I've spent my entire life trumpeting the under appreciated talent of Pac-10 athletics--especially basketball. I can't stand Digger Phelps, Dick Vitale and the rest of the East Coast cronies that go to bed before basketball gets played out west, and wake up the next day to talk it down anyway. However, even a Homer can't totally check reality at the door: this may be the weakest Pac-10 ever.
To be fair, no one thought the Pac-10 would have a great year, but no one thought it would be as weak as it is...
Two Pac-10 teams entered the season in the pre-season top 25: Cal (13) and Washington (14). By week two Cal had fallen out of the top 25 after getting run out of the 2K Sports Classic where they suffered an embarrassing loss to Syracuse (95-73) and dropped another to Ohio State (76-70). As this week began Washington was the only team in the Pac-10 still ranked in the top 25 at number 24, but fell way out after dropping consecutive 17 point losses to the Arizona schools. There was a chance that Washington State might replace Washington in the top 25 this week, but put that notion to rest after getting dropped by Arizona State 71-46.
So here we are in week nine and for the first time since 1987 not a single Pac-10 school is ranked in the top 25. In fact, both Cornell and Harvard got more votes in the AP top 25 than any team in the Pac-10. If that sounds bad, a closer look reveals that the Pac's top 25 absence is just the surface of Pac-10 futility.
Pac-10 teams have had alarmingly poor results against all levels of competition, the worst of which was Oregon State's 99-48 destruction at home to Seattle University (a sub 500 independent league team). To make matters worse, Oregon State had already lost at home to Sacramento State, at Nebraska, and at University Illinois-Chicago.
Oregon State is not the only team being embarrassed--even the perennial power UCLA is getting in on the action. UCLA opened the season with a 68-65 loss at home to Cal State Fullerton of the Big West. UCLA also managed to tick off five straight losses including a 74-47 beat down at the hands of Portland State and a 79-68 loss to Long Beach State University.
Oregon had to get in the mix as well. Not only has Oregon played their traditionally soft non-conference schedule, this year they mixed in some ugly losses: 88-81 loss to Portland; 13 point defeat to Montana; and received a 106-69 shellacking from Missouri.
Arizona was expected by no one to compete for the league title during their transition year and they have responded by getting blown out by Oklahoma (79-62) and San Diego State (63-46) and were handed their worst home loss in history by BYU (99-69)--a game in which Jimmer Fredette dropped 49 points on Arizona (a McKale Center Record).
Stanford has chipped in a loss to Oral Roberts at home, and opened the season with a with a loss to 7-9 University of San Diego team. USC has thrown in losses to Loyola Marymount and Nebraska. Outside of Pac-10 play Arizona State has only lost at Duke, at BYU and at home to a 12-1 Baylor team, but they managed to put up just 37 points against USC.
The two teams that were picked to lead the Pac this year (Cal and Washington) have won the non-conference games they were supposed to, but have dropped every game where they faced real competition. In addition to Syracuse and Ohio State, Cal was blown out by Kansas and lost to New Mexico. Moreover, they lost to a surprisingly bad UCLA team at home. Washington only lost to Gonzaga and a 13-1 Kansas State team, but their wins include Eastern Washington, Alaska Anchorage, Nicholls State, Idaho, San Diego and Air Force. Plus they laid egg in the desert last weekend.
So the Pac-10 is anyone's guess. The two teams considered the best (Cal and Washington) are currently first and last in the Pac-10 standings and almost every team has followed a puzzling loss with a win, or followed a puzzling win with an expected loss. At this rate there will be 10 Pac-10 teams at 9 and 9; probably just one team dancing and two at best*; and no one should be surprised if a sub-500 hundred team sneaks into the winner's circle at the Pac-10 Tournament.
My guess is Cal takes the Pac-10 regular season crown and has an outside shot to lock in an at large berth in the NCAA Tournament. As for the Pac-10 tournament the only team I would bet against winning it is USC, because they won't be participating in it at all.
*A Power 6 conference has never gotten just one team into the NCAA tournament since it expanded.