LOS ANGELES – With great power comes great responsibility. At least that’s what my friendly neighborhood Spider-Man says.
Peter Parker’s philosophical maxim describes the predicament the Pac-10 finds itself in. The conference’s regular season success regarded by many as the best in college basketball brings lofty expectations.Failure to adhere to those expectations and advance multiple teams deep into the NCAA Tournament will spawn a game of second-guessing about the merit of the league.
Sending seven teams to the Tournament but advancing only one or two beyond the first weekend is asking for an “overrated” backlash from writers and talking heads.
I can hear the voices of East Coast pundits already: “The Pac-10 was overrated again.”The conference’s success on paper is undeniable, but paper doesn’t win Tournament games.Locals, especially those consumed by UCLA’s lore, might scoff at the notion that the conference has something to prove. And while many west of the Mississippi allege there is an East Coast media bias, there is actually a recent historical basis for questioning the quality of the Pac-10.
Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, no power conference has placed fewer teams in the Final Four than the Pac-10. Including UCLA’s last two sojourns, only three members of the league have progressed to the Final Four since 2000, with none winning a national title.
The Big 12 is the only other major conference not to have a national champion during that period.
While expectations are high in Los Angeles – some consider UCLA the Tournament’s favorite – it is difficult to find likely Pac-10 candidates to join them on a march through the dance. Thus, a conference flop might be imminent.
Washington State has been ranked all season, but its interior play is weaker than Steve Urkel. The Cougars must rely on hot shooting to forge through the early rounds.
At USC, OJ Mayo carries himself like someone who graduated from the school of “How to be a selfish and divisive athlete.” (Famous alumni include Alex Rodriguez and Stephon Marbury.) He has treated this season like an NBA audition, and that attitude isn’t conducive to team success.
Arizona has a bevy of talent, as displayed against UCLA on Sunday, but rarely synthesizes all of its parts. The ‘Cats will be a dangerous opponent, but a deep run is unlikely from such an erratic group.
Stanford has been a top-10 team for most of the season. Unfortunately, Stanford has the guard play of a high school team, and guards are to the NCAA Tournament what wheels are to a car. Penciling the Cardinal deep into the Tournament might be office pool suicide.
Which leaves UCLA as the conference’s brightest hope. The Bruins could have home-court advantage in the West and the expectations to win the regional. Unjust or not, anything short of a third consecutive Final Four will be deemed a failure.
The Pac-10 had three Sweet 16 teams and a Final Four team a year ago, but it is difficult to foresee equal success this year. Such a postseason flameout, as it would surely be perceived, would be cannon fodder to bash college basketball on the left coast. The stigma of “soft” and “overrated” will only be amplified if the Pac-10 has a poor showing.
Of course, the conference can mute those skeptics with a myriad of victories and a Final Four team. The ultimate silencer would be to hoist the national championship trophy.Yes, that means you, UCLA. No pressure.