Stephen Brashear/Associated Press
When Cal beat Washington on Jan. 18 to improve to 14-4 overall and 5-0 in the Pac-12, the Bears seemed to be a shoo-in for an NCAA tournament berth. When they beat then-No. 1 Arizona on Feb. 1 to end a three-game losing streak, any mounting doubts that Cal was an NCAA tournament team seemed to be erased again.
However, Cal inexplicably fell apart after that win over Arizona. The Bears dropped five of their next eight games, and two of those wins were over the teams at the bottom of the standings, USC and Washington State. The Bears had to go to overtime to beat Washington State.
Cal stayed in the bubble discussion by beating Colorado in its final regular-season game, rallying from a nine-point, second-half deficit to win in overtime even though the Bears did not make a single field goal in the final 2:42 of regulation or the entire overtime period.
Cal finished in a five-way tie for third place in the Pac-12, but earned a No. 4 seed for the conference tournament by way of tie-breakers. As a top-four seed, the Bears earned a bye into the quarterfinals, which may end up being a curse. The Bears need wins, and their opening game in the conference tournament is likely to be against Colorado, which controlled much of the game on the Bears' home court in their only regular-season meeting.
Cal must win that game to have a shot at an at-large NCAA berth, and it probably also needs to win a semifinal game, probably against Arizona. Without those two wins, including a second victory over the Wildcats, Cal's resume does not measure up.
The Bears are just 8-11 against Top-100 RPI teams, and their RPI ranking of 53 does not impress anyone. Their victory over Arizona is offset by a loss to last-place USC, and the Bears have no other wins that distinguish them. Although the committee no longer uses a team's record over the final 10 games as a selection criterion, the committee members have to notice that Cal is not playing particularly well at the moment.
All four of the projections from the major outlets have Cal out of the tournament field at the moment, and the Bears are likely to stay on the outside.