No power conference has had a single bid in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament since it expanded to 64 teams in 1985, but this year’s iteration of the Pac-12 has a chance to be the first. With no ranked teams and none in the KenPom top 40, the conference is on a virtually unprecedented level of futility.
CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm currently projects the Pac-12 to have two tournament teams, which would be the fewest for a Power 5 conference since the Pac-12 had two in 2012. This continues the trend of the Pac-12’s comparative weakness. Including its previous iteration as the Pac-10, it is the only power conference that has had just two bids in a tournament, which has occurred five times.
The conference’s ineptitude runs deep and across multiple areas. According to CBS’ Matt Norlander, Pac-12 teams had a 92-58 record against Division I opponents during non-conference play, which doesn’t sound bad, until you realize that a lot of those games were against non-Power 5 schools.
A perfect set of catastrophic events has taken the bite out of the conference’s traditionally elite programs. As previously stated, Oregon lost a possible top-five pick in the NBA Draft in Bol. Arizona lost talented recruits, such as Shareef O’Neal, due to its involvement in the FBI’s corruption investigation. Right before the new year, UCLA fired head coach Steve Alford after defensive issues plagued the Bruins during a 7-6 start.
USC’s struggles have certainly played a role in the Pac-12’s lackluster results. The Trojans are at 9-6 and went winless in four games against non-conference Power 5 opponents. Double-digit losses to Texas Tech, TCU, Oklahoma and Nevada proved that USC still doesn’t measure up to higher level programs. A 102-92 loss at Santa Clara was the low point in a wildly inconsistent early season performance.
USC has had to deal with important injuries early in the season, as senior forward Bennie Boatwright and freshman guards Kevin Porter and Elijah Weaver have missed multiple games. The team also lost valuable forward contributors in Chimezie Metu and guards Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart, to the professional ranks. But the Trojans are still struggling for a team with their talent, which is particularly stinging considering how the conference is up for grabs.
USC’s task is the same as almost every other Pac-12 team: Since a victory in the conference tournament cannot be guaranteed, any team that wants a non-automatic bid will have to play well above its current performance in conference play. Each team already has at least four losses in the first few games of conference play, which will only get worse as the programs beat up on each other.
The conference’s collective incompetence has left it in a no-win situation entering as conference play continues. The Pac-12 needs a few teams to beat up on all the others, yet every team was so bad in the beginning that hardly any of those wins will be considered impressive by the selection committee. If a few teams rise above the rest but beat each other, the committee might feel that none of them has an adequate resume. If one team dominates and wins the conference tournament, that automatic bid will likely be the only one the conference gets.
Norlander outlined the scenario for the conference to get three bids: “Arizona State, Oregon, Washington and Arizona practically need to go undefeated against the rest of the conference (will not happen) and take swipes only at each other to best serve the Pac-12 come Selection Sunday.”
Given that Oregon and Arizona State already have conference losses, Norlander’s skepticism seems merited.
The Pac-12 had just three teams go to the 2018 NCAA Tournament, none of whom managed to win a game. This is an escalation of the conference’s inadequacy and should be a major wake-up call for its athletic directors.