It seems like we say it every year around Christmas time, but it may actually be true this season: the Pac-12 might struggle to get an at-large bid.
Chew on these stats, if you please. The league is currently ninth in the RPI, sitting behind the Mountain West, Atlantic 10 and Missouri Valley. They don’t have a single win against a top 25 program and are just 2-16 vs. the RPI top 50 and 12-33 against the top 100. Their best win on the season is against Texas, NC State, Denver or Colorado State.
Their bad losses are too many to mention, but I’ll do it anyway: Loyola Marymount, Middle Tennessee State, Cal Poly, Northern Arizona, Georgia, Pepperdine, Fairfield, DePaul, Idaho, UC Riverside, South Dakota State and, well, everyone that Utah has played.
Does that sound like a high-major league to you?
Hell, does that sound like a league that deserves more than one-bid to the NCAA Tournament?
Let’s break it down:
Arizona: The Wildcats have the highest RPI in the conference, but they are 37th nationally. The Wildcats should be credited for playing a tough schedule early in the season, but they’ve missed on all of their chances for a marquee win, capped by their blowout loss to Gonzaga in Seattle. The Wildcats don’t have a terrible profile (they beat St. John’s at St. John’s before Nurideen Lindsay transferred and won at New Mexico State), but they aren’t the team we expected this season. The young talent is younger than they are talented and Josiah Turner still hasn’t figured out how to be more than a distraction.
Cal: The Bears are currently 9-2, but their best win on the year came against either a) Georgia or b) Denver, neither of which is all that appealing. They’re 196th in the country in SOS and they lost by 39 points to Missouri on a neutral floor. To make matters worse, Cal will only play Washington and Arizona once apiece this season, limiting the number of quality opponents they play in the league. Oh, and their starting power forward, who was suspended earlier this season, has a stress fracture.
Oregon: The Ducks were a sleeper heading into the season. But with big losses to Vanderbilt, BYU and Virginia and the defections of Jabari Brown and Bruce Barron, that possibility is looking slimmer and slimmer. The addition of Devoe Joseph should help, but Oregon is not the team we all thought they were going to be.
Oregon State: Prior to a 14 point home loss to Idaho, Oregon State was as impressive as any team in teh league. They’ve been plowing through mediocre competition, they have a come-from-behind win over Texas and they came within a possession or knocking off Vanderbilt. For a while, the Beavers looked like a team that actually wanted to make the NCAA Tournament. Then they had to go and lose to Idaho and make me question everything I thought about this team. The Beavers will have to earn their bid in league play. They get Washington and Cal twice and Arizona on the road.
Stanford: Believe it or not, Stanford has been the most impressive team in the Pac-12, and its not even close. They are 9-1 on the year with wins over NC State, Oklahoma State and Colorado State and have the second-highest RPI in the conference (one higher than Baylor). Their only loss on the year came to Syracuse in MSG (as close as it gets to being a home game) by four when the Cardinal handed over a game they had been leading for 36 minutes. The only issue Stanford could end up facing is that they only get one games against Washington and Arizona in the unbalanced schedule.
UCLA: Its amazing what one player can do to a team’s chemistry, isn’t it? Without Reeves Nelson, can UCLA turn their season around?
Washington: If anyone knows what’s going on with the Huskies, feel free to share it with me. They struggled through the first month of the season, providing the exclamation point with a 19 point home loss to South Dakota State. They don’t have a notable win to speak of and will only get one chance against Cal. They are 86th in the country in RPI, and given how weak the Pac-12 is, its tough to imagine that number going up too much. If there is anything that I am sure of, its that Washington will meander through the rest of the season before making a run to the Pac-12 tournament title game.
Washington and Arizona played tough enough schedules in non-conference play that they are still in play to get an at-large bid. Cal is probably good enough to deserve a bid. Stanford and Oregon State look like they deserve to go dancing.
The problem is going to be that, thanks to the struggles this league has had in non-conference play, there are simply not going to be enough good wins to come by in Pac-12 play. How much is a team like Oregon really going to be able to boost their profile playing as many games against Utah, Washington State and Arizona State and they do against Cal, Washington and Arizona?
Personally, I think that someone is going to figure it out. Maybe its Arizona, maybe its Washington, maybe its Cal, maybe its all three. But someone is going to put it together enough in this league to play their way into an at-large bid. There is too much talent in the league for that not too happen.
But the way it looks right now, there is a real chance the Pac-12 could be a one-bid league come Selection Sunday.
If there is a silver-lining to this, its that the Pac-12 is a toss-up.
Not having a favorite in a conference means that the league’s race will be exciting and unpredictable. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.