For the last three weeks or so I've analyzed, moaned about, laughed at and otherwise reacted in some way to how unbelievably bad the Pac-12 has been on the basketball court relative to how the conference historically performs. It got worse since last Monday. Over the last week teams in the Pac-12 did not beat a single team in the RPI top 100, but still managed to lose games against Gonzaga, Virginia, Georgia, Northern Arizona and South Dakota State.
Next week Cal plays at UNLV, USC hosts Kansas and TCU, and Arizona St. hosts Southern Mississippi. Those four games represent the last non-conference games between Pac-12 teams and RPI top 50 teams. If all four Pac-12 teams won (none of the Pac-12 teams are favored) it would double the number of top 50 wins the conference has earned so far. That's right - Cal's victory over Denver and Stanford's victory over Colorado St. are currently the only RPI top 50 wins the conference has earned so far. And I wouldn't necessarily expect those two teams to stay in the top 50 into March as weaker conference schedules weight them down.*
Why am I dredging up this topic again? Well, in part because I find it morbidly fascinating. How low can we go?! Can Oregon lose to Stephen F. Austin? Will Arizona St. blow it against Fresno St.? But more importantly, fans of the few teams in this conference that can dream of meaningful seasons (that'd be us Cal fans, along with Stanford, Arizona, and maaaaybe Washington and Oregon fans) need to face up to how bleak things are right now.
I would be a bit surprised if the Pac-12 gets more than two bids to the NCAA tournament, and if the regular season champ wins the conference tournament, a one bid season is in play.
Once your RPI creeps into the 50s you're pretty much automatically in 'bubble' territory. Right now the only Pac-12 team with an RPI higher than 50 is Arizona, and their best wins are over New Mexico St. and Valparaiso. Cal could creep into the top 50 with a win over UNLV . . . but Cal's best rebounder is out with an injury. Crap.
In good years you might be able to get away with an iffy non-conference performance because there were good teams to beat in conference play. But there may not be a single team like that this year. Frankly, Cal may be hurt by being forced to play Utah more than once, because the Utes are so awful that they will actively hurt the resume of any team that beats them. From an RPI perspective, the Bears would probably be better off splitting with Arizona or Washington than beating Utah twice. Yes, I know, the RPI is stupid. But it matters - that's the reality we live in.
Unless Cal does something crazy, like a 16-2 conference record, resign yourself to the fact that the conference tournament will be the only way to feel 100% secure on Selection Sunday. Resign yourself to the knowledge that Cal is going to get a crummy seed (let's start rooting for an 11 or 12 now instead of an 8 or 9 now!).
Resign yourself to all of these things, but don't resign yourself to a disappointing year. This is still a good, entertaining, hard-working team, and a conference title is nothing to sneeze at. And regardless of what kind of goofy tournament fate they get dealt, the Bears are fully capable of making a run into the 2nd week of the tournament. It's just best to not dream of a protected seed and a cushy path to the Sweet 16, because that's just not happening.
*Note: All RPI data taken from realtimerpi.com and was accurate as of late Sunday night.
CSU Bakersfield at Colorado
Portland at Utah
Southern Miss at ASU
Bethune Cookman at Stanford
UCSB at Cal
TCU at USC
Oakland at Arizona
North Carolina Central at Oregon
UC Irvine at UCLA
Fresno St. at Arizona St.
Oregon St. at Chicago St.
Prairie View A&M at Oregon
Kansas at USC
Bryant at Arizona
Butler at Stanford
Texas Southern at Colorado
Utah at Weber St.
CSU Northridge at Washington
Stephen F. Austin at Oregon
Washington St. at Pepperdine
Cal at UNLV
Richmond at UCLA
No games. Turn off the TV and visit your relatives, you degenerates!
I mentioned the four games above that involve top 50 foes. Some other games that involve respectable competition include Cal-UCSB, Arizona-Oakland, Butler-Stanford and Richmond-UCLA. It would be nice if the conference swept those games and managed to grab a win or two against UNLV, TCU, Kansas and Southern Miss. I'm not holding my breath.