March has not been kind to the Pac-12. Even before Arizona State was booted early, and Arizona was stunned by Buffalo, and UCLA couldn’t make it past the First Four, USC was snubbed from the NCAA Tournament altogether.
Athletic director Lynn Swann was stunned, telling reporters that “We are all disappointed. We felt we were deserving of a place in the tournament, but others who actually make the decision didn’t feel the same.”
The committee, if nothing else, seems to be validated in its decision to limit the Pac-12’s berths, as one team has fallen after another. And yet just as Swann defended USC, basketball coach Andy Enfield is defending the conference as a whole, telling reporters on Friday that the Pac-12 is, contrary to popular opinion, “extremely deep.”
“Oregon’s a very good team, Utah’s a very good team,” Enfield said. “If you look at the teams throughout the conference, Stanford’s a good team, with a lot of injuries early.”
The conference began the season with respect from the coaches and media alike. In the pre-season, the Associated Press had Arizona ranked No. 3, USC 10, and UCLA 21. The USA Today Coaches Poll slotted Arizona at 5, USC at 11 and UCLA at 18. At one point in the year, Arizona State was No. 3.
It all came unglued from there. Consistency, perhaps a result of injuries, mired the Pac-12. Arizona won the conference with four losses, while second-place USC finished with 6. For reference’s sake, three teams — Oregon, Arizona, UCLA — finished with fewer than four losses a year ago, when the Pac-12 was something of an NCAA Tournament darling.
This season’s edition of the Big Dance went much different. No Pac-12 team was able to summon an upset, as No. 11 USC did to No. 6 SMU in the first round of 2017. No Pac-12 team was able to receive a seed better than No. 4, a full two seeds below Arizona of 2017. No Pac-12 team was able to make a Final Four run and topple a 1 seed, as Oregon did in 2017.
Yet Enfield still defends the conference that was snubbed and then booted before the opening weekend was over. It’s true the Pac-12 suffered injuries and had more players leave for the NBA Draft than any other conference.
But at some point, the only thing that can defend a conference, and an individual school, is a win, something for which the Pac-12 will now have to wait for another March.
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