UCLA is a Final Four team.
USC and Oregon State were Elite Eight teams.
Oregon was a Sweet Sixteen team.
Colorado made it to the round of 32.
Wait a minute, wasn’t the Pac-12 supposed to be the weakest Power Five conference in men’s basketball this year? Weren’t they supposed to roll over when they ran into the buzz saw of a Big Ten or SEC team?
Maybe it’s time to put some respect on the name of this conference.
The NCAA Tournament has a way of exposing weakness. It also has a way of showing greatness. Pugnaciousness. Grit. Choose your superlatives.
It showed us this year that the Pac-12 conference is a lot better than most of us thought it was. How did this happen?
There’s a trendy theory floating around among the cognoscenti that go something like this. “The Big Ten, the best conference in the country, beat themselves up so much during the regular season that they didn’t have any energy left for the post-season. The Pac-12 had it so easy all season that they had lots of energy left for the tournament.”
Hogwash. These are de facto professional athletes. Their bodies are in optimal shape. They don’t run out of gas like that. That theory is just a way for certain people to make themselves feel good. To have an excuse on hand for why only one Big Ten team, Michigan, made it to the Sweet Sixteen round.
At this point, UCLA still has everything in front of them. UCLA, they of the fourth-place regular-season conference record! If you dig deeper, you see that they won their final five regular-season games. Sure, they didn’t make any noise in the Pac-12 Tournament the weekend before March Madness, losing their first game in a nail-biter against Oregon State. But, as noted above, Oregon State was a pretty good team who was a few shots away from a Final Four berth themselves.
Perhaps, in light of the conference’s post-season success this year, we should retire the hoary notion that this conference is not in the same league with other conferences like the Big Ten. It smacks of East Coast bias, of the same ilk as the belief that a Harvard education is necessarily better than one from Stanford or Berkeley. Or UCLA. It’s mostly what you make of it, and this year, schools like UCLA are milking this tournament for everything it is worth.
With any luck, things will change when it comes to other sports, such as football. Pac-12 football has also been disrespected by national media (and many fans) for a long time. It’s time to start thinking of these West Coast schools as being as capable of anyone of going all the way, or at least close to it.
Maybe it will even lead to better television time slots for West Coast games instead of being relegated to fit in around broadcasting the games on the East Coast and in the Midwest. Who knows, maybe #PAC12AfterDark will eventually morph into #PAC12AfterLunch. If this tournament has taught us something, it should be that anything is possible.