NCAA Tournament Brackets: Why the Pac-12 Deserves Two Teams in the Big Dance
March Madness is upon us.
With Selection Sunday only two days away, NCAA tournament 2012 brackets will be soon be filled out. In a twist of events, from a conference that typically identifies clear choices for the NCAA tournament early on, there is continuing debate about just how many bids the Pac-12 should receive.
Next year, the Pac-12 tournament looks to be following Tim Tebow's lead and is heading to Sin City. That's right, what happens in Vegas, gets nationally televised from the 2013 Pac-12 basketball tournament.
The 2012 Pac-12 basketball tournament is currently going on in Los Angeles. The championship game on Saturday will determine who receives the Pac-12's automatic bid.
Almost fittingly for this season, No. 1 seed Washington was knocked out in the second round. An early tournament loss doesn't help matters much in the bid argument for the Huskies, who were the Pac-12 regular-season champions.
Regardless of how things work out, Cal will receive an NCAA bid. Washington has a good shot at an at-large, but no guarantee. Colorado and Arizona's best chances are to win the conference tournament and the automatic bid. Oregon State's (coached by President Obama's brother-in-law) only shot would be winning the conference tournament.
I would love to see a situation in which Cal, Washington and Arizona all get bids. However, that would really depend on Arizona's remaining conference tournament play.
Here are the reasons why the Pac-12 deserves at least two teams in the Big Dance.
Pac-12 Team Records
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If you want to look at a conference with questionable records, but is still predicted to send 10 teams to the NCAA tournament, you need look no further than to the Big East.
From what the media has been saying about the Pac-12 as a one-bid league, you would expect some dismal regular-season records. However, that simply is not the case.
Washington (21-9, 14-4), Cal (23-8, 13-5), Oregon (22-8, 13-5) and Arizona (21-10, 12-6) all finished the regular season with more than 20 wins. Colorado finished the regular season with 20 wins, and Oregon State with 18.
Washington winning the conference title outright is their claim to an NCAA bid this year. With a loss last weekend at UCLA, and then losing to Oregon State (84-86) in the second round of the Pac-12 tournament, the Huskies haven't been helping their NCAA resume much lately.
1958 was the last year a regular-season Pac champion didn't make it to the NCAA tournament (there was a playoff for the Pac's spot between the conference co-champions that year).
Cal's record is what will get the Bears in the NCAA tournament, even if they don't win the Pac-12's automatic bid.
Arizona and Colorado's records in the Pac-12 regular season puts them in a more precarious position for an NCAA bid. The absence, due to suspension, of Arizona's starting point guard Josiah Turner didn't stop the Wildcats from beating UCLA in the second round of the Pac-12 tournament.
With Washington out, Arizona now has a good shot at getting to the final game, and even possibly winning the automatic bid. Colorado will have to get by Cal first, a team they split regular-season games with.
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The RPI ranking system is full of flaws, but for the sake of the argument, let's take a look at the Pac-12 RPI rankings.
Cal (35 RPI) and Washington (68 RPI) have both had RPI ranks in the top 50 at some point during the 2011-12 season. Colorado is currently at 76. Arizona sits further away with a 78 RPI.
In comparison, Lehigh, which won the Patriot League's automatic NCAA bid, has a RPI rank of 93. Montana (RPI 71) won the Big Sky's automatic bid. LIU, the NEC champion, has a RPI rank of 81.
I'm willing to concede that there is a difference between teams that win their conference's automatic bid and being given an at-large bid. However, when the 2012 NCAA tournament bracket is finalized, there will be teams among the 68 with worse RPI ranks than the top Pac-12 teams.
Pac-12 AP Top 25 Games
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This season the Pac-12 only played a total of 12 games with then-ranked AP Top 25 opponents. While all 12 games were losses, about half of those losses were by two possessions or less.
If the Pac-12 is as awful as the media has been making it out to be, wouldn’t you expect those games to all be blowouts?
Arizona lost to then-No. 12 Florida (72-78), Oregon State lost to then-No. 18 Vanderbilt (62-64), Stanford lost to then-No. 5 Syracuse (63-69) and Washington lost to then-No. 11 Marquette (77-79) and then-No. 7 Duke (80-86).
I would argue that there is little means to accurately compare the Pac-12 to the top-ranked conferences this season. I would also argue that when playing at their best, any of the top Pac-12 teams could hold their own against the majority of AP Top 25 teams.
Last season, neither Washington nor Arizona had wins against AP Top 25 teams during the regular season. In the 2011 NCAA tournament, Washington beat No. 10 seed Georgia, before losing to No. 2 seed North Carolina by one possession, and Arizona made it to the Elite Eight, where they lost to Connecticut (63-65).
Big Ten AP Top 25 Games
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How have some of the best teams in the NCAA fared against AP Top 25 opponents this season? Let’s first take a look at the Big Ten.
With almost half of the conference ranked in the AP Top 25, it is no wonder why teams in the Big Ten individually played almost as many AP Top 25 games as the Pac-12 combined this regular season.
