Pac-12, why you gotta be like this?
The conference, yet again, is having a bad NCAA Tournament. This is practically occurring on an annual basis. Almost every year this league sends a few solid reps into the NCAAs only to see its teams fail to meet expectations — forget exceeding them.
In this way, the Pac-12 is similar to the Big 12, only the Big 12 rates much better over the course of a season than the Pac-12.
The latest Pac-12 program to fall saw its demise on Saturday night in Denver when three-seed Utah got downed by No. 11 Gonzaga. And I mean downed. The game wasn’t even competitive. Gonzaga, an 11 seed that quite easily would have not even made the field if it didn’t win the West Coast Conference, pasted the Utes. It was a great showing from Mark Few’s team. That guy has had some groups over the years with Sweet 16 potential that did not get there, so the scales are tipping in his favor here after an up-and-down season.
But still … 82-59? That was the final score. Utah was a good team this year! And it looked like a 15 seed up against Gonzaga.
The Pac-12 is now 2-6 in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. That’s bad, and that’s a shame. The Pac-12 got seven teams into the bracket, but now it’s shaping up to finish below .500 in tournament play barring a surprise.
The only team standing is Oregon, a No. 1 seed, and it still has a game to go before we can say it’s playing in the Sweet 16. If it can beat Saint Joe’s, that is.
But the takeaway here isn’t that the Pac-12 was overrated in 2016. It’s that seeds and team draws matter. Many will roast the conference, and that’s a little lazy. Let’s look at it on a case-by-case basis.
No. 3 seed Utah: OK, that’s just awful. No excuse for a team with a Final Four ceiling to get taken down like this. And it’s two games removed from getting romped by 31 against Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. But aside from Utah, you look at the other teams and you can make cases as to why this isn’t purely a Pac-12-stinks thing.
No. 6 seed Arizona: The Wildcats were one-and-done because they got a Wichita State team that was more of a No. 5 than a No. 11. Zona weren’t even favored to win that game.
No. 7 seed Oregon State: Another one-and-done with a loss to VCU. That’s a tough one to take as OSU was certainly overseeded and VCU’s a program with a lot of recent March success. This was OSU’s first NCAA Tournament trip since 1990.
No. 4 seed California: Cal was booted by No. 13 Hawaii. That is tough, but Cal was dealt a blow the day before in losing Ty Wallace to a broken hand. He’s a senior leader and the team’s stat sheet stuffer, and suddenly he’s gone. That’s a reason, not an excuse, that Cal lost.
No. 8 seed Colorado: The Buffaloes were in a toss-up game against a UConn team that never threatened No. 1 Kansas. Coin flip game goes against the Buffs. What are ya gonna do?
No. 8 seed USC: The other team that couldn’t get out of the first round, the Trojans got dropped in a close game and losing at the buzzer to Providence. Also a tough loss, but Providence is the better team.
Can you imagine if Oregon loses to Saint Joe’s on Sunday? We’ll deal with that if it happens. The Ducks carry the league’s flag the rest of the way. It’s not fair to put the pressure on one program to cape up for its conference, but that’s the situation Oregon is in now. This was the best team in the league, and fittingly, it’s the last one standing in the bracket.
The problem is nobody thought that would be the scenario just three days into the first/second round.