Plenty has been said about the Pacific-12 Conference this year, and most of it hasn’t been good.
Yes, the league is in the midst of a down year. Yes, the league’s RPI ranks 10th in the country, behind the Atlantic-10, Mountain West and Missouri Valley. Yes, the league might get only one or two teams in the NCAA tournament.
But with the Pac-12 tournament opening today at Staples Center, the coaches and players couldn’t care less about critics and naysayers. It won’t affect how hard they play. It won’t affect the level of competition. It won’t change the importance of each game.
“I don’t pay attention to what they say,” said Washington guard Terrence Ross. “We can really show that it’s a competitive, good conference to be in. I feel like people haven’t seen us play much, especially on the East Coast. We have a chance to get ourselves some of the credit that people say we don’t have.”
If anything, the league’s poor perception will make the tournament that much more hard-fought.
The tournament’s top two teams – Washington and California – aren’t even guaranteed an at-large bid in the NCAAs. Meaning, the only sure way to get an invite to the Big Dance is to win the Pac-12 tournament. At least that is the mentality players are bringing.
“I think we have to win a couple games, but you never know,” said Washington guard C.J. Wilcox. “We’re going to play it safe and try and win all the games.”
That isn’t going to be easy. If the conference has shown one thing in a season of supposed mediocrity, it’s that there is parity among the top eight teams.
“Good luck in picking the winner of this one,” Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said.
Washington and Cal were far from dominating during Pac-12 regular season.
Colorado and Oregon both beat the league-champion Huskies by more than 20 points, while lowly Utah played Washington down the very end in Salt Lake City.
Cal gave up 92 points in a loss to Oregon State, and the Bears held the Beavers to 63 points and won by 14 in the rematch.
Arizona had its NCAA tourney dreams dealt a serious blow in the season finale by losing to an Arizona State team that had just five league wins.
“It’s anybody’s game,” ASU sophomore center Jordan Bachynski said.
Smart money says that might not be the case for ASU, Utah and USC. But the same won’t be said for the remaining nine teams.
Perhaps the only real advantage that Washington, Cal, Oregon and Arizona have is that, with first-round byes, they have to win only three games. And even then, it doesn’t seem like a huge advantage.
“It doesn’t matter who we play, it’s going to be a tough game,” Wilcox said.
There should be good basketball played – much better basketball than people outside of the conference will expect.
“No question,” Romar said. “If we could start over and play the nonconference schedule again, they’d see better results.”
Romar pointed to the hot play lately of Oregon and UCLA – teams he listed as dangerous.
The Ducks didn’t have scoring guard Devoe Joseph available for seven early games because of transfer rules. And UCLA was staggered from the fallout of booting last season’s scoring and rebounding leader, Reeves Nelson, off the team.
“That’s an all-conference player who wasn’t playing for them,” Romar said. “UCLA had its inner struggles. That’s not the same team that we had to play the other day.”
Several teams, including Washington, Arizona and Colorado, were also heavily reliant on inexperienced underclassmen. Consequently, there were ups and downs.
“Teams get better,” Romar said. “Teams are different.”
Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports