Quick, can you name the marquee non-conference win by a Pac-10 team so far this basketball season? No?
That's because there isn't one.
In fact, looking for a 'best' win so far by a Pac-10 team (I'm using the term 'best' very loosely here), and you might come up with Cal's season-opening five-point win over Murray State. Murray State? No, that can't be right, can it? Well, since losing at Cal to open the season, Murray State has raced (HA! Get it? "Raced"? Because they're the Racers? What's that, you didn't know that? Oh, some of you had never even heard of Murray State? Oh...) to an 8-1 record. Yes, it's been a nothing schedule, and Tuesday's game at Louisiana Tech may be the toughest remaining game on their slate, but this is poised to being a win the Bears can look to in March with pride, something not many Pac-10 teams have right now.
Through the first half of December, the Pac-10 has been, well, not exactly dreadful, but certainly not good in any sense of the word. Collectively, they've mostly avoided truly embarrassing loses, but at the same time, they've achieved basically zero wins of note. They are firmly the wost of the six BCS conferences, and may not even be as good as 6th overall out of all the conferences. Yes, it's been that bad.Let's go ahead and take a look at the Pac-10's collective record at this point. Overall, the 10 teams are 50-36, but when we start to break that down, we start to see how thoroughly undistinguished that record is.
To get a better handle on all these teams, I used both Ken Pomeroy's rankings (based on his super-secret formula looking at a number of statistical correlations) and Jeff Sagarin's 'Predictor' ratings (based on margin-of-victory). Generally, these ratings agreed with each other, and most teams were rated by both rankings within about 5-10 places, and no more than 15 that I found, but using both gives me a little more confidence in this analysis. In listing a team's ranking, Pomeroy's ranking is first, followed by Sagarin's, in parentheses.
Generally, we should expect that good teams can beat everyone, mediocre teams can beat bad ones but lose to good ones, and bad teams will lose to most everyone. Well, by that standard, the Pac-10 is the very definition of mediocre.
Pac-10 Non-Conference Record (games through Sunday, December 13)
Overall - 50-36
vs. Top 25 - 0-12
vs. Top 50 - 1-19
vs. Top 100 - 8-31
vs. everyone else - 42-5
With a few exceptions, Pac-10 teams have managed to beat up on (or at least get past) the little guys, but they've been mostly impotent against teams with a pulse. 0-12 vs. Top 25 teams? A losing record is no shame, but getting shut out sure hurts the league's credibility. Worse is the 1-19 mark against the Top 50. That one win? Cal over Murray State (46,49), a team barely in the Top 50. Oy.
Things get a little better with lower-rated teams, but it's still a 7-12 mark vs. teams rated between 51-100, and of those seven wins (Cal @ Pacific (67,74), Cal vs. Iowa State (80,67), Stanford vs. Virginia (98,103), Washington vs. Wright State (88,89), Washington vs. Belmont (75,79), Washington vs. Montana (96,93), and Oregon State @ George Washington (92,97)), none stand out as a basketball power. And the less said about the conference's 2-8 mark (so far) in the Pac-10 / Big 12 Hardwood Series, the better.
With regards to the NCAA tournament, the Pac-10 traditionally tends to be a four-to-six bid league, but at this point, even four sounds like a stretch to me. We might be looking at a three-bid year, and that's provided that three teams can distinguish themselves in conference play. There's a few more chances at the league picking up some marquee wins to help win an at-large bid or two, but on the whole, Pac-10 teams are going to have to stand on their own in front of the selection committee -- they won't be able to draw on their league's strength as in years' past.
Here's how each team stands from this point forward. Good wins are those over teams rated in the Top 100; bad losses are to those to teams outside the Top 100.
Good Wins: Murray State (46, 49), @Pacific (67, 74), Iowa State (80, 67)
Tough Opponents Remaining: @Kansas (2, 4)
Three good (though not great) wins, and three very acceptable losses to teams in the Top 25 (Syracuse, Ohio State and New Mexico have a combined 26-2 record so far) mean the Bears are in (relatively) decent shape so far. Getting a win at Kansas would be HUGE, though it's neither expected nor necessary. Still, Sagarin's Predictor would put the Bears at just a six-point dog in Lawrence right now -- amazingly, his system would actually favor Cal if the game were played in Haas -- so they must be doing something right. Still not enough margin of error to feel complacent heading into conference play, where the Bears will face far more opportunities for bad losses than for good wins.
