With the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament long in the rear view mirror of 2016, the appropriate ‘post-mortem’ will be done by those Pac-12 programs who managed only a cup of coffee in this seasonal rite of Spring.
Before flight cases were packed, and teams had boarded flights home, many an obituary were being authored on what the hell went wrong with the "Conference of Champions"
It's a fair question, and one that occupied the minds of fans, players, coaches, AD’s, and a conference commissioner who was left with only one dog in the fight.
So, how good, or as many a writer put it, how bad is Pac-12 Basketball?
From my point of view, it is a good league. But not a great one.
Frankly, I don't think the current state of division I college basketball has any great leagues, nor did it have a really great team. While ‘mediocre’ is an overstatement of the sport as a whole, so would tagging college basketball as ‘great’.
It simply isn’t, and has been trending as such for some time.
The Pac-12 is no worse a league in 2016 than the Big 12, Big 10, ACC, SEC, or even ESPN darling ACC during any stretch of the last 15 years.
If anything, the league is symptomatic of the greater issue in college basketball; parity. Long gone are the seasons where only a few, genuine ‘Goliath’ like programs enter March as the team to beat.
It’s no longer Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State, North Carolina, or Kansas versus the field. It’s any of those five programs, and a dose of upstarts from mid-major’s like a Gonzaga, Butler, or Wichita State, who can garner some attention in addition to a likely tougher seed in route to a Final Four.
For a moment, imagine the absolute shock waves that would have reverberated throughout the college sports landscape if that half court heave from Gordon Hayward of Butler goes down and they upset Duke?
Now, Butler in the tournament and winning games isn’t news.
Neither is Wichita State who beat, easily mind you, Arizona. The Shockers have been a nice story all the way up to a Final Four appearance in 2013.
Same with Gonzaga who is now a regular entrant in the tournament. No news being made there. For them, it’s winning as usual. Just like programs at Butler, Wichita State, and VCU.
I agree with one thing; the Pac-12 no longer has a standard bearer. After the less than smooth transition from Lute Olson to Kevin O’Neil, to Russ Pennell, to current coach Sean Miller, Arizona has been good, but not great.
Olson dominated the Pac-10. He also took Arizona to a FInal Four in 1987,1994, 1997, and 2001. When the Wildcats won it in 1997, Arizona wasn’t even the Pac-10 Champion. After losing on the final week of the regular season in the Bay area, Arizona made an epic run to a national championship, beating number 1 overall seed Kansas on a Friday night in Birmingham, Providence in overtime, and then #1 seed North Carolina and defending champion and the third #1 seed the Wildcats would face, Kentucky, in another overtime game.
For the better part of 20 years, Arizona dominated the league.
There were some flashes from teams like Stanford, and UCLA. But Arizona WAS Pac-10 Basketball.
Those days are long gone.
USC, Colorado, California, Oregon State, Utah, and Arizona were all good teams, and likely, all deserving of an NCAA bid.
As for Oregon, they were also a good team, maybe a really good team, but not necessarily any better than the others. At least not this season.
Such is the state of college basketball in the Pac-12, AND college basketball in the power 5. A Lot of good teams, a few really good teams. But great one’s?
Not in a while, and not like an Arizona who was great for 20 years.
It was a bad tournament for the Pac-12, but not a demise of a great basketball conference. No tears or eulogies required.
If anything, winning in March just isn’t exclusive to the big boys anymore.
When madness meets parity, winning isn’t exclusive to anyone.
In the Pac-12 or anywhere else.