This Week In The Pac-12: Five Pac-12 Teams Dancing

No need to point fingers, Sean, your Wildcats got a pretty decent draw. - Jeff Gross

Arizona, UCLA, Colorado, Oregon and our Bears are dancing. But how do you explain high seeds for Arizona and UCLA compared to their peers?

All season long, we've talked about how incredibly even the Pac-12 conference is:

But the cardinal quality of this year's Pac-12 is that no team has been able to distinguish itself performance-wise. The league's about to set a Tuesday Truths record for smallest per-possession scoring margin by a conference's No. 1 team.

Just a single game separated the top 4 teams in the conference, and Colorado finished just two games back of that group in part because they lost two overtime games. So why did UCLA and Arizona earn 6 seeds while Cal, Oregon and Colorado were stuck with double digit seeds? And why is Colorado a 10 despite finishing two games behind the Bears and the Ducks?

The answer? It's all about what you do out of conference. If there is a single lesson the committee has sent every year - and especially this year - it's that who you play makes a HUGE difference come March. Just look at this chart:

Arizona

UCLA

Colorado

Cal

Oregon

Non-Con Strength of Schedule

25

53

38

51

246

Non Con record vs. RPI top 50

4-0

1-2

1-1

0-3

1-1

Non Con record vs. RPI top 100

5-0

2-2

3-2

2-4

1-2

Cal and Oregon both have a major blemish. Oregon basically failed to schedule anybody worthwhile. They had three decent games schedule, and lost two of them. Cal did a much better job of putting together an excellent schedule, but managed to lose all three of their big games. Still, credit to Monty: if the Bears had Oregon's awful non-conference numbers then Cal might not be preparing for a game in San Jose right now, or even a game at all.

Another valuable instruction? Here are some major conference teams that were left out:

Iowa: Non-con strength of schedule: 311
Virginia: Non-con strength of schedule: 303
Kentucky: Non-con top 50 wins: Zero
Tennessee: Non-con top 50 wins: One

Four teams that won 20 or more games in power conference didn't make it into an expanded field because either their non-conference strength of schedules were wretched or because they lost all or most of their decent games. The message is clear. Put together a strong out-of-conference schedule, and win a few of those high value games. The second part isn't entirely in the control of the coach, but that first part mostly is. Shame that not every coach in the conference has gotten that message.

Ranking The Draws

From best to worst:

1. Arizona, 6 seed in the West

Many are tabbing Belmong as an early round upset pick. I don't think that's an awful choice, particularly considering how the Wildcats stumbled in the 2nd half of conference play, but it's still the weakest team any Pac-12 team will play in the first round. And while New Mexico is tough, Arizona absolutely has the talent to beat them. And Arizona's reward if they do so? A trip to L.A. Hypothetical 2 seed Ohio State is plenty tough, but so are the other 2 seeds. Arizona has a manageable draw and they will stay within easy travel distance for Arizona's massive basketball fan base.

I'm not saying that you should predict a deep run for the Wildcats, but if it was going to happen some of the obvious puzzle pieces are already in place.

2. Cal, 12 seed in the East

UNLV is the weakest 5 seed and Cal is playing in their own backyard. What more needs to be said? The fact that Cal opens as just a 2.5 or 3 point underdog tells you something. If they survive the line will likely be steeper against Syracuse. But Cal has been given a golden opportunity by the selection committee. Here's to hoping they don't waste it.

INSERT BIG GAP HERE

3. UCLA, 6 seed in the South

This isn't a pick against UCLA because of Jordan Adams' injury. Minnesota is better than their seed, with wins over Memphis, Michigan State, Indiana and Wisconsin. And if UCLA survives they'll probably face Florida, a team with 1 or 2 seed talent that dropped to a 3 because the SEC is so weak this year. If Ben Howland needs a 2nd weekend run to save his job then I suspect he's in trouble.

4. Colorado, 10 seed in the East

Colorado is like UCLA - they're playing a Big 10 team in the first round and an elite, power conference champion in the 2nd round. Except Illinois has a slightly better resume than Minnesota. I'm splitting hairs choosing between them, but I'll give Miami respect for winning the ACC regular season AND conference tournament titles. The Bruins and Buffs can commiserate together in Austin.

5. Oregon, 12 seed in the Midwest

Oklahoma State is the best team that any Pac-12 team will play in the first round. If the Ducks survive the Cowboys, then it's probably St. Louis. The Billikens probably aren't quite as good as teams like Miami, Florida and Syracuse. But they're in the discussion, which means Oregon faces the toughest 1-2 punch of all Pac-12 teams. A rough reward for perhaps the best in-conference resume of the group.

Next Week In the Pac-12

Oregon, Arizona and Cal all play on Thursday, and the Bears and Wildcats will overlap, so you'll have a tough time following every game involving our conference mates. UCLA and Colorado play Friday. Can the Pac-12 outperform a predicted record of 2-5? Well, it's hard to do much worse than that, so who knows?!

Oh, and Stanford, Arizona State and Washington are all playing in the NIT. Stanford has a home game against Stephen F. Austin on Tuesday night, airing on ESPN2 if any of you attendance counters are interested. Mercifully, the Pac-12 has no participants in the CBI or CIT.

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