The Bracket Big Board takes into consideration past returns, current performance and expected future gains in determining who should be included among the field of 68 (31 automatic and 37 at-large bids). Essentially, the Bracket Big Board is a cheat sheet designed for amateur bracketologists if they were filling out a Tourney Pick 'Em '12 entry today. The Triple-B, the second-most accurate bracket predictor among macro-sites over the past four years, is updated every Monday until the dance card is unveiled March 11.
At US Airways Center in Phoenix, UCLA head coach Ben Howland scaled a ladder, clipped a piece of nylon from the rim and raised the souvenir in triumph, rousing the partisan crowd screaming from the stands.
The year was 2008.
The Bruins, the top seed in the West, had just polished off an impressive 19-point dismantling of No. 3 seed Xavier to claim the regional title, holding the Musketeers to just 36-percent from the floor. Kevin Love, the region's MOP, mopped up inside tying teammate Darren Collison with a game-high 19 points. He also chipped in 10 boards.
The occasion marked the 18th Final Four trip for John Wooden-U, the third-consecutive for Howland. The ecstatic coach called the experience "unbelievable." It was a roaring time for the Bruins and the Pac-10 as a whole. Little did anyone know the perennial powerhouse and its leaguemates were about to slip into a deep depression.
Flash forward to the present.
Jubilant feelings are long in the past for the newly expanded Pac-12. Despite adding Colorado and Utah to the mix, moves necessitated by the Great College Football Land Grab of 2010, the league is clearly in the dumps. Not a single team is ranked or earning substantial votes in either polls. More deplorable, none are currently tucked inside the RPI top-40. California, the preseason favoriate, boasts the conference's highest RPI at 48. Current pacesetter, Washington, is the next best at 74. Surprisingly, the Ohio Valley (Murray St — 38 RPI), Missouri Valley (Creighton — 16, Wichita St. — 26), Sun Belt (Middle Tennessee St. — 47) and traditional West Coast walkover, the Big West (Long Beach St. — 36), possess more tourney-viable clubs on the national scale. Overall, the conference ranks 10th in the RPI, its lowest mark ever.
The Pac-12's decrepit state is proof defining league power based on a pigskin precedent is foolish. Because of the league's woeful performance, it should have its Power Six membership revoked. Supposed mid-majors like the Atlantic 10, Mountain West, West Coast and Missouri Valley will undoubtedly garner multiple bids come Selection Sunday, a distinction the Pac-12 doesn't deserve.
Naturally, many hoops heads around the country have tried to find an explanation for the rapid decline. Some reasons are sound. Others are a bit of a stretch. To help separate fact from fiction, here's a breakdown of the most popular perspectives:
Reason 1: Teams have not fully recovered from the massive talent exodus of 2008.
Half-truth. Because of the silly one-and-done rule, turnover is constant at the collegiate level. Still, as the old adage goes, elite programs don't rebuild, they reload. Look at Kentucky. Roughly half the team's point production from last season returned to play for John Callipari this year yet it sits firmly in the catbird seat at 22-1.
After UCLA's Final Four appearance in 2008, the Pac-12 lost eight players to the NBA draft, including the aforementioned Love. The following year, five more hard-to-replace kids made the jump, adding insult to injury. No surprise, only two Pac teams made the tourney in 2010. Following that year just two players bolted for the Association, a talent retainment that paved the way for a brief league-wide resurgence in 2011. However, after losing six more last year, most notably Arizona's Derrick Williams, the Left Coast giant has again reeled leading many to say the current well isn't exactly wet. That viewpoint, however, is a bit misleading.
Teams in the Pac-12 may not have successfully drawn the most gifted high schoolers, but they certainly haven't attracted a bunch of bricklayers either. UCLA, Stanford, Cal, Washington and Oregon each signed top-25 classes over the past two seasons. Yes, players develop at different paces, but the league isn't completely devoid of naturally skilled athletes. Next season, it will likely be loaded with some of the game's best. Arizona and UCLA are expected to sign marquee classes later this year.
No doubt the talent drain from '08-'09 crippled the Pac-12 initially, but coaches have more than adequately restocked the lake.
Reason 2: Turnover among coaches has set the league back.
Another half-truth. Much like the products on the court, turnover on the sidelines also occurs regularly. In a win-or-else age, few Woodens exist. Though it does play into the conference's struggles, it's not completely to blame. Since 2009, Arizona, Colorado, Washington St., Oregon, Utah and USC have put new captains at the helm. For some, fortunes have quickly reversed. The 'Cats' Sean Miller experienced tremendous success in his first-year campaign, taking 'Zona to the Elite 8 last March. And Dana Altman, the Ducks' latest head honcho, has his squad on an upward swing after several seasons of mediocrity under Ernie Kent.
Every year, high-major conferences experience turnover among the coaching ranks. But, considering the strong stable of entrenched HCs (e.g. Howland, Mike Montgomery and Lorenzo Romar) and influx of hot talent (Miller, Altman and Tad Boyle), the Pac-12 stands on firm ground.
Reason 3: Poor scheduling and performance in non-conference games has negatively impacted its CPU-generated view.
Fact. Undeniably, this is the underlying reason why the Pac-12 could be a one-bid conference. Any computer — PC, MAC, Commodore 64 — hates the league. It's understandable. Prior to the opening of league play in late December, not a single team logged a RPI top-50 win.
Even when teams faced formidable competition, humiliation soon followed. Cal was smoked by Missouri and UNLV. Washington, though much more competitive, failed to emerge victorious against four Dance-bound schools — St. Louis, Nevada, Marquette and Duke. Meanwhile, bubblicious Oregon dropped battles with Vanderbilt, BYU and Virginia by double-digits. The Pac-12's biggest non-conference W: Oregon St's overtime defeat of Texas, a likely NIT team.
In truth, the only teams Pac-12ers tamed were cupcakes. And they consumed them in large quantities. Look closely at the Stanford Tree's upper-lip and frosting residue is still visible.
According to KenPom.com, USC is the only club to record a non-conference strength of schedule inside the top 125. Embarassingly, Oregon St. and Washington St. rank north of 300 in the category. Overall, the league feasted on the meek … repeatedly. As a result, the Selection Committee, which has strongly encouraged teams to book challenging opponents, will undoubtedly drop the hammer March 11.
Brighter days are ahead for the decorated conference. But, this year, the Wack-12 is worthy of only one or two bids max, a far cry from four short years ago.
Here are the movers and shakers on this week's Triple-B:
*For games played through Sunday, February 5
*RPI data provided by Rivals
*T50 = Record versus RPI top-50
*BL = Bad losses (dropped games to opponents with a 100+ RPI)
*Orange teams are rising, blue falling
On the Bubble: Cincinnati (16-7), Massachusetts (16-5), Miami (FL) (14-7), Wyoming (18-5), Dayton (14-9), La Salle (17-7), Arizona (16-8), Oregon (16-7), Stanford (16-7), Pittsburgh (15-9), Texas (14-9)
Dropped Out: Cincinnati, Dayton
Conference Breakdown: American East (1), ACC (5), Atlantic Sun (1), Atlantic 10 (3), Big 12 (5), Big East (8), Big Sky (1), Big South (1), Big Ten (8), Big West (1), Colonial (1), Conference USA (2), Horizon (1), Ivy (1), Metro (1), Mid-American (1), Mid-Eastern (1), Missouri Valley (2), Mountain West (4), Northeast (1), Ohio Valley (1), Pac-12 (2), Patriot (1), SEC (6), Southern (1), Southland (1), SWAC (1), Summit (1), Sun Belt (1), West Coast (3), WAC (1)
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