Just two years ago 8 seed Cal and 11 seed Washington were the Pac-10's only NCAA representatives. Everybody assumed it was the absolute nadir of Pac-10/12 basketball. But yesterday's bracket reveal was even crueler - the conference was thisclose to sending just one team to the tournament. If Cal had either lost to Stanford or taken the entire Pac-12 tournament it probably would have happened.
What does it mean? Only this: the entire conference had an unbelievably bad (and unlucky) non-conference performance before the best 5 or 6 teams proceeded to beat up on each other in conference. Just three games separated 1st place Washington from 6th place UCLA, as much a sign of mediocrity as any. The two teams that seemed to have better-than-expected non-conference records (Stanford and Oregon St.) proceeded to underachieve in conference play.
What doesn't it mean? The Pac-12 isn't 'disrespected' by the committee, it isn't turning into a mid-major, and Washington's exclusion from the tournament doesn't set some sort of precedent about the regular season champion. Nothing that happened this year will have any impact on what the committee decides to do when they meet in 2013.
If the Pac-12 fails to earn many at-large bids next year it will be its own fault, not east-coast bias or some sort of new 'the Pac-12 is a mid-major' assumption. It will happen if ASU fails to find a point guard, if Washington fails to care about non-conference performances, if Cal can't develop some semblance of depth, if Oregon and USC can't stop relying on JC transfers that kill any kind of early-season team cohesion.
But enough hand-wringing. Where did each team end up in the post-season?
NCAA Tournament: Colorado, Cal
NIT: Washington, Arizona, Oregon, Stanford
CBI: Oregon State, Washington State
Mercy has arrived: UCLA, Arizona St., Utah, USC
I'm actually pretty disappointed with the NIT. Washington and Oregon were placed in the same region, as was Arizona and Stanford. You've got to place them all in different sections of the bracket so that an all Pac-12 final four could happen! In fact, if the committee had done so I would guarantee an all Pac-12 party at Madison Square Garden, because is there any other way this year could end?
I'm not going to bother listing every opponent for the non-NCAA teams, but I will note that every single Pac-12 team is favored to win their opening game by Kenpom with the exception of Washington St., which is playing in San Francisco against USF. So all of you folks working in the financial district can head over just north of the panhandle tomorrow night to check out some quality* Pac-12 basketball live!
*This Week In The Pac-12 refuses to guarantee quality basketball. If you fail to receive said quality basketball please forward all complaints to Bone, Kenneth.
Next Week: 11 Colorado vs. 6 UNLV
Obviously Cal falls into this category, but CGB will be covering the Bears in greater depth separately. And that leaves Colorado as the only Pac-12 action worth looking forward to.
The Buffs received a very generous 11 seed from the committee, and they owe a huge thank you to Cal for having a top 50 RPI. But facing UNLV is hardly an easy assignment and I imagine Colorado fans might be glancing at Murray St., Temple or San Diego St. as preferred 1st round opponents.
There's one reason for non Pac-12 fans to tune into this contest: the matchup of Mike Moser and Andre Roberson, two players listed in Kenpom's top 10 in defensive rebounding%. Both are also excellent on the offensive glass, and if either can get the upper hand on each other their team will have a big advantage.
Having watched Cal take on both teams, I have a hard time seeing Colorado handling the level of athleticism that UNLV brings to the table, but the Buffs stifled two teams in the Pac-12 tournament with more efficient offenses than the Runnin' Rebels.
Should Colorado pull the upset they would likely face Baylor, which presents a much tougher challenge. log5 says that the Buffs have just a 9.3% chance to advance to the 2nd weekend, but that's 9% higher than I would have given them one week ago. I'll be rooting for them.