The Pac-12 Season: It’s Been A Wild Ride So FarPosted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 25th, 2014
Well, at long last, after an up-and-down season, we can probably pretty safely say: The Pac is Back! Fully buying into the fact that NCAA Tournament performance alone does not equate to the quality of a conference, it is still fun to have three teams dancing in the second week of the tourney. The last time our fair conference had as many teams in the Sweet Sixteen was back in 2008, when it was still just the Pac-10 and also the last time a conference team made the Final Four (UCLA). Between 2009 and 2012, a total of just three teams made the Sweet Sixteen over that four-year span. Things finally ticked up last year with Oregon and Arizona representing us well, and now, we’re back to the promised land. So, how did we get here? Let’s take a quick look back and see.
First, I want to admit that I’ve jumped on and off this bandwagon several times this season. Back in the preseason I made the call of seven Pac-12 teams getting invited to the NCAA Tournament and Stanford advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. The former prediction just missed, but the latter actually came true. Still, no use in me taking credit (or blame, for that matter) for either, because god knows I’ve tried to walk both of those back time and again. In early February, I was sitting through a UCLA blowout of Colorado in Pauley Pavilion and began a post (that I never got around to finishing) writing off the concept of seven Pac-12 NCAA Tournament teams entirely, and making the argument that the conference was closer to winding up with just three teams in the field. So there’s that.
As for Stanford, goodness. I fell off that bandwagon back around the BYU loss in November, and every time I got a hankering to jump back on, that thing sped off in the wrong direction so fast I was glad to reconsider. But really, just about every conference team was worthy of mistrust at one point or another. I was more than willing to look past Oregon’s 1-5 start to conference play, but three more increasingly close losses convinced me that even if they started playing well again, they wouldn’t be able to reel off enough wins to get back into at-large consideration. Every time UCLA would get a good thing going, they’d go off and do something weird like blow a late lead at Oregon State or have its two best players suspended for a game… until the final day of the regular season where they were so inexplicably bad at Washington State that I had to swear off that team for good, just in advance of playing their best basketball of the season. California? Dang, after starting the conference season 5-0, I was convinced that team was the second-best squad in the conference. And then the Bears went and lost to USC. Colorado? Never the same after the Spencer Dinwiddie injury. Arizona State? Jahii Carson’s poor play made that team hard to trust. Only Arizona earned and never relinquished its status as a team beyond reproach.
So, yeah, it’s been a wild ride thus far, and thankfully there’s still plenty of track left. The best news is that even if this ride ends without a Pac-12 team cutting down the final nets in North Texas, the future looks very bright for this conference. Barring any big surprises, there will be stability in the head coaching jobs at 11 of the 12 institutions; there are big recruiting classes coming in next season; the television money is flowing; and Pac-12 basketball is finally cool again. Now, if only the rest of the country could actually see it.