Marching to Vegas: In Defense of the Pac

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on January 14th, 2016

The Pac-12 is exactly what we want it to be, at least in a season like this. In a conference whose most tenured coach has a 0.456 winning percentage over his last four seasons and the second most tenured is Johnny Dawkins, we’ve got what we want. The Pac isn’t producing basketball we’ll soon tell our grandchildren about or write new defensive schematics to contain something transcendent. Only Bill Walton could contextualize the Pac-12 as historically brilliant right now. He’s wrong. He knows he’s wrong but he’ll say it anyway because he’s Bill Walton and he’s forgotten more basketball than we’ll ever know. What if he’s right, though (he’s not)?

Don't Worry Pac-12, We've Got Your Back.

Don’t Worry Pac-12, We’ve Got Your Back.

Because right now the Pac-12 is competitive. We can quantify that, for starters. Noting that 45 percent of its games – according to KenPom – have been close; that there hasn’t been a “blowout” of 19-points or more through 29 conference games. Remember 2012, when we lamented what a poor Pac-12 we had? Just 19 percent of those games were close and 18 percent were blowouts. That’s nearly 40 percent of conference basketball with seemingly no balance. Think about that. In easily the worst Pac play we’ve ever seen, the games weren’t even close. Competition breeds success. The Pac-12 in 2016 isn’t the greatest basketball we’ve ever seen. In 2009 it collectively led the nation in efficiency. This year it’s 15th. But when I sit down to watch Pac-12 basketball, I’m watching an entertaining product. We’re watching a game worth celebrating and not lamenting because there aren’t necessarily rosters littered with disciplined executioners (2015 Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Arizona, Virginia) or uber-talented transcendents (2015 Kentucky, Duke). This isn’t last season. If you want that, here’s a link to CSN Bay Area and all of the Warriors highlights you can handle. And yes, it is unfair to compare anything to those Warriors. It’s also unfair to compare any of these 2016 teams against what was a historically fantastic 2015.

That’s the beauty and nuance of college basketball – and I know nuance, I grew up a baseball guy. Every college hoops season is a remarkably new endeavor. Think about November and how many preview sections of “BIGGEST QUESTION MARK” you read? Every team was chalk full of them. Can X do Y? Is Z going to make the sophomore leap? Can A, B, and C learn to play together? The team with the most “experience” (it’s Arizona State, by the way)? The Sun Devils are 0-3 (although most people felt that way about them albeit incorrectly IMHO). We’re watching competition, not crap. The Pac-12 is exactly what we want it to be because, while Cal struggles, while they’re not ELITE or particularly EXPLOSIVE, Jaylen Brown is doing this. And Bryce Alford is doing this. Andrew Andrews can be unstoppable, and Jakob Poeltl is the conference’s best big man since Kevin Love. Oh, Gary Payton II. GP2. The Mitten. Start watching Julian Jacobs now so you can tell your friends in Manhattan about him later.

Hello Rest Of The Country, Meet Mr. Jacobs (Kelvin Kuo, USA Today)

Hello Rest Of The Country, Meet Mr. Jacobs. (Kelvin Kuo, USA Today)

They changed the rules on us, too. Left a bunch of brand new rosters to learn a new basketball game. It was meant to be opened up, allowed to be played more freely. It’s opened up. It’s played more freely. The Pac-12 is currently at a seven-year high in scoring efficiency; they’re taking a 13-year low percentage of three-pointers; turning the ball over at a lower rate than any time that I can calculate back to; and the rate at which they’re taking free throws? Those momentum shattering, time-crushing, scream-at-the-stripes stoppages? The conference took more of those in 2014. Tempo, as well, hasn’t been this upbeat since 2003 (thanks, Washington!).

We can concede, to those naysayers, that the conference ranks 25th among the conferences in eFG%. Perhaps shots aren’t falling at the greatest clips. A hat tip to the haters. But the product is there. The investments in Andy Enfield and Cuonzo Martin appear to paying dividends early in their tenures. Dana Altman’s just a helluva coach. Tad Boyle has seemingly weathered a storm in Boulder while Sean Miller has weathered the loss of three players to the NBA, another to the D-league, one to an ACL, and now another to a broken hand. Was Bobby Hurley a fantastic hire or a great one (OK, ok, time will tell)? We see you Larry Krystkowiak and we’re impressed with your son, Wayne Tinkle. And yours, Coach Thompson. You, Coach Kent, have at least piqued our interest. It is my hope that you’re reading this and appreciate – along with me – that competition is the most pure form of drama. Some of our greatest Pac-12 theater has been unfolding before us. And the best is yet to come.

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