How about this for a Pac-12 men's basketball slogan: It is what it is
And what the Pac-12 is, is a conference with some embarrassing nonconference losses and a big hole to dig out of if it wants to advance many teams to the NCAA tournament.
Seattle Times colleges reporter
Last week I was talking with Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller about the state of Pac-12 hoops this year when he copped a plea.
"It is what it is," he said.
Aha. The league's marketers are missing the boat on a fitting campaign for the 2011-12 season: "It is what it is."
What it is, is a season in which the league has lost to some basketball powers, and has also lost to UC Riverside, Middle Tennessee State, Cal Poly, UNC-Asheville, Fairfield, Northern Arizona and South Dakota State.
Judging by the first Pac-12 coaches conference call of the season Tuesday, there are two schools of thought on the face to put on this: Those are (a) tell it like it is, or (b) act as though all cable and phone lines, newspapers and Internet have been unavailable on your campus for the past six weeks.
In the candid camp is California's Mike Montgomery, who said flatly of the league, "We've already made our bed."
Then there's the latter approach, summarized in this typically raging quote from Arizona State's Herb Sendek: "I really haven't had a chance to watch any of the other teams yet."
An enterprising staffer at the Times, Scott Hanson, unearthed this stat the other day: The league has played 23 games against the top 50 in the Sagarin computer rankings, and it has one victory.
But wait. Along with Miller's observation on the league, we'll advance another phrase normally used as a mutual-funds disclaimer: Past performance may not be indicative of future results.
What would you say about a league whose nonconference schedule included losses to UC Davis, Cal State Northridge, Portland, Portland State, Utah Valley State, Tennessee Tech and Northwestern State? Hopeless, right?
Well, that was the Pac-10 six years ago, in the 2005-06 season. What sprung from that were four teams into the NCAA tournament, a team in the national-title game (UCLA) and another in the Sweet 16 (Washington). From that inauspicious beginning — granted, most of the blemishes were the work of the league's proletarians — the Pac-10 went 8-4 in the NCAA tournament.
The difference is, it's tough telling who this year's elite might be. Of the expected standard-bearers, only Cal (10-2) has played to expectation, while there are still suspicions about Stanford (10-1) and Oregon State (9-2). Three of the purported heavyweights — UCLA, Washington and Arizona — have combined for 14 losses.
Realistically, the season this one approximates is that of 2009-10. Miller's first team entered the conference 6-6. UCLA had losses to Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State and was 5-7 out of the league.
Cal won the regular season, while Washington caught fire down the stretch, won the Pac-10 tournament and thus erased the possible indignity of a BCS league getting one team to the NCAA tournament. The Huskies made the Sweet 16 and the league, albeit with a sketchy representation in the tournament, went 3-2.
"Obviously, with some of the games the league has lost, it's going to put a lot of pressure on to finish near the top, because that's what you're going to have to do to make the tournament," says Montgomery. "The conference (tournament) winner goes, but after that, all bets are off."
The salad days of the Pac-10 were the 2007 and 2008 seasons, and after those, nobody raised an eyebrow when players like Kevin Love, Jarryd Bayless and the Lopez twins left early for the NBA, snapped up early in the first round. Of course, what was left of the Pac-10 suffered.
Last spring, it was different. Seven of nine underclassmen on the 10-man all-league team came out early, but just three went in the first round. The rest were less than surefire things, but they left anyway, including WSU's DeAngelo Casto, who wasn't on that team. The loss of some marginal NBA talents has had an impact.
"Going into last year, I thought there was a chance we could lose either (Tyler) Honeycutt or Malcolm Lee," says UCLA coach Ben Howland, referring to two second-round picks. "But I didn't think we'd lose both. Typically if you go early, you want guaranteed money (as first-round picks), yet both of those kids got guaranteed contracts."
Then Howland added the lament of the day: "It is what it is."
Hard to argue with that logic, especially this season.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-12.
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