Pac-12 basketball teams need more made-for-TV challenges
Wouldn't Washington fans get excited about a Saturday date with any number of Big Ten teams?
Seattle Times colleges reporter
The midwinter blahs are supposed to be taking hold about now, and as we all know, nobody does the midwinter blahs like Pac-12 basketball teams in 2012. The conference etched its boundaries in November and December, and the real melodrama taking place now is which teams can prove themselves worthy of at-large bids to the NCAA tournament.
Thus we ask: Where's a BracketBuster when you need one?
Not to suggest the Pac-12 should apply for membership to ESPN's ever-growing mid-major bacchanal that takes place this weekend (insert snide joke here). That's probably not part of commissioner Larry Scott's marketing vision.
But why not a bit more imagination in scheduling on the part of Pac-12 programs, not only to hedge against a rare bottomed-out year like this one, but in the good seasons, to introduce some late-season buzz to a tired schedule and also prepare for the prospect of seeing different styles in March?
Saturday, UCLA travels to St. John's, a reminder that the nonleague game in the middle of the conference season is about as passé as the flip phone. And it sounds like Ben Howland, the Bruins coach, is only doing it kicking and screaming.
"We did it because of CBS," Howland said Tuesday on the Pac-12 coaches teleconference. "It's especially hard when you've got to go all the way back to New York in the middle of the season."
The only other interruption in the league season was Washington's Jan. 10 game with Seattle U, more a favor than a phenomenon.
This week, unlike UCLA, Colorado has a single game, an RPI-dagger against No. 274 Utah. Wouldn't it serve the Buffs to play that game in midweek and then hitch up a nonleague game Saturday as a late-season résumé-builder?
"I kind of wish we had one this week," said CU coach Tad Boyle. "I think it'd be good for our league, especially with our disappointing nonconference slate."
Late in December, the Pac-12 unveiled an enhanced alliance with the Big Ten in scheduling in all sports. There's no basketball "challenge" planned, but why not angle some scheduling into January and February during the single-game rivalry weeks?
Instead of a solo at Washington State next week, wouldn't Washington fans get excited about a Saturday date with any number of Big Ten teams?
Perhaps it's counterintuitive, with Scott's conference scheduling due to encroach on multiple days of the week, and his TV empire about to make the Pac-12 more visible nationally. But it's a potential competitive edge. And it's easy to forget there's a lot of history to these mid-conference matchups:
As recently as the Steve Lavin regime, UCLA played out of conference during both USC weeks, meeting Kansas and Villanova in 2002 and Syracuse and North Carolina in 2000.
Stanford had down-to-the-wire games with Gonzaga in 2006 and 2007.
There's all sorts of lore around such games at Arizona, including Miles Simon's banked 65-footer to beat No. 5 Cincinnati in 1996; the infamous time Lute Olson used a snowstorm in the East to bail from a date at St. Joseph's; and 'Zona's blowout win at Kansas in 2003, accompanied by an incident in which some Wildcats allegedly raided a vending machine of 80 candy bars and change.
"We're a much better team than we were back in November," says Boyle. "I'd like to have a chance to prove that against somebody outside of our conference."
Only one way that happens.
And what's more ...
• Jorge Gutierrez of Cal has the inside track on Player-of-the-Year honors in the Pac-12, but USC coach Kevin O'Neill says he'll need to be able to play point guard to succeed in the NBA. "There's not a lot of two-guards that are 6-3 or 6-4 in the NBA," O'Neill says. "Think of the guys you gotta guard. Dwayne Wade? Kobe? There's a challenging night. I hope he makes it. He plays hard, he's a junkie. That kind of stuff, you want to see rewarded."
• Cal's league-leading assist-turnover ratio of 1.4 to 1 isn't lost on Howland, who says, "They really pass the ball well. They take advantage anytime you have to help at all defensively." Or maybe it was just glaring because last Saturday, UCLA had no assists against the Bears at halftime.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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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