A 12-pack of thoughts on America’s wackiest basketball conference as March appears on the horizon ...
1. Forget the Final Four — the Oregon women can win the whole thing.
The Ducks don’t want to get ahead of themselves, but I’ll do it for them. After Sunday’s 88-48 demolition of Stanford, Oregon absolutely belongs in the conversation as one of the teams that can cut down the nets in Tampa on April 7.
The third-ranked Ducks should steal a few first-place votes from No. 1 Baylor, which lost to Stanford earlier this season. If they’re still undefeated after two games against Oregon State, it’ll be time to ask whether they can become the first team to go 18-0 in Pac-12 play since the Cardinal did it in 2012.
2. This is it for Sean Miller, right?
It was one thing for Arizona to stand by Miller when his team was winning Pac-12 championships. But when the Wildcats lose at home to Washington State — on the same week that they fired another assistant for alleged NCAA violations — it’s hard to imagine Miller surviving the fallout.
Miller has managed to withstand Arizona’s myriad scandals so far, but at some point the Wildcats will get tired of “Outside the Lines” camping out in Tucson. The biggest question is whether they wait for an NCAA investigation to run its course or decide Arizona’s worst season since 2010 is reason enough to make a move.
3. The baseline for bad years in the Pac-12 is 2012, when the league sent two teams to the NCAA Tournament: Colorado as a No. 11 seed and Cal as a No. 12.
There’s a legitimate chance this year’s Pac-12 could be a one-bid league if Washington wins the conference tournament. Arizona State has the best case to make it as an at-large, but the Sun Devils didn’t help their cause by losing at home to the Cougars.
According to stats guru Ken Pomeroy, this year’s Pac-12 is slightly weaker than the 2012 version. The league’s median KenPom ranking in 2012 was 70; this year it’s 92.
4. How bad is Cal? The KenPom efficiency ratings have the Bears neck-and-neck with the 2017 Beavers as the worst team of the Pac-12 era. If the Bears finish winless in league play, they would become the first team to do so since Oregon State in 2008.
5. The Pac-12 has a great chance to put seven teams in the women’s NCAA Tournament. Included in the latest ESPN projections are No. 1 seed Oregon, No. 2 Stanford, No. 3 Oregon State, No. 5 Arizona State, Cal and Utah as 6-seeds and UCLA as a 9-seed.
6. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Oregon men should be better next year.
The Ducks’ strength right now is their defense, which limited Stanford to 27 percent shooting in Sunday’s 69-46 victory. They could be an elite defensive team next season with so much of their frontcourt returning and transfer Chris Duarte — the top-rated junior college recruit in the nation according to 247Sports — filling a void on the perimeter.
7. Washington’s Jaylen Nowell has emerged as the frontrunner for Pac-12 player of the year, but don’t overlook Oregon State’s Tres Tinkle.
Among Pac-12 players, Tinkle ranks in the top 10 in four major categories: scoring (second), rebounding (sixth), assists (ninth) and steals (second).
8. This will be the first year that the Pac-12 has both its men’s and women’s tournaments in Las Vegas. It’s a shame the schedules don’t overlap, because the draw of watching both tournaments would be attractive for a lot of Duck and Beaver fans.
9. If you’re Washington State, what do you do with Ernie Kent? Just when it seemed like the Cougars had no choice but to move on, Kent pulled off upsets at both Arizona and Arizona State. Those victories could give the Cougars a reason to stick with Kent if they’re wary of paying his $3.9 million buyout.
10. Dana Altman’s name was mentioned when Nebraska hired Tim Miles in 2012. With Miles on the hot seat, Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports had this to say in a recent column: “Will new athletic director Bill Moos hit reset? It appears likely at this point, which will put the speculation around Oregon’s Dana Altman heading back to Nebraska.”
11. After blowing a 17-point lead to Utah in the final 6:19 on Saturday, UCLA has lost a game in which the Bruins had a 99.7-percent win probability and won a game — that nine-point comeback in the final minute against Oregon — in which they had a 0.2-percent win probability.
12. Are you rooting for a chaos scenario in the Pac-12 men’s tournament? Here’s the best one I could come up with: If things break right, Colorado, Utah, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona, UCLA and USC could end up in an eight-way tie for third place at 9-9.
Good luck to conference office breaking that tie.