Well, ESPN’s latest Bracketology was published Monday and as we enter the home stretch of the conference season, the Pac-12 is only projected to nab two berths to the NCAA tournament. No. 2 Stanford, which won the inaugural regular-season conference title with a win against Oregon last week, is expected to get the automatic bid by winning the conference tournament next month. California (20-7, 11-4 Pac-12) is tagged to get an at-large bid, seeded eighth and playing Michigan in the opening round.
According to Charlie Creme, longtime author of the bracket, Southern California (14-11, 8-6) and Arizona State (18-8, 9-6) were among the first schools out of consideration for at-large bids. And if his projection holds, it’ll be the third consecutive season the conference has had just two representatives in the NCAA tourney. (Official Pac-12 books have updated stats to include newcomers Utah and Colorado to past tourney berths, Utah advancing last season for the Mountain West Conference).
I’d like to argue the case. Especially since Kansas State (17-9, 8-6 Big 12) is among the field of 64, giving the Big 12 seven teams. According to Creme, the Big East would get eight along with the SEC. The Big Ten is projected to have seven schools, including No. 22 Purdue (19-8, 9-5) at a No. 6 seed. The Boilermakers have lost five of their past six games — hardly a team that screams tournament-ready.
But USC and ASU aren’t exactly enticing, either, despite my liking their brand of basketball more than KSU or even Oklahoma. Both Pac-12 schools knew they needed a signature win to cover some ugly losses and since it didn’t happen in the nonconference season, the only in-conference possibility was Cal or Stanford. Although USC was able to beat Cal on the road, it was in overtime and didn’t erase a 67-61 home loss to Washington. For ASU, its 50-46 loss at Utah on Feb. 9 stung along with the inability to pull out a home win against the Bears.
USC hosts ASU on Saturday in a pivotal game to attract votes for an at-large NCAA tournament bid. It appears both schools would have to win their remaining games — including that big weekend matchup — in order to get some edge. The Trojans still have the tougher schedule, but for now Creme seems dead-on — the Pac-12 is two schools and everyone else.
Ranking (Last Week) Team (Record): Comment
1. (1) Stanford (24-1, 15-0): Has longest, active home win streak (76) after UConn upset.
2. (2) California (20-7, 11-4): Rebounded to sweep Oregon schools after loss to USC.
3. (3) ASU (18-8, 9-6): Hard to believe 20 wins and BCS conference not ticket to dance.
4. (4) USC (14-11, 8-6): Needs to win matchup v ASU to keep tournament hopes alive.
5. (5) OSU (17-9, 8-7): No Linsanity mojo last week, how will Beavers respond v rival?
6. (10) Oregon (14-13, 6-9): Hosts Oregon State in rivalry matchup on Saturday.
7. (11) Utah (13-12, 6-8): Look who’s riding a 3-game win streak. Cal ends it, though.
8. (6) UCLA (12-13, 7-7): Needs to snap a 3-game losing streak, hosts Arizona schools.
9. (8) Washington (14-11, 6-9): Don’t be surprised if finish on 4-game win streak.
10. (7) Colorado (16-9, 5-9): Lost 5 of past 6 games and host Bay Area schools. Oh joy.
11. (9) WSU (10-17, 4-11): Injuries to key players have decimated once hopeful season.
12. (12) Arizona (14-13, 3-12): Who knew an offense could go so cold in the desert?