No. 7 Ohio State played 11 games in the regular season against then-AP Top 25 teams, with a 6-5 win-loss record. Ohio State failed to sweep any ranked conference opponents. Outside of the conference, Ohio State lost to then-No. 13 Kansas. However, the Buckeyes did pull off wins over then-No. 3 Duke and then-No. 7 Florida.
No. 8 Michigan State played 11 games in the regular season against then-AP Top 25 teams, with a 6-5 record. Three of those wins were to teams Michigan State lost a different game to this season. Michigan State's only non-conference AP Top 25 win was against then-No. 23 Gonzaga.
In this category, both of the Big Ten leaders won slightly better than half of their games against AP Top 25 teams. That is much better than no wins in the Pac-12, but far from perfect.
I would also argue that when about a third of your games are against ranked teams, compared to only one or two at most the whole season (as is the case with the Pac-12), it is hard to even compare the two conferences based on AP Top 25 games.
The new Pac-12 and Big Ten alliance, with increased scheduling between the two conferences, will provide for a better comparison in future seasons.
ACC AP Top 25 Games
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Top teams in the ACC played about half as many AP Top 25 opponents this season compared to the Big Ten.
No. 4 North Carolina had six games against then-AP Top 25 teams, with a win-loss record of 4-2. Two of those wins were against currently unranked Virginia, a third against Duke (a team they also lost to this year) and a fourth against No. 14 Wisconsin.
No. 6 Duke played seven games against then-AP Top 25 teams, with a win-loss record of 5-2. With wins against then-No. 15 Michigan, then-No. 14 Kansas, then-No. 16 Virginia, then-No. 5 North Carolina and then-No. 15 Florida State, and losses to then-No. 2 Ohio State and then-No. 6 North Carolina.
Washington lost to Duke by only two possessions earlier in the season.
Big 12 AP Top 25 Games
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The Big 12 had a similar situation with regard to AP Top 25 regular-season games as the ACC. As such, I would argue that it is maybe more appropriate to use AP Top 25 games to compare those two conferences than it would be to compare the Pac-12 to either.
No. 3 Kansas had a win-loss record of 5-3 against AP Top 25 teams, with losses to Missouri, Duke and Kentucky.
No. 5 Missouri had a win-loss record of 5-2 against AP Top 25 teams, with losses to Kansas State and Kansas. It should be noted that Mizzou did have a blowout win (92-53) against then-No. 20 Cal early on in the season.
Syracuse and Kentucky AP Top 25
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With only one loss this season to then-unranked Notre Dame, it is hard to find much fault in No. 2 Syracuse's record. The Orange won all five of their games against AP Top 25 opponents.
However, only one of those wins, against then-No. 10 Florida (72-68), was a non-conference win. Additionally, Syracuse played one Pac-12 team this season, Stanford, which they beat by only two possessions.
No. 1 Kentucky, with only one regular-season loss (72-73 vs Indiana) is even harder to find fault with. However, in the Wildcats' final game against Vanderbilt, they did trail for a while.
And while Vanderbilt beat Oregon, 78-64, in the beginning of the season, they only beat Oregon State by two points (64-62). Oregon State ranked No. 8 in the Pac-12 won its first two 2012 Pac-12 tournament games.
I'm not arguing that the top teams in the Pac-12 are better, or even as good this season as any of the AP Top 25 teams. Instead, based on the fact that the Pac-12 had only a fraction of games against AP Top 25 opponents, I don't feel it is the best means of comparing the conferences.
Of the few games the Pac-12 had against AP Top 25 teams, half of those games would argue that the Pac-12 could hold its own against some of the current best teams in the NCAA.
With March Madness, you never know who is going to come in and shake things up.
Should the WCC Get Three Bids and Not the Pac-12?
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There are some basketball fans that would like to see three teams from the WCC in the NCAA instead of additional bids for the Pac-12. While it's not an either-or situation, let's take a look at the WCC in comparison.
St. Mary's won the WCC automatic bid; Gonzaga and BYU finished the season behind them.
The only AP Top 25 win BYU had this year was a home win over then-No. 24 Gonzaga, a team they have since lost to two times. Gonzaga’s only ranked win was against then-No. 16 St. Mary’s. St. Mary’s lost to both then-No. 6 Baylor and then-No. 16 Murray State, and only beating then-No. 21 Gonzaga.
With the only WCC AP Top 25 wins being within the WCC this season, it would be difficult to make a strong case for BYU over one of the top Pac-12 schools for a bid in the NCAA tournament.
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Those are the reasons I could come up with on why the Pac-12 deserves at least two bids in the 2012 NCAA tournament. I can see reason for certain Pac-12 teams to be put in the first round, but there should be more than one Pac-12 team in the NCAA tournament, even if Cal wins out the conference tournament.
Do you have any reasons to add—was I off on some, or just flat out wrong?—let me know in the comments.
Get ready to fill out those NCAA tournament brackets, because March Madness is almost here.