The Pac-10 is likely to receive less than three bids for the first time since only two Pac-10 teams played in the tournament from 1985-87.
The Pac-10 has sent six teams to the tournament in each of the last two seasons. As one of the six BCS conferences, big numbers are expected from the Pac-10. No conference has more than the Pac-10's 15 NCAA Championships. Arizona's 25 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances is the nation's longest active streak and second longest ever.
In the last decade, the Pac-10 has had four Final Four appearances, 49 NCAA Tournament appearances, two national runners-up, and has had a team reach the Sweet 16 in the last five NCAA Tournaments. Unless there is a major surprise like Arizona last season, than we are unlikely to see any of those streaks continue in 2010. In 2010, the Pac-10 will be fortunate to get one tournament win.
The downfall began with the majority of the Pac-10's stars leaving early. O.J. Mayo, Kevin Love, Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger, Jrue Holiday, and James Harden are just some of the names that left college early that would have eligibility this season.
With nearly all the Pac-10 teams lacking upper-class leadership and the talent of the last few years, the conference has struggled this season. Of the top eleven players drafted in each of the last two NBA Drafts, eight of the selections came from Pac-10 schools.
A conference that is used to competing on a national level has struggled to get any momentum going this season. None of its teams are ranked entering March. This was the first time that has happened since the end of the 1985 and 1986 seasons. The Pac has a 5-14 record against top 25 teams and some questionable losses.
Only USC (on probation and ineligible for the post-season) has multiple wins against ranked teams. The only wins that can be included as impressive are California's win over Murray State and the Trojan wins over UNLV, Tennessee, and St. Mary's. Bad losses have included Loyola (CA), Cal St. Fullerton, Long Beach State, Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Illinois-Chicago, Sacramento State, Seattle, San Diego, Oral Roberts, and Nebraska twice.
With the marquee names gone, inconsistency has been the norm rather than the exception this season. California won the Pac-10 because they have played well consistently after overcoming injuries in December. Washington has been strong at home but is only 4-7 away from HecEd, Arizona State finished the season winning six of seven to earn the second seed in the tournament.
Arizona showed flashes and was tied for first with a 6-3 record at the Pac-10's halfway point. The second half of the conference season, the Wildcats struggled and then finished the regular season with three straight victories before UCLA knocked them out of the tournament in the semifinals.
After beginning the season 10-5, Oregon lost nine of 11 before finishing the season with wins in three of their last four games and a win over Washington State in the first round of the tournament. Overall, the Pac-10 underachieved even after a down year was expected.
The future should get better. Although Cal is a senior dominated team, the Pac-10's young stars are likely to return at a greater rate than in past seasons.
The Pac-10 freshman of the year, Arizona's Derrick Williams, was a freshman All-American, Isaiah Thomas of Washington is a rising star, sharp shooting Ty Abbott was a leader on a young Arizona State team, Jeremy Green appears ready to take over for Landry Fields at Stanford next season, and Klay Thompson thrived in Ken Bone's more up tempo system at Washington State.
The Pac-10 is one of the best coaches' leagues in the country. Adding Sean Miller should return Arizona to the nation's elite quickly, Ben Howland should have UCLA back to being competitive quickly, Mike Montgomery is building Cal like he did at Stanford and Herb Sendek has Arizona State competitive again.
The Pac-10 is similar to the SEC in 2009. Kentucky and Tennessee have returned the SEC to the nation's elite conferences this season, the Pac-10 should regain their place there in 2011.