The Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament could take on the look of the Big South, Horizon or Metro Atlantic Athletic postseason tournaments.
Every Pac-12 team may feel that it needs to win the conference tournament at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on March 16 to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The conference has had at least three teams reach the tournament in each of the past six years, but is in jeopardy of becoming a one-bid league as conference play begins on Thursday.
There are no Pac-12 teams in the Top 25 and none rank among the top 40 of the NCAA’s new Net rankings. Arizona State is the only school that would currently get much consideration for an at-large bid.
“When you look at the landscape.of college basketball right now, the strength of our conference is determined by what takes place in the preseason and our conference up to this point has not made enough noise,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “We are fighting an uphill battle and there are not many opportunities left. We are about to start league play where we beat each other up.”
Arizona State defeated top-ranked Kansas and lost at home the following week to Princeton. Oregon beat Syracuse in New York and returned home to lose against Texas Southern.
Sixth-ranked Nevada has wins over USC, Arizona State, and Utah to give the Mountain West Conference one of the top two teams on the West Coast along with Gonzaga from the West Coast Conference.
UCLA coach Steve Alford lost his job after home losses to Belmont and Liberty. Colorado started 8-1 before losing to Hawaii and Indiana State at the Diamond Head Classic.
“We need to root for each other in November and December and then beat each other up in January and February,” CU coach Tad Boyle said. “You want the league to do as well as it can because then if you have a couple tough losses in league, it doesn’t hurt you. That is not the situation we are in now. Going into the season I felt like we didn’t have any great teams, but we had some talented teams on paper and some young teams that are going to get better as the year goes on and I think that will be the case.”
Colorado and Arizona State have the best overall records at 9-3. Only California at 5-7 is below .500, but five other schools have five or six losses.
Pac-12 schools have a combined record of 94-58, including a 39-36 mark in December that ranks as the worst record in that month by any power conference in the past two decades, according to ESPN.
“We can’t all be crying in our beverage because we do not have enough quality wins,” Krystkowiak said. “We all wipe the slate clean to start conference and we will have rejuvenated teams getting after it. … This is certainly not the time to abandon ship.”
Oregon was the conference favorite in a preseason media poll followed by UCLA, Washington, and Arizona. If a vote were taken today, Arizona State would likely be picked first, but just about every school other than California and Washington State could state its case to claim a championship.
“(The Pac-12) had a couple good wins, but not as many as in the past,” Boyle said. “That puts more pressure on teams in conference play. Every team in the conference is looking at this as a wide-open race. It comes down to who can play the best on a consistent basis and as in any year, who can win on the road.”
Arizona State sports the top nonconference resume for the second year in a row, but last year the Sun Devils followed up a 13-0 start with an 8-10 conference record that barely got them into the NCAA Tournament.
The Sun Devils graduated their top three scorers from last year, but added freshman Luguentz Dort along with transfers Zylan Cheatham and Rob Edwards. All three of those newcomers have earned a conference player of the week honor this year along with sophomore guard Remy Martin.
“We talked a lot in July and during the fall about the importance of playing better in conference,” ASU coach Bobby Hurley said. “That has been a point of emphasis. From a pure basketball standpoint, we have mobility and versatility on our roster and we are a much improved defensive team over last year and one of the better rebounding teams in the country. So even when we may not have our best stuff on offense, this team is built to find other ways to be competitive and we have shown that on numerous occasions this year.”