By Dennis Berry
Last year the conference formally known as the Pac-10 was by no means a juggernaut. They did four teams reach the NCAA Tournament. USC, Washington, UCLA, and Arizona made the field. Arizona carried the conference flag all the way to the Elite Eight, before losing to eventual National Champion Connecticut.
This year will probably not go the same.
So far this year Pac 12 has been playing bad basketball all year. It is really hard to even pick a favorite to win the conference, as no team has stood out among the rest of the conference.
The Pac-12 has to be thankful that the non-conference part of the season is over. It could not have gotten much worse for the conference. Right now the Pac-12 is the worst ranked "Major" conference in the NCAA in terms of RPI ranking number 9 out 32 conferences. When conference play started, three teams (Arizona State, USC, & Utah) had losing records overall.
The team that got the most attention for its rough start was UCLA. Last year the Bruins were an NCAA Tournament team. They were ranked #17 in the AP Preseason Poll, #20 in the Coaches Poll. They were looked at as legit contenders for the new Pac-12 title.
That ranking did not last.
The Bruins opened the season with back to back loses to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee. They would lose to Kansas, Michigan, and Texas again before they would turn things. They had a five game winning streak coming into conference play, but lost to Stanford and California. They are currently sitting at 9-7.
UCLA might have gotten the most attention, but almost all the Pac-12 contenders have loses that jump out at you. Stanford lost at home to Butler team that was 5-7 coming into that game. Washington lost to South Dakota State at home. California's worst lost was on the road to Oregon State, who is 1-3 in conference play. Arizona worst loss right now is to UCLA on the road.
It's not the bad loses that hurt the Pac-12, it's fact that they cannot beat anybody that is as good or better than them. The conference is 0-18 against teams ranked in the Top 25. During the non-conference part of the season the Pac-12 only had one win against a team in the Top 50 RPI, which was Colorado over Colorado State.
Nobody in the conference was able to get a win to grab the nation's attention. Come time for the NCAA Tournament selections that is going to hurt teams on the bubble. The only chance a team will have to not sweat it out on Selection Sunday will be to win the Pac-12 Tournament.
Colorado is the only undefeated team in conference play, but it would be hard to consider them favorites to come out the conference. They are 3-0, but have played Utah, Washington, and Washington State. Those teams are ranked 9, 10, and 11 in the Pac-12. Their combined conference record is 3-8. We will find out more about Colorado as they play California, Stanford, and Arizona in the next four games.
Someone is going to rise out of the Pac-12 now that conference play has started. Right now the favorites would have to be between Arizona, California, or Stanford.