The muddled conference picture has Pacific-12 coaches touting depth as opposed to mediocrity.
Three teams — Arizona, UCLA and Oregon — are tied at the top at 8-3. Each has surprising losses. Arizona State, at 7-4, is tucked in behind them. Then things get very murky.
Colorado, Stanford, Cal and USC are all 6-5. Washington is a lamentable 5-6. The bottom of the conference has a trio of teams — Utah, Washington State and Oregon State — at 2-9.
Stanford and Cal, in particular, were heading down the wrong path early. Cal started Pac-12 play 2-3 and the Cardinal was 1-3. Stanford has won four out of five, including a road win at Arizona State last week, and the Bears won at Arizona on Sunday a week after beating Oregon.
The varied victories spread throughout the conference cause some observers to label the Pac-12 as mediocre. Arizona coach Sean Miller feels it should be the opposite.
“It’s difficult, I think, for all of us as coaches in our conference to stomach any type of criticism or somebody pointing out that almost anybody can beat anybody, and because of that, mediocrity is associated with it,” he said.
“I continue to hear and have always heard conferences that have teams that can beat each other on a given night are among the best conferences in the country. Now that we have that going on in our conference, it has to be associated with the same thing.”
Miller said he believes the Pac-12 is strong enough to have five teams make the NCAA tournament.
“To me, we’re a lock to have that,” he said. “And I think there are more than five teams that have an opportunity to be part of the tournament. We have a great league, and when you have a great league, teams can beat each other on a given night. That doesn’t make us less, it makes us more.”
UCLA coach Ben Howland echoed Miller’s feeling that five conference teams can make the NCAA tournament. That would be a huge change from last season, when two Pac-12 teams barely made the tournament. Colorado got in by winning the conference tournament, and Cal received an at-large bid to participate in the play-in game.
BIG CRITICISM FROM FORMER BRUINS BIG MAN
Former UCLA star Bill Walton has called several of the Bruins’ games this season for ESPN and the Pac-12 Network, and has been critical of Howland.
When Washington played UCLA last week, Walton all but called for Howland’s firing, saying the playing style was boring and that was the reason attendance at renovated Pauley Pavilion continues to be poor.
Howland, for his part, has taken the high road when reacting to Walton’s open and constant personal criticism.
“Bill’s been critical since he started doing our games against Missouri,” Howland said. “He’s an analyst and that’s his job. I understand that. It’s just part of our business, especially in a high-profile position like being coach of UCLA, which is always going to be in the shadow of the best coach in the history of the game, at any level, Bill Walton’s college coach (John Wooden).
“That’s Bill’s point of reference. I understand that. His point of reference is 60-0 his first two years of eligibility. Anything less than what he experienced, I think, for him, is very difficult to accept.”
CONFERENCE SCORING RACE STILL UP FOR GRABS
The Pac-12 won’t have a repeat scoring champion. The 2012 champ – Washington State’s Brock Motum – has dropped to seventh in conference-only scoring at 16.3 points a game. The new leader is a surprise: Oregon State’s Roberto Nelson, who is averaging 18.6 points a game. That puts him just a hair in front of Cal’s Allen Crabbe, who is at 18.5, and Arizona State freshman Jahii Carson, who is at 18.1. Washington’s C.J. Wilcox has fallen to sixth at 16.7 points a firstname.lastname@example.org @Todd_Dybas