The Inane Ramblings of a Pac-12 Homer…Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 25th, 2013
So, the other night, I’m sitting around, minding my own business, doing a podcast with Shane and Randy talking about the Pac-12. When out of the blue, I get accused by an attacker who shall remain nameless of being a Pac-12 homer, just because I picked seven conference teams to get invited to the NCAA Tournament next March. And yeah, maybe taking a flyer on Stanford as a Sweet Sixteen team might have been a part of the equation. But, being an upstanding southern (Californian) gentleman, I say this injustice shall not stand! So, I’m taking to the RTC Pac-12 microsite to air my grievances. Because, really, if anything, I’m a Mountain West homer.
So, let’s get right to the point. I’m entering my fifth season as an RTC Pac-12 correspondent and I’d like to establish my credentials. In 2009-10, I was right there making fun of the inept conference and coming up with scenarios until the last moment where the conference would only earn one bid to the NCAA Tournament. In 2010-11, as Arizona was following Derrick Williams’ lead on the way to the Elite Eight, I was one of the last holdouts, doubting the Wildcats’ supporting cast every step of the way, nevermind the fact that I was dead wrong. I also had the then-Pac-10 correctly pegged as getting just three NCAA Tournament invites, right up until the point where the Selection Committee screwed up and somehow determined USC was worthy of an at-large as well. In 2011-12, I was telling you all that there would be no redeeming qualities about the Pac-12 Tournament. Heck, I was the guy who was regularly driving several hours into the desert to watch the Mountain West Tournament instead of driving 20 minutes to the Staples Center and getting to sleep in my own bed while being forced to watch the Pac-12 version. Does any of this sound like the hallmarks of a Pac-12 homer? God, no. I hated the Pac-12 at its nadir as much as the next guy. Maybe more so.
But last year? Yeah, last year I’ll admit that I started to remember the good times that the conference and I have had, the walks in the park, staring into each other’s eyes on a cold winter night, even the endearingly heartbreaking first-round flameouts. UCLA last year may not have reminded anyone of the Love/Westbrook/Collison teams, but contrary to popular opinion, that team was pretty fun to watch (even if they were a chemistry nightmare). Jahii Carson and Arizona State may not have been deep enough to make the NCAA Tournament like the James Harden/Jeff Pendergraph teams of old, but that team was an absolute ball to view from an hour before the game (watching Carson in warm-ups may be the single most underrated experience in present-day college hoops) until the final buzzer. Stanford seriously underachieved, but Dwight Powell turned into a very good player. Oregon may have slumped a bit following the Dominic Artis injury, but that team got after it defensively as much as any Pac-12 team in a half-decade. Arizona shook off the failed recruiting class of 2011 to prove that Sean Miller’s program is in it for the long haul. And the Pac-12 Tournament in Vegas? An unabashed success. So yeah, I’ll admit I’m bullish about the future of this conference on the basketball side, both short-term and long-term. But I think my credentials speak for themselves that I’m a pretty fair judge of this conference. I’m not going to be blowing sunshine when it is uncalled for.
But to the point at hand, the main reason my character was so viciously attacked was because I had the temerity to suggest that Arizona, UCLA, Colorado, Oregon, California, Stanford, and Arizona State would earn NCAA Tournament invites. So, let’s break this down a bit. Arizona is generally regarded as a top 10 team nationally, so we’ll focus on the next six.
- UCLA’s chemistry will be light years better than last year and their talent level may be pretty similar. Even with a drop-off, they’ve got plenty of room for error to still make the Tournament.
- Colorado has to replace all-conference forward Andre Roberson, but everyone else of consequence returns, Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson should be significantly improved in their sophomore campaigns and there is a talented freshman class (including a pair of redshirt freshman forwards) ready to contribute.
- Oregon’s head coach Dana Altman just ain’t in the habit of getting his team to underachieve, so with returnees like Artis and Damyean Dotson bolstered by newcomers like Mike Moser and other high-profile newcomers, they’ve got to be a favorite to go dancing.
- California’s Mike Montgomery is Dana Altman, with an even longer resume. With four returning starters and freshman Jabari Bird ready to fill the fifth spot with aplomb, pencil them in as well.
- Stanford is where things start to get a little sketchy, just because Johnny Dawkins’ team failed to live up to its potential last season. But personally I’m ready to excuse Chasson Randle’s and Aaron Bright’s poor seasons as coincidental aberrations and fully expect that duo, along with Powell, Josh Huestis, Anthony Brown and a deep and talented cast of characters to correct that this season on the way to a good night’s sleep on Selection Sunday-eve.
- Arizona State is the one team where I see myself as taking a leap of faith, and I blame that mostly on Carson. I fully expect Carson to improve upon last year’s excellent freshman season, but that alone doesn’t mean the Sun Devils will be improved. Versatile forward Carrick Felix needs to be replaced, and while there are some good candidates, improving upon his contributions will be quite a task. Still, there is little doubt that this is a deeper team than last year and, frankly, I’m willing to bet on Carson scratching and clawing his team to the NCAA Tournament.
So there it is: a completely wide-eyed and realistic assessment of the seven Pac-12 teams that can earn Selection Sunday love. With the Big Ten likely to see its seven NCAA Tournament invites drop, with the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West almost certain to fall well short of the five teams each league saw earn invites last season, with the ACC not looking like a conference all that ready to send any more than five (maybe six at the far end of reality) teams dancing, with the Big East and American likely to send less than the total eight that the big Big East sent dancing last year, there are going to be spots left for other conferences to improve upon. I’m just saying the Pac-12 is one of those conferences that can take advantage of the numbers this season. It doesn’t mean I see Arizona up there with the best of the best, it doesn’t mean I see UCLA, Colorado, or Oregon as teams that will wind up in the conversation for top 10 status. It doesn’t even mean I see Arizona State as any better than a bubble team when it comes right down to it. It just means that when all is said and done, I think there will be six Pac-12 conference teams among the best 36 at-large candidates come Selection Sunday.
Now, I’ll sit here quietly until I get an apology. Oh, and I’m sticking with my Stanford to the Sweet Sixteen nonsense.