Pac-12’s Week 2 Cannibal Routine May Prove Costly

Posted by RJ Abeytia on January 11th, 2018

The Pac-12’s Cannibalization hit full swing this week as once again the road proved significantly difficult for even the best teams in the conference. The first week of Pac-12 play saw six of the 10 games finish with margins of 10 points or more. In the second week, only four of 10 games ended with such margins, and two of those included California, which is really only an approximation of a Pac-12 team on most nights this year. Arizona State and Arizona, the conference’s clear upper tier at this point, dropped from sixth and 19th in the RPI, respectively, to 14th and 24th. They weren’t the biggest losers this past week, however, as Utah, in getting swept by those two schools in Salt Lake City, went from 35th to 63rd. That’s going from fringe NCAA Tournament status to deep in the heart of NIT City.

One of the more problematic teams over the course of the Pac-12 season could be Stanford. The Cardinal enjoyed a miraculous home sweep of the Bruins and Trojans last weekend, and vaulted from 214th to 154th in the RPI as a result. The Bruins and Trojans correspondingly dropped from 40 and 44th to 46th and 56th, respectively, after their Maples heartbreaks. The Stanford problem is that with the Cardinal now playing with its healthiest possible roster (Kezie Okpala and Dorian Pickens have returned while Marcus Sheffield will take a medical redshirt), they are a much tougher team. But because their cumulative performance to date (8-8 overall, the aforementioned +200 RPI) has been so underwhelming, beating Stanford isn’t going to do much for teams’ resumes. Conversely, losses — even if they’re more understandable now — are still going to sting.

Without question, the weekend’s biggest winner was Colorado, which went from 109th in the RPI to 73rd after beating both the Sun Devils and the Wildcats. It’s too early to tell if this peak in Boulder is a sign of things to come or a blip on the radar, but the desert schools should certainly hope Colorado maintains its level of play so that their losses don’t look as bad to the committee. Joe Lunardi’s most recent bracketology lists only Arizona State (#3), Arizona (#5) and UCLA (#11) as in the NCAA Tournament. Utah and USC are among the “Next Four Out,” basically equivalent to #2 seeds in the NIT.

What’s the takeaway? A year after sending just four teams to March Madness, the Conference of Champions (Last Men’s Basketball Champion: 1997) is going to have to scratch and claw to get even that many in this year. And again, it’s not like the elite suddenly appear all that elite. A year after Oregon went to the Final Four and sent a team to the Elite Eight for a fourth straight year (a feat unmatched by any other conference), it’s difficult to envision a scenario where either the Sun Devils or Wildcats receive a high enough seed to make a deep run.

Arizona certainly has top-shelf talent and Arizona State is no fluke even after losing two of its last three games, but the idea that these two are the conference’s best threats to crash San Antonio seems dubious. The good news is that they don’t have to be ready right now. The desert schools should heal at home this weekend against the Oregon schools (KenPom projects a 4-0 sweep), but once again the Pac-12’s habit of eating itself alive during league play has returned like clockwork. The difference this year is that habit may be more crippling to the league’s postseason aspirations than in years past because so many teams have failed to build NCAA Tournament-worthy resumes.

Stay tuned…

Richard Abeytia (41 Posts)

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