA units, and is guaranteed 16 because USC and Oregon are playing each other. Units earned by Pac-12 teams are pooled and carried forward over a six-year period.

Each unit is worth just shy of $2 million over the six years, so with at least 16 units guaranteed, the Pac-12 will have at least $30 million to split over the next six years.

“Mick [Cronin] has done a great job at UCLA, Wayne has done a great job at Oregon State, USC’s doing great, and Tad [Boyle] at Colorado,” Altman said. “Our league has done great, and I hope we can keep it up.”

PAC-12 IN THE SWEET 16

All times Mountain

Saturday

Oregon State vs. Loyola-Chicago, 12:40 p.m., CBS

Sunday

UCLA vs. Alabama, 3 p.m., CBS

USC vs. Oregon, 7:45 p.m., TBS

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