The University of Washington basketball team is entering what promises to be one of the more interesting weeks in the program's recent history. With California's loss at Colorado Sunday, the Huskies now control whether they win the Pac-12 title. Wins atUSC Thursday and UCLA Saturday would make them league champions.
But what if the Huskies split in Los Angeles and Cal knocks off Stanford in its last regular-season game? That would make UW and Cal co-league champions, but Cal would have the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 tournament. What if neither Cal nor Washington wins the Pac-12 tournament?
Some UW fans may assume that winning the Pac-12 regular-season title outright would ensure a bid to the NCAA Tournament, regardless of what happens in the Pac-12 tournament, which starts March 7. It's here that we are reminded of a line delivered by the bad guy to one of his screw-up underlings in the Steven Seagal movie "Under Siege2: Dark Territory."
"An assumption," the bad guy says, "is the mother of all eff-ups."
The NCAA is obviously obligated to take the Pac-12 tournament champion into the 68-team tournament field. But it's not obligated to take the regular-season champion, especially if the champion is Washington, which has been so uneven all season.
For one thing, the NCAA has always maintained that it does not seriously consider regular-season conference records when it evaluates potential tournament teams. Nor do 20+ wins mean much (Huskies have 20+ a school-record four consecutive seasons), considering that the NCAA has spurned 11 20+-win conference teams over the past dozen years.
But the NCAA does look hard at a team's non-conference performance and its wins against top-50 opponents. This is where all of the Pac-12 falls flat.
The Pac-12 is 5-41 against top-50 foes. It has an 0-18 record against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. No Pac-12 school has been nationally ranked since UCLA, a major disappointment, during the preseason. The conference's most impressive non-conference wins: Oregon State over Texas and Stanford over Colorado State.
Since the NCAA Tournament expanded in 1985, no power conference -- a group that includes the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Southeastern and Pac-12 -- has received just a single bid to the tournament. But it might happen, especially if the wrong team -- say Colorado or Arizona -- wins the Pac-12 tournament.
That would really muddle matters, especially for the Huskies, who lost head-to-head against California on their home floor, were blitzed by the Buffaloes, a club with a 76 RPI, in Boulder, and laid an egg at No. 53 RPI Oregon as recently as Feb. 9.
Jerry Palm is one of the country's most respected bracketologists, employed by CBSSports.com to predict NCAA Tournament teams. This is his take:
"To me, (the Pac-12) looks like a bunch of NIT teams, every one of them. And to make it worse, they keep beating each other up."
It would represent a huge embarrassment for the Pac-12, the so-called "Conference of Champions," if just one team made the NCAA Tournament. But it wouldn't be a shock. Remember: last year, the then-Pac-10 had just two tourney teams, and this year's Terrible Twelve is just 11-18 head-to-head against other major conferences.
Fact is, the quality of Pac-12 basketball currently smacks of the mid-major level. While the Pac-12 has been absent from the national rankings most of season, other schools from the West, notably UNLV, San Diego State and Gonzaga, have all been ranked.
Take a look at the following chart (RPI=Ratings Percentage Index; SOS=Strength of Schedule). The last three columns show how Pac-12 schools have performed head-to-head. We welcome your feedback.
|Team||Rec.||Pac-12||RPI||SOS||Top 25||RPI 1-50||RPI 51-100|