For three months, we poked fun at the Pac-10's lack of marquee non-league wins, scoffed at its sub-par talent and debated whether it should be the first one-bid major conference since the NCAA tournament expanded to its current format.
It's time to backpedal on that assessment.
Paired against two teams from what appeared to be the nation's toughest conference, both Washington and Cal emerged with statement victories. The Huskies slipped by Marquette on Quincy Pondexter's game-winner, while Cal jumped all over Louisville early and swatted away the Cardinals' comeback bid in the second half.
It's difficult to assess what this means exactly because it's only a two-game sample size, but the results from the first round certainly suggest that we overrated the middle of the Big East and underrated the top of the Pac-10.
Because 10 to 12 of the Big East teams were perceived as strong entering the start of conference play, those teams had ample opportunity for "good wins" and few chances for "bad losses." And because the Pac-10 was so awful in non-conference play at the start of the season, Cal, Washington (and Arizona State) got little credit for finishing the season strong.
"I always thought the Pac-10 was tough," Cal senior Jerome Randle said. "People were talking bad about the conference, but I honestly felt like two other teams could have come here and got a win, as well."
Maybe the biggest shot of Cal's victory came with about seven minutes left in the game when Theo Robertson drained a corner 3-pointer after Louisville had cut the deficit to four. Earlier, Randle had also beat the halftime buzzer with a huge three to extend the Bears' lead back to 11 and reclaim the momentum after the Cardinals had made a bit of a push.
I've already read the argument that Cal's win should have been expected since the Bears were the No. 8 seed and the Cardinals were a No. 9, but that's revisionist history. Merely a week ago, weren't there some folks arguing regular season Pac-10 champ Cal shouldn't even be in the field after losing in the conference tournament title game?
While some might suggest Cal and Washington winning mean the perception of the entire league needs to be reevaluated, I just think these two teams were overlooked, even after playing a scintillating Pac-10 title game last Saturday.
Let's give the Pac-10 its due today. These were two good wins by two good teams.