Last Week in the Pac-12
This season in the Pac-12 has been about a revival in fortunes for a conference that saw its regular season champion fail to earn an at-large bid just two years ago. Thus it's fitting that no conference in the country has more teams left standing than the Pac-12.
Granted, the Big 10 and the SEC both have exactly as many teams left as the Pac-12, and the American and Big 12 aren't far behind. The point isn't that the Pac-12 is the best damn country in 2014. The point is that the Pac-12 was certainly good enough to be in the conversation with the other power conferences, something that hasn't really been the case since 2009.
It could have been even better. UCLA and Arizona cruised into the Sweet 16, and Stanford took advantage of injury weakened Kansas to pull a surprise. Oregon bowed out after giving Wisconsin everything they could handle, ASU fell on a buzzer beater to Texas, and Colorado . . . well, let's just remember that Colorado might have been something like a 4 seed if Spencer Dinwiddie had been healthy.
All in all, a 7-3 record so far in the tournament is very healthy, and the odds say that two of the three teams left are favorites to advance to the elite 8. More interestingly/terrifyingly/hilariously, we are one routine Stanford win and one not-improbable UCLA upset of Florida away from an all-evil regional final between two of Cal's three in-state rivals, both with fan bases that wanted their coaches fired two months ago, and maybe still do! Annus horribilis, baby!
Also, Utah lost in the NIT and Oregon State lost in the CBI. Whatever.
A word on Pac-12 WBB Hoops
If you think the last five years of MBB has been ugly for the Pac-12 . . . well, most of the last two decades has been the same or worse for Pac-12 women's hoops. Stanford has been consistently great, but did you know that until Cal made the Final Four last year, no non-Stanford Pac-12 program had done so since USC in 1986? Hell, it's been 13 years since somebody other than Stanford, Cal or Arizona State made the Sweet 16,
Worse than that, the Pac-12 had been full of awful programs. It has been seven years or more since Washington State, Oregon State, Arizona, Washington, USC and Oregon last won an NCAA game, period. That's half the conference right off the bat.
Luckily, things appear to be picking up. The conference got five teams into the tournament, the most since 2006. That's a triumph by itself, but it's even better to see the conference start with a 4-1 first round record, marred only by a last second loss from USC in an 8/9 game.
As always, things look iffy after Stanford. Cal, Arizona State and Oregon State all face top 5 opponents next. So it goes. But it's tangible process for a league that had been stuck in neutral for a long, long time. With Cal and Stanford poised to be perennial powers, with UCLA about to bring in a #1 recruiting class, and with northwest schools gradually rebuilding after long down cycles, the Pac-12 is in great shape, and should be even better next year.
Next Week in the Pac-12
Cal vs. Arkansas, 8:00 pm
I'm going to be too drunk on the glory of Cal WBB upsetting Baylor on the road to pay any attention to this game.
Stanford vs. Dayton, 4:15, CBS,
UCLA vs. Florida, 6:45, CBS
Arizona vs. San Diego St.. 7:17, TBS
Stanford/Dayton vs. UCLA/Florida, TBA
Arizona/SDSU vs. Baylor/Wisconsin, TBA
It's an all evening Pac-12 marathon on Thursday. Oddly, Stanford/Dayton, by far the worst game in terms of prestige and eye-balls, will be on CBS while better games with bigger fanbases will be on TBS. Go figure.
Stanford and UCLA will be battling it out in Memphis Tennessee, which isn't so bad considering they could have been sent even closer to Florida's home territory. Conversely, Arizona will be in Southern California, within easy driving distance for Wildcat fans - but also San Diego St. fans. Arizona/SDSU should compete with Kentucky/Louisville for best atmosphere out of the Sweet 16 games.
As always, I'll be rooting for Arizona, Steve Alford, and Dayton.
Also, in case you were wondering, if Stanford or UCLA were to win the South region [shudder] they wouldn't be able to face Arizona until the championship game. Let's not imagine that kind of a world, please.