In the Pac-12, there is never a good situation or outcome which can’t be turned into a negative. The conference has a way of taking something good and wasting it, of turning an optimistic view into misery just like that. Consider the bowl games: The Pac-12 was 3-1 and headed for a great postseason. Then UCLA stumbled to Pitt in the Sun Bowl. USC blew the late 15-point lead in the Cotton Bowl. Utah got smashed by Penn State in the Rose Bowl. The Pac-12 finished 3-4 in the bowls, another sub-.500 record.
A promising situation was squandered.
It’s much the same in Pac-12 basketball, where the conference looks like just a three-team league in terms of NCAA Tournament representation. UCLA, Arizona, and Arizona State are the only schools clearly in the field. USC leads the pack of teams just outside the door, trying to get in.
The story of Pac-12 basketball through mid-January is one of wasted wins. What do we mean? Consider Oregon hammering Arizona by 19 points.
“Dana Altman’s Ducks shocked the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday afternoon in front of what turned out to be a raucous and rambunctious Matthew Knight Arena crowd,” Ducks Wire editor Zachary Neel wrote. “It featured the energy and effort that has been lacking in so many lackluster performances this season and gave Oregon it’s defining win of the season thus far.
“An outlook that featured missed tournament bubbles and potentially another trip to the National Invitational Tournament now has experienced a shakeup. With a resume-building win like this on the record, Oregon should feel good about playing in March if they keep things rolling. If they play as well as they did on Saturday afternoon, then the Ducks shouldn’t feel crazy about entertaining the notion that a couple of weekends may be possible in the tournament.”
The big “if” for Oregon is the Ducks’ ability to sustain that level of performance. Oregon bounces from beast mode in one game to junior-varsity slop in the next. The Ducks are 10-8. Even with the win over Arizona, they’re not in the bubble picture just yet. They can’t keep splitting games. They need to win a pile of games in a row. Right now, that Arizona win is not part of an NCAA Tournament resume. To that extent, it’s a waste of a win. Oregon can “un-waste” that victory if it can get on a roll, but we have to see it first.
Colorado is in a similar spot. The Buffs beat Tennessee by 12 points. If they had avoided stepping on a rake in so many other games this season, they would be an NCAA Tournament team … but of course, they lost to Grambling. They lost to UMass. They lost to Washington. They lost to Cal. They are nowhere near the bubble after losing to USC and UCLA this week.
Their huge win over Tennessee has been wasted to this point.
Utah’s win over Arizona also seems like a waste. The Utes are 5-3 in the Pac-12, but they have lost three straight games. Moreover, their four non-Arizona wins in conference play are against Washington State, Oregon State, Stanford, and Cal. That’s three bottom-feeders and a Wazzu team which is still under .500. The Utes did not do much in nonconference play, so their resume is not at an NCAA Tournament standard.
Wasted wins are the theme of Pac-12 basketball. Teams need to start dominating just to have a chance at the Big Dance. That’s not where they hoped they would be in mid-January.