Pac-12 Might Be the Worst Major Conference in Shot-Clock Era of Men's Basketball

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystJanuary 10, 2019

Steve Alford's final game at UCLA.
Steve Alford's final game at UCLA.Associated Press

Pac-12 men's basketball is an unmitigated disaster.

If you've paid any attention to the sport this season, you've no doubt seen some version of that statement on a near-daily basis. With the exception of noted "Conference of Champions" homer Bill Walton, it seems everyone in the national media has chimed in on the (increasingly probable) potential for the league to send just one team to the 2019 NCAA tournament.

To prove that point, Matt Norlander of CBS Sports dug into some of the putrid numbers on Jan. 2, the most damning of which was that the entire conference was 4-31 against Quadrant 1 opponents at that time.*

*Quadrant 1 games are defined as home games against teams in the NET top 30, neutral-court games against teams in the NET top 50 or road games against teams in the NET top 75.

As of Jan. 5, every other major conference had at least twice that many Q1 wins, and both the MAC (4-20) and Conference USA (4-22) had better winning percentages in Q1 games. That 4-31 record screams, "Mid-major conference!"

Not only is the league awful in Q1 games, but 10 of the 12 teams have already suffered at least one Q3 or Q4 loss. Every Pac-12 team has at least four losses, and half of the league has six or more. No one in the conference is even close to the AP Top 25.

UCLA has already fired Steve Alford, and you can take it to the bank he won't be the last head coach canned.

Unless you're in a serious state of denial, we can all agree the Pac-12 is the worst of the six major conferences this season.

But this league isn't just bad by current standards.

It might be the worst season by a major conference in the modern era of college basketball.

It's certainly the worst of the KenPom.com era, which dates back to 2001-02.

The tempo-free, predictive-analytics website ranks conferences every year by averaging the adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency of all the teams in the league. Generally speaking, the top conference has a rating around 15 or 16, but all six major conferences have a double-digit rating in most years.

The Pac-12 presently has a rating of 7.47, which would be just the third time in the site's 18-year history that a major conference finished at 8.4 or lower. And that number was actually 7.59 over the weekend, so it's still getting worse even though they're only playing games against each other now.

One of the other instances was the Pac-12 in 2011-12, which had a rating of 8.14 and sent just two teams to the NCAA tournament: No. 11 seed Colorado and No. 12 seed California. Regular-season league champion Washington didn't even make the cut. But half of that conference finished in the KenPom top 60, whereas the current Pac-12 only has three such teams. The real reason the 2011-12 iteration ranked so poorly was that USC, Utah and Arizona State were downright terrible, each ranking 220th or worse and dragging the whole league down with them.

The other was the Pac-10 in 2003-04, which had a horrendous rating of 6.66. However, that conference produced three single-digit seeds in the tournament, including Stanford, which went 29-1 and earned a No. 1 seed. The bottom 60 percent of that league was rather awful, and its three tournament representatives went a combined 1-3 in the Big Dance. At least it had one title contender, though, which is a far cry from its current state of affairs.

But even without KenPom data, we can go back further than 2002 to show that this is trending toward being the worst major conference in at least three decades.

Since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the ACC and the Big Ten have each sent a minimum of three teams to every tourney and finished every season with at least two representatives in the final AP poll. The Big East, SEC and Big 12/Big Eight have also sent at least three teams to each of those 34 tournaments and have finished each season with at least one ranked team.

It would be next to impossible to argue that any of those leagues have ever had a season this awful.

It's really just a question of whether the Pac-12/Pac-10 has ever been worse than this.

In 1985-86, the Pac-10 put just two teams in the NCAA tournament—No. 9 seed Arizona and No. 12 seed Washingtoneach of which lost in the first round. And at no point in that season did it have a single team in the AP Top 20. That appears to be the baseline for major-conference futility.

The Pac-10/Pac-12 was also a two-bid league in 1987, 1988, 2010 and 2012, but there's little question 1986 was its low point. Sports Reference has a "Simple Rating System" for conferences, which follows the same basic logic as the KenPom conference rankings, just with a different formula. And the Pac-10's 4.92 SRS score in 1986 is 1.56 points lower than any year since.

Arizona State's Taeshon Cherry and Cal's Justice Sueing
Arizona State's Taeshon Cherry and Cal's Justice SueingBen Margot/Associated Press

This year's Pac-12 is sitting at 7.39, which is quite bad compared to the typical score for a major conference—the other five major conferences entered Wednesday with an average SRS of 13.91but not (yet) nearly as awful as it was 33 years ago. And considering it has placed four different teams in the AP Top 25 this season, it would be tough to argue that this conference is worse than it was in 1986.

However, if the league does send just one team to the 2019 NCAA tournament, it would be the first major conference to do so since the Big Eight in 1979—when the field only consisted of 40 teams. That would make for a strong case that this is the worst major conference ever.

Regardless, the Pac-12 is in dire straits.

Some teammost likely Arizona or Washingtonmay eventually emerge from this dumpster fire with a 14-4 league record and a single-digit number in the overall loss column on Selection Sunday. That team might even be deemed worthy of an at-large bid, should one become necessary.

Don't be fooled, though. From top to bottom, this is easily one of the five worst seasons by a major conference since the mid-1980s.

At any rate, you won't hear as many complaints as usual from those of us with cable/satellite providers that don't offer the Pac-12 Network.

That's a blessing in disguise this year.

        

Advanced stats courtesy of KenPom.com and Sports Reference.

Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.

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