We're down to the last round of games to determine places in this year's Pac-10 men's basketball season, and there are some interesting scenarios that have been created as a result of the conference "clustering" into three groups of teams (okay, you could make an argument for four). Let's run through them to determine what outcomes on Saturday could lead to which matchups in the Pac-10 tournament.
First, a refresher course on the Pac-10's strange tiebreaker system. Head-to-head record among tied teams is the first tiebreaker, but as is often the case (especially with two-team ties; we'll get to the three-team tie scenario involving Cal in good time, folks), those records tend to end up being the same.
When head-to-head decides nothing, the next tiebreaker is record against the highest ranked team outside of the tie. And, if two teams are tied for highest rank, it's your record against both of them! In other words, you don't break a tie at one spot in the standings and then use that tiebreaker to resolve later ties. (Which is probably necessary, because otherwise I think you could conceptualize scenarios with two ties where neither tie can be broken without knowing how the other one is broken.) I'll spare you the logical conundrums and skip straight to the point-- or rather, points. Twelve of them, to be exact.
Point #1: Arizona is locked into the #1 seed.
Regardless of Saturday's outcomes, Arizona wins potential ties with UCLA. Because Washington would be third in the conference if UCLA wins and Arizona loses, record against Washington would break the tie, and UCLA was swept by Washington while Arizona memorably won one of their two on Derrick Williams' remarkable blocked shot.
Point #2: UCLA will drop to the #3 seed if they lose and Washington wins Saturday.
As noted, UCLA was swept by Washington.
Point #3: There are three teams that can each finish between #4 and #6: Cal, WSU, and USC.
All three are currently tied in the standings, meaning that if any loses and the other two win, it will automatically drop into the #6 seed. That is not a good place to be, because that team must face one of UCLA or Washington immediately and the other, most likely, on Day Two. Cal in particular wants to avoid the bad Washington matchup, so winning on Saturday is imperative.
Point #4: If all three teams win Saturday, Cal will fall to the #6 seed.
The first tiebreaker is head to head record among the group... but that's 2-2 all around, so it's no help. The next tiebreaker is record against Arizona (because WSU's hypothetical win against UCLA gives Arizona the conference title), which advances USC because they beat the Wildcats. The next tiebreaker is record against UCLA (because USC's hypothetical win against Washington keeps UCLA at the #2 seed) which is a tie, but WSU's win against Washington gives them the tiebreaker.
Point #5: If two of WSU, Cal, USC win Saturday and Cal is among them, the Bears will be in the #4/#5 game. If Cal is the team that loses, the Bears will be the #6 seed.
Frankly, I'm not going to work out which teams might be wearing white jerseys in that 4/5 game, because it just doesn't matter.
Point #6: If Cal wins and WSU and USC lose, the Bears will be the #4 seed and will play USC.
USC easily wins tiebreakers over WSU, as they have wins in this scenario over both UCLA and Arizona and WSU has none. WSU in fact can never win a head-to-head tiebreaker with USC, because if they lose Saturday they have no wins over either of those two top teams (and Arizona's game with Oregon is of no moment), and if they win Saturday their win over UCLA makes Arizona the only team that counts!
Point #7: If WSU wins and Cal and USC lose, Cal drops to the #6 seed.
Cal still loses that second tiebreaker (record against Arizona), which is guaranteed to win the conference regular season outright because UCLA lost in this scenario.
Point #8: If USC wins and Cal and WSU lose, Cal retains the #5 seed.
This scenario results in a tiebreaker check against either Arizona then UCLA, or Arizona plus UCLA, and WSU has no wins against either, whereas Cal has a win over UCLA.
Point #9: If all three of WSU, Cal, USC lose, Cal is the #5 seed and plays USC.
After the inevitable head-to-head tie, the tiebreaker check is (depending on the Arizona-Oregon outcome) either against just Arizona (advancing USC) then UCLA (advancing Cal), or else against the collective of Arizona and UCLA (USC wins with a 2-2 record, Cal is second at 1-3, and WSU brings up the rear at 0-4).
Point #10: If Stanford and Oregon both win, Oregon is the #7 seed.
These two split during the regular season, so yet again we move to the "best win" tiebreaker. Regardless of the outcome of UCLA's game, Stanford has no wins against either UCLA or Arizona, and Oregon has a (hypothetical) win over Arizona.
Point #11: If Stanford and Oregon both lose, the USC-Washington outcome breaks the tie, with Stanford the #7 seed if Washington wins.
Stanford and Oregon have identical records against each of the top three teams. Oregon swept USC, split with WSU, while getting swept by Cal. Stanford split (hypothetically) with Cal and WSU while getting swept by USC. Oregon will win if there's a three-way tie at 10-8, or if Cal and USC tie at 10-8. Stanford will win if Cal ends up alone at 10-8 or if Cal and WSU tie at 10-8. In effect, what this means is that the outcome of the USC-Washington game determines who is seeded #7.
Point #12: OSU is the #9 seed and ASU is the #10 seed.
Even though OSU is likely the worst team in the league. Well, no one ever said 18 games was enough to perfectly rank all teams.
These tiebreaker scenarios are, complicated as they might seem, not that bad. It's helpful that the two worst teams in the league are effectively out of the picture completely, because the number of independent outcomes in the other games is greatly reduced (just 16 instead of 32).