Good Wins: Virginia (98, 103)
Bad Losses: @San Diego (142, 132), Oral Roberts (150, 162)
Tough Opponents Remaining: Oklahoma State (55, 50), @Northwestern (63, 77), @Texas Tech (45, 44)
Plenty of juice left on the Cardinal's schedule, though it's going to take more than one good win to balance out the shame of losing at home to Oral Roberts. Hanging tough with Kentucky was a surprise, but college basketball is neither horseshoes nor hand grenades. Stanford has plenty of work to do if they want to get to any kind of tournament this year.
Bad Losses: Cal St. Fullerton (219, 220)
Tough Opponents Remaining: @Notre Dame (95, 88)
We all knew the Bruins would take a step back this year, considering all the talent they lost to the NBA and graduation, but losing at home to Cal State - Fullerton?!?? For the most part, the rest of their losses have been at least respectable (well, the opponents have been, if not their performances), but considering they lost both ends of a tournament in their own backyard (Anaheim) and have yet to either leave Southern California or beat an opponent in the Top 200, one can understand how Bruins fans might be in panic mode just a year and a half removed from their third consecutive Final Four appearance. At some point, UCLA is going to have to start winning games, and a visit to Notre Dame (their first trip this year not on a bus) this Saturday would be an advisable place to start.
Bad Losses: Loyola Marymount (151, 146)
Tough Opponents Remaining: Tennessee (8, 5), *UNLV (89, 81), *St. Mary's (15, 12)
USC's overall record is better than UCLA's, but that may have more to do with their light scheduling -- they've beaten no one of note and lost to Loyola Marymount at home. The Tennessee Volunteers come to town on Saturday, and the Trojans might get a couple of good opponents at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawai'i. Without beating at least a couple of those teams, the Trojans may very well have to repeat their feat from last year -- winning the Pac-10 Tournament and its automatic bid to the NCAAs.
Washington State (8-2)
Tough Opponents Remaining:
Talk about unremarkable -- Wazzu has managed to get 10 games into their schedule without putting a single mark on their résumé. No shame in losing at Gonzaga or Kansas State, but at some point, the NCAA tournament committee does expect at-large teams to beat someone with a pulse.
Good Wins: Wright State (88, 89), Belmont (75, 79), Montana (96, 93)
Tough Opponents Remaining: Texas A&M (41, 33), Portland (84, 99)
Other than Cal, Washington is probably in the best shape in the Pac-10, and considering their best wins are at home over Wright State, Belmont and Montana, that's not saying much. The losses (neutral floor vs. Georgetown, in overtime at Texas Tech) are both acceptable, but like the Bears, the Huskies are still searching for a win that they can really hang their hat on.
Tough Opponents Remaining:
A résumé as ordinary as Washington State's, though a 4-4 record isn't a great start, especially with a couple of those losses coming at home. Losing to Montana at home might not be the worst thing in the world, but it's certainly not great. Like the Cougars, the Ducks will have to wait for conference play to make a mark, and they're really going to have to get it done within the league if they want a postseason bid.
Oregon State (4-4)
Good Wins: @George Washington (92, 97)
Bad Losses: Sacramento State (281, 280)
Tough Opponents Remaining:
Winning at George Washington? That's good! Losing at home to Sacramento State? That's bad. Terrible, in fact. The worst loss suffered by a Pac-10 team so far, and that's saying something. The fightin' Craig Robinsons have a bit of work to do if they want to make something of this season.
Arizona State (7-3)
Tough Opponents Remaining: San Diego State (32, 28)
ASU is another team without a good or bad mark to their name so far. Losses to Duke and BYU are totally acceptable, Baylor at home a little less so, but once again, you're eventually going to get a good win on the docket, and San Diego State next Saturday is the last shot they've got before they host Washington in January.
Tough Opponents Remaining: Brigham Young (14, 14), North Carolina State (73, 76)
Arizona has played its typical bruising non-conference schedule, but usually they manage to get a win or two out of that. So far this year? Not so much. Their best win so far? Take your pick between Louisiana Tech at home or Colorado on a neutral court in overtime. I'm not impressed, and neither will be the selection committee.