The Pac-10 Conference has placed, at the very least, two teams in the NCAA Tournament every single year since 1985, when the field expanded to 64 teams. According to the "experts", that very trend might be in jeopardy this season.
Sure, this season the national media does not have a team like UCLA hovering around the top five, or a team like Arizona, which has reached the NCAA Tournament in 25 straight seasons, but the teams that have won nearly twenty games thus far this season, are not bottom of the barrel type of teams.
The Pacific Ten does not have their traditional basketball powers ruling on the court this season. However, that does not mean that the basketball being played by the likes of California, Washington, and Arizona State is poor, unfortunately, no one seems to take note that these teams play the sport as well.
Even with USC near the top of the Pac-10 standings, the Trojans have no shot at making the "big dance" due to self-imposed NCAA Sanctions. Too bad, because Southern California's timing could not have been worse.
In fact, the Trojans are one of the select few that has beaten a quality opponent. In fact, USC won against Tennessee by a whopping 22 points, as well as notching victories against high profile "mid-majors" UNLV and St. Mary's College.
Unfortunately for the rest of the teams in the Pac-10, quality wins have been scarce.
California (18-9, 10-5, first in standings) is currently the front runner for the lone Pacific Ten bid, and although the Golden Bears scheduled grueling games against traditional powers such as Ohio State, Syracuse, and Kansas among others, the bottom line is California lost to all three by a combined 43 points.
It is a virtual lock for Kansas, Syracuse, and Ohio State to all make the NCAA tournament field. So then why is California worthy of a bid if the Golden Bears can't hang with the big dogs either? Or to play devil's advocate, how can the tournament committee leave out a potential 21 or 22 win team that won the regular season conference title?
Those same questions and issues can also be attached to the Arizona State Sun Devils and the Washington Huskies.
Don't sleep on the Washington Huskies. Although they have struggled with consistency, head coach Lorenzo Romar has led Washington to six victories in their last eight contests.
The Huskies sit in third place with 18 wins under their belt, and three games left against in-state rival Washington State and the two Oregon schools, all on the road. If the Huskies are going to find a way to sneak into the tournament, the Purple and Gold will have to earn it the hard way.
In the Arizona State Sun Devils' case, they also scheduled critical make or break games against Duke, LSU, Brigham Young, and Baylor. Although ASU beat the LSU Tigers back in November at Madison Square Garden, that win looked much better then when the Tigers boasted a 3-1 record. Now, LSU sits at 9-17 and has laid claim to the cellar dweller in the Southeastern Conference.
Arizona State boasts a record of 19-8 (9-5, second in conference) and will travel to Berkeley on Saturday to take on the Golden Bears for what is shaping up to be the regular season championship game in the Pac-10.
Certainly a California-Arizona State basketball game does not carry the same cache as Stanford-UCLA or USC-Arizona, but both teams' records are nearly identical, and in the first meeting in Tempe, the Golden Bears stole a tightly contested affair in the desert.
From an outsiders perspective, it would seem that the absence of traditional national championship powers means poor basketball, however, when these two teams take the court, it will be an intense, heated battle for Pacific Ten supremacy.
In the end, the selection committee will reward the Pac-10 with more than one birth to the tournament. Not only is history is on the side of the Pac-10, but the performances of this season's upper echelon programs will prove their worth.
Unfortunately for the smaller schools and "mid-majors", who are gingerly attempting not to burst their respective "bubble", the Pacific Ten will get two or three teams into the NCAA "Big Dance" based on the fan support, ticket sales, and revenue that these larger schools like California, Arizona State, and Washington will bring in for the NCAA.
Whether you like it or not, come selection Sunday, two or three teams from the Pac-10 Conference will hope that Cinderella's slipper fits.