For most of the 2009-10 college basketball season, the national media panel has proclaimed that the Pacific Ten Conference is one of the weaker leagues in the country. Well, I say to those pundits, watch the showcase that California and Arizona State display tomorrow at Hass Pavilion in Berkeley, CA. It does not get any bigger this year in the Pacific Ten, as the regular season conference championship is on the line.
Since "bubble watch 2010" has commenced, all the talk in recent weeks regarding the Pacific Ten has been: "only one team will earn a bid to the big dance." Well, two schools will be fighting, for the inside track to that "sole NCAA tournament bid."
The California Golden Bears (19-9, 11-5), have been the one team that has received kudos from media members across the country. However, Arizona State, a team that has a 20-8 record, has just started to create a buzz.
These two conference rivals hit the hardwood earlier this season in Tempe, AZ, and the Sun Devils ended up letting the Bears return home with a narrow eight point victory, 78-70. Tomorrow, you can bet that both coaches will throw everything their squad has in their repertoire out onto the floor for this epic battle.
To reinforce that point, ASU Head Coach Herb Sendek stated, "We're going to have to play almost a perfect game, there is no sense pretending that's not the case."
Haas Pavilion might not be the host of the biggest game of the day, that honor resides in Syracuse, NY, where the Villanova Wildcats will invade the Carrier Dome for a top five tilt with a Big East Championship on the line. However, for West Coast fans, a double shot isn't too bad either.
Sure, neither team is ranked in the top five, or even the top 25, but both California and Arizona State know how much this game means. And I am not talking about Joe Lunardi's ESPN Bracketology.
Arizona State has virtually no non-conference wins of quality, other than a home victory against San Diego State, which looks better and better every day.
In California's case, the Golden Bears scheduled a tough out of conference slate. However, just like the Sun Devils, their only note worthy win came against Iowa State. By the way, the Cyclones are 14-14 and sit at ninth in the Big XII.
If you dive deeper into the Bears' schedule, they did beat UC Santa Barbara and Pacific, who are coupled at the top of the Big West standings. Sure, to beat conference leaders is a solid feather in the cap. But both squads hail from the Big West Conference, which is not exactly the cream of the crop.
Nonetheless, throw both Cal and ASU's strength of schedule out the window in this matchup. Just ask either Mike Montgomery of Cal, or ASU coach Herb Sendek, neither cares about the games before the one at hand. This game is that meaningful.
ASU Senior point guard Derek Glasser said, "This is as big as it gets, we're going to have to play as hard as we've played all year." The Sun Devils will be seeking their first ever Pacific Ten Championship, since joining the league in 1978.
The regular season is winding down with one week to play, and a win by either team will virtually guarantee a number one seed in the Pacific Ten Conference Tournament. With that being said, the team that emerges victorious from Strawberry Canyon tomorrow will have the inside track to receiving that elusive "lone" NCAA bid to see if Cinderella's slipper will fit just right.