Finally! Pac-12 Teams Show They Know How to Dance
Share this article
What a difference a year can make.
When the 2012-2013 season ended, the Pac-12 had only three teams in the AP top 25: No 21 Arizona, No 24 UCLA, and No 25 Oregon. It seemed the hangover from the previous year's perception of conference softness continuted to linger. Remember, 2011-2012 was the year the regular-season conference champion -- Washington -- didn't even get invited to the Big Dance after getting bounced in the first round of the league's own tourney.
Miraculously, though, the Pac-12 sent five teams to this year's NCAA Tournament, the three that were ranked plus California and Colorado. Even more surprising was the way they were seeded.
Oregon, who won the Pac-12 tournament and was strong throughout most of the regular season, was a 12 seed. The Ducks suffered most of their eight losses when their sparkplug frosh guard, Dominic Artis, suffered an injury and was out for nine games. Fortunately for them, they got hot at the right time and won the Pac-12 tournament, right after a weekend collapse to Colorado and Utah. The Ducks' chaotic approach to offense that they re-discovered during the league tournament remained effective as their debut in the Dance bagged them the No 5 seed, Oklahoma State. (Coincidentally, Oregon is 3-0 when facing teams with orange and black colors and the acronym OSU!). Oregon then flashed a second razzberry at the Selection Committee, taking out the No 4 Saint Louis Billikens squad that many fancied to fight its way to the Final Four.
Colorado, who was consistanly three games out of first place, was a 10 seed. A sweep of Oregon and a win over No 16 Baylor early in the season was helpful, but it was still a suprise to see them in the tournament at all. They fought hard, but fell to Illinois.
UCLA, a 6 seed, won the Pac 12 regular season title. The Bruins did have big wins during the campaign, beating Arizona three times, nailing Missouri, and sweeping Colorado. However, they also had key losses to Oregon, Cal, Cal Poly, and Washington State. But their biggest loss was freshman phenom Jordan Adams. Adams broke his foot on the last play in the Pac-12 semi-final, which was likely factor in the Bruins' the loss to Oregon in the championship game. Adams' absence was glaring as they promptly lost to Minnesota in the NCAA Tournament's real first round.
Arizona was also a 6 seed, and during the season was ranked as high as No 4 in the nation. The Wildcats began the season 14-0 until they were upset by Oregon. Their hot start and regualr season wins over Florida, San Diego State, Miami, and Colorado put them in good standing with the Selection Committee. So far, they've justified their seeding, first bouncing Belmont and then smashed the glass slippers of the upstart Harvard Crimson.
California was in its best form during the late season, earning a 12 seed as a result. The Bears began their tournament in fine fashion, gaining revenge over UNLV for its one-point regular season loss to the Rebels, toppling them, 64-61, when it meant getting to play at least another game. And that's all it got. Guards Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs couldn't solve the vaunted 2-3 Syracuse zone. Even though its 45-minute drive from Berkeley to San José was much more relaxing than the Orange's cross-continental flight, the 'Cuse adapted rapidly and was that good on the night.
In the process, the Pac-12 became the first conference to have two teams seeded in the 12 slot emerge victorious in the same event. Attrition is inevitable, of course, but its two teams with the most realistic chance of making a deep run in the madness are still standing.
And so far, Oregon and Arizona show they belong. It's a new year for the Pac-12.