Right now, the Pac-12 is not a very good basketball conference.
No one will argue that fact, and I think it’s fair to say that the only reason there isn’t a discussion about the Pac-12 being the third best conference on the West Coast is because St. Mary’s and BYU haven’t been quite as good as they were expected to be.
So on the surface, I think the point that Percy Allen, the Washington beat writer for the Seattle Times, argues in this piece is generally on target. The league isn’t all that good, they haven’t notched a ton of marquee non-conference victories and they’ll have the chance to do so in the coming weeks.
But once Allen gets into specifics is where his argument gets thrown off course. Specifically, this:
The Pac-12 had just two teams (No. 11 seed Colorado and No. 12 seed California) in the 2012 NCAA tourney and the league will struggle to do better next year unless it can win some big games this month.
The reason that the Pac-12 needed Colorado to make a spirited run to the league’s automatic bid last season just to get an at-large bid to the tournament was because they basically did nothing, as a league, of significance in non-conference play. Stanford beat Colorado State and NC State. Oregon State beat Texas. Cal, Washington, Arizona and Oregon — the four teams that were listed on bubble watches — had as many good non-conference wins as I did last year. As a result, the Pac-12 had a miserable RPI — something on par with Conference USA in a down year for Memphis — which essentially cost them any chance of having more than one team put together a strong enough profile to earn an at-large bid.
This season is different.
For starters, the Pac-12 is currently ranked as the second best league in the RPI, and while it’s early and that could end up being way to high at the end of the season, it’s deserved thus far in the year. Why? Because the league has wins against UNLV, Murray State, Baylor, Colorado State, Northern Iowa, St. Louis, Arkansas, Boise State, Purdue and Georgia Tech. All 10 of those teams have a shot at making the Big Dance this year, which means that even without another notable non-conference win, the Pac-12 is already in much better position than they were last year.
And that’s before you consider the fact that there haven’t been as many horrifying non-conference losses, although no one is ready to call Cal Poly or Sacramento State a ‘good’ loss.
The top of the league is probably worse than we expected, especially UCLA, but as a whole, the Pac-12 is deeper and more balanced this season than it was last year. There are more middle-of-the-pack teams with a chance to make some noise in March and the bottom of the league is no longer a joke.
This league will not be stuck with just two bids again this year.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.