Tuesday was a dark day for the Twelve Pac.
The lone, albeit muted, bright spot was a USC home victory over the winless Morgan State Bears. In this game, the mighty Trojans were down by as much as twelve before finally reclaiming the lead with two-minutes to play and hitting one more jumper before no one scored for the final minute. Exhilarating, no doubt, for the 2,200 in attendance.
But beyond the barnburner Trojan victory, the Pac came out in full mediocre color last night.
Before going into detail, let’s remind ourselves who was selected to win the conference this year: UCLA. Their preseason accolades were closely followed by the Cal Bears. The received 14 and 13 first place votes, respectively.
That is to say, we expected little from USC, and much more from the bear teams. Last night they were both nationally beaten; losing by a combined 55 points, both dismantlings broadcast on the Worldwide Leader. It was like the opposite of a coming out party.
By stretch of a comparison, the 1996 Bulls (Jordan’s 72-10 masterpiece) lost their ten games by a combined 77 points. And if you remove one 32-point loss to the Knicks, Jordan’s Bulls lost nine games by a total of 45 points. You can run the math but 45 < 55.
That may seem irrelevant, but if you’re reading this then you’ve been watching ESPN’s broadcasts and you’re grossly familiar with the NBA2K commercial featuring MJ and Drake. I’m not going to link it because I’ve seen it too many times. Like every-ESPNU-commercial-break too many times.
But back to the Pac-12’s mediocrity party.
It hasn’t been a great November for the Conference of Champions. There are some marquee losses out there (Loyola Marymount, St. Louis, Pepperdine, Middle Tennessee State) and few marquee wins (St. Johns, Texas). But things will get better. They have to, right?
It may yet be awhile, however. Arizona is coming up on the meat of its schedule with games against SDSU, Florida, and Gonzaga. The road gets no easier for UCLA as they play Michigan and Texas and could seemingly lose to anyone at anytime, anywhere. Cal has SDSU also scheduled and travels to Vegas for a December tilt with UNLV. Stanford heads to MSG soon for some big games and frankly, all games moving forward have the Pac-12 on irrelevancy watch.
Oregon State has been a nice saving grace on the national scene. They’ve played well and are breeding a star in Jared Cunningham. But it’s still not a great sign when the best (not biggest but best) story in your conference is a team that still loses to Vanderbilt.
If we want to point fingers for this mass of mediocrity, I point one squarely at Ben Howland and his UCLA program. Then I quickly point it at Lorenzo Romar at UW and then the Arizona Athletic Department. Success begets success and these three programs were the torchbearers of Pac-12 hoops. With Arizona’s dip into mediocrity and inability to handle their coaching transition, UCLA’s sudden and strange fall from grace, and Washington’s marginal success, the rest of the conference has been comfortable in mediocrity.
The conference needs these schools in order to be good. It’s the same reason baseball needs the Yankees; not everybody can play Cinderella.
That’s why it’s great news that Sean Miller has the top recruiting class in the nation with UCLA close on his heels and others garnering talented commitments.
The current situation may seem bleak and dire, but it’s getting better. The Pac-12 can take its lumps now and it’d be nice to defeat another BCS conference team by more than a buzzer beater (this, anyone?). But it will come because success begets success.
The sooner, the better.