While some may view this as a down year for Pac-12 basketball, those within the conference see it as an opportunity.
While the pundits kick dirt on Pac-12 basketball and prognosticate a postseason demise of historic proportions, Mike Hopkins’ resolve is unshakeable.
After a little hemming and hawing, the Washington men’s basketball coach begrudgingly admitted the league woefully underperformed during the nonconference season.
“Could we have done a little better as a league? Yeah, of course,” he said before Saturday’s Pac-12 opener against Washington State. “Before you’re pulling for everybody in your league and now, you’re a little more selfish and zoning in on your team.
“It’s cliché, but we can only control what we can control. … What’s done is done. Nonconference is over. There’s no such thing as an ugly win anymore. Forget it. You just want to get as many (wins) as you can and move on.”
And yet, no one is going to let Hopkins and his Pac-12 cohorts forget a string of putrid performances during the first two months that may prove costly in March.
The league finished a collective 92-58 in nonconference games against Division I opponents, which was the poorest showing for a power conference and sparked dire predictions.
Several college basketball observers made the case for the Pac-12 sending just one representative to the 68-team NCAA tournament, which would be the fewest ever for a major conference since 1985.
The Pac-12 is the only power conference to have just two teams earn bids, which happened five times (2012, 2010, 1988, 1987 and 1986).
“The league now needs four teams to completely separate from the pack in order to give itself a halfway decent chance at three bids,” writes Matt Norlander at CBSsports.com. “Arizona State, Oregon, , Washington and Arizona practically need to go undefeated against the rest of the conference (will not happen) and take swipes only at each other to best serve the Pac-12 come Selection Sunday.
“The team with the best regular season needs to not be the team that wins the conference tournament.”
While some may view this as a down year for the Pac-12, those within the league see it as an opportunity.
“The league is wide open this year,” Hopkins said.
Here’s a quick synopsis of each Pac-12 team.
1. Washington (9-4): The veteran-laden Huskies, who were tabbed third in the Pac-12 preseason media poll, are a trendy pick to win the conference because of their experience and a stingy defense that allows 66.5 points per game. But UW will need to score more than a league-low 71.2 points per game, especially away from home where it is 2-4.
2. Arizona (10-4, 1-0): This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Wildcats, but they’re the first Pac-12 team with 10 wins. Arizona may not have a Pac-12 MVP or a top NBA draft prospect, but it has four players averaging double-digit scoring including sophomore guard Brandon Randolph (16.2 ppg.).
3. UCLA (7-6, 1-0): After a 7-2 start, a four-game losing streak cost coach Steve Alford his job. Hammered Stanford for 92-70 win on Thursday, which suggests the Bruins have more than enough talent to win the conference.
4. Oregon (9-4): The Ducks are 3-1 without star freshman center Bol Bol, who is out for the season due to a foot injury. Not sure Oregon, the Pac-12 preseason favorite, has enough firepower considering forward Kenny Wooten (jaw) is out until February and it has just eight scholarship players for at least the next three weeks.
5. Utah (7-6, 1-0): The Utes went 1-2 at the Wooden Legacy last month, including losses to Hawaii and Northwestern. But their 96-86 win at Arizona State in Thursday’s Pac-12 opener proves how unpredictable the conference is this season.
6. Arizona State (9-3, 0-1): The Sun Devils had the best nonconference performance than anybody in the Pac-12, highlighted by an upset over then-No. 1 Kansas. But ASU can’t go 8-10 in league play like it did last year and expect to earn a second straight NCAA at-large berth.
7. USC (7-6, 1-0): A thigh bruise could keep former Rainier Beach High star Kevin Porter Jr. out for a few more games. His absence coupled with the loss of Charles O’Bannon Jr. (finger) and Jordan Usher, who is transferring, puts a lot of stress on big men Nick Rakocevic or Benny Boatwright.
8. Oregon State (8-4): Aside from a 66-63 home loss to Kent State, the Beavers have positioned themselves to make a run at a postseason berth. However, the Beavers stumble into Pac-12 play with a 2-3 in their past five games.
9. Colorado (9-4, 0-1): The Buffaloes will be difficult to beat at Coors Events Center where they are 6-0 this season. CU started 8-1 before dropping three of the past four games, including a 64-56 loss at Arizona on Thursday.
10. Stanford (7-6, 0-1): Still reeling from the loss of all-conference forward Reid Travis, who transferred to Kentucky.
11. Washington State (7-6): The Cougars haven’t finished higher than eighth in the Pac-12 during the previous four years with coach Ernie Kent. WSU boasts the league’s highest-scoring offense (82.2 points per game), but has ranked 12th, 10th, 11th and 12th in points allowed in the past four seasons.
12. California (5-8, 0-1): Without a senior on the roster and just one junior in transfer point guard Paris Austin, the Golden Bears are too young to compete in the Pac-12.