All about the Pac-12: Avert your eyes; this is ugly

The first season of the reconfigured Pac-12 could be history-making.

But it’s the kind of history that’s laughed at, not lauded.

Mike Montgomery's Cal squad is the only Pac-12 team in the top 50 of the RPI, at 33rd.

Each league team has at least one conference loss, and all but two schools (California with four and Stanford with three) have five losses overall. No league team is ranked in either major poll, and Stanford is the lone conference team that even received a vote this week. Cal is the only Pac-12 squad in the top 50 of the RPI, at 33rd, and half of the league’s teams are 130th or worse in the RPI. The overall league RPI is ninth, three spots behind the Mountain West’s and one spot behind the Missouri Valley’s.

The upshot is that when “Selection Sunday” rolls around on March 11, the Pac-12 runs the risk of being the first “major” conference to receive just one bid since the NCAA field expanded to 48 teams in 1980. The last time the league got just one bid was 1978, when it was a 32-team field.

The Pac-12 received four bids last season after getting just two in 2009-10. But in 2009-10, the league’s RPI was seventh and two teams had RPIs in the top 50.

Generally, coaches don’t like to downgrade their leagues. But that’s not necessarily the case in the Pac-12.

“The league has obviously not been successful in non-conference and now … everyone is beating everyone [in league play],” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said on this week’s coaches’ teleconference. ” … The league definitely is not as good as in 2009 or 2008.”

There are numerous reasons for this season’s malaise, numerous player defections and recent coaching changes among them. Whatever the reason, though, the league is bad. Conference teams have just two wins over foes in the RPI top 50 – and those teams are Colorado State and Denver, which aren’t likely to be in the top 50 much longer.

The lack of marquee non-conference wins definitely hurts the national perception of the league; more important, though, is that it’s going to be tough for a league team to nab an NCAA at-large bid if it has beaten no one of note outside the league.

[Video: Mid-majors could be trouble in NCAA tournament]

Romar said the league is in “rebuilding mode” but also said the number of key young players is a positive for the future.

For the present, winning on the road is going to be important. But it also could be difficult because the teams are so evenly matched.

“It’s just a different mentality,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said on the teleconference. “It’s hard to win on the road partially because the people you’re playing against feel more comfortable and feel confident.”

Right now, Pac-12 coaches can feel neither comfortable nor confident.

3 to watch

Oregon at Arizona, Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS: This is far from a vintage Arizona team, but the Wildcats still look to be one of the two or three best teams in the league. The Ducks have a nice win over Stanford, but they’ve lost to the other “good” teams they’ve faced in league play (Cal and Washington). Arizona has won six in a row in the series.

Colorado at Stanford, Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Net/ROOT Sports Northwest/ROOT Sports Rocky Mountain/Comcast SportsNet Bay Area: Colorado suffered its first league loss Thursday night, falling at Cal. Can the Buffs bounce back? Stanford is tied with Cal for the league lead and is 10-1 at home this season.

California at Washington, Thursday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ROOT Sports Northwest: It seems likely that each will go into this game with one league loss. Cal looks to be the best team in the league – but does the best team in the league lose to Oregon State, which is what Cal did last week?

Who’s hot?

Oregon G Devoe Joseph: Joseph, a senior transfer from Minnesota, is 10-of-18 (55.6 percent) from 3-point range in the past three games. He is shooting 48.1 percent from beyond the arc in league games.

UCLA F Travis Wear: The Bruins have struggled, but Wear, a transfer from North Carolina, has made 21 consecutive free throws, the longest stretch for any Bruin in three seasons. He averaged 18.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in two wins last week. Nine of his 12 rebounds came on the offensive end.

Colorado F Andre Roberson: Roberson is far and away the leading rebounder in the league. He had 14 in the Buffs’ loss to California on Thursday; that was his fifth game with at least that many this season, and he is averaging 11.9 per game. He has had at least 10 rebounds in 13 of the Buffs’ 16 games. He’s also averaging 11.3 points.

Who’s not?

Arizona State: The Sun Devils are 5-11 overall and 1-3 in the league, and they have been egregiously bad when it comes to turnovers. They have 70 more turnovers than assists, and of the eight players who average more than 10 minutes per game, only one, freshman F Jonathan Gilling, has a positive assist-to-turnover ratio.

USC: The Trojans are the only winless team in conference play and carry a five-game losing streak into Sunday’s game with UCLA. USC has averaged 47.6 points per game in its losing streak; overall, the Trojans are shooting 39.9 percent from the field, 29.9 percent from 3-point range and 60.9 percent from the line.

Cal F Harper Kamp: He has been a non-entity on the boards in league play. Kamp has 16 rebounds in five conference games. He’s not necessarily a strong board guy anyway, but his league average still is almost 2.0 per game less than his overall average.

Good win last week

Colorado 87, Washington 69 The Buffs dominated and showed that they likely will be in the league title mix until the end. Coach Tad Boyle deserves a lot of credit.

[Related: Q&A with Colorado coach Tad Boyle]

Bad loss last week

Oregon State 92, California 85. This is the Beavers’ only league win of the season. Yes, Oregon State is potent offensively, but other league teams have found a way to curb the Beavers’ offense, which makes you wonder about Cal’s defensive intensity.

Numbers game

Conference teams definitely like playing at home. Home teams are 20-7 thus far in conference play. That’s a winning percentage of 74.1.

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Mike Huguenin is a Yahoo! Sports college sports editor. Send Mike a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Jan 13, 2012