We’re referring to ESPN.com’s latest Bracketology by tournament-grid guru Joe Lunardi, which has six Pac-12 basketball teams headed to the field.
In three short words: Not gonna happen.
I enjoy and respect Lunardi’s work, which becomes more and more cogent the deeper we go into the season. But that’s the point here, and I suspect he’d agree: We’re not nearly far enough into 2012-13 to be able to project with any degree of certainty how the bracket might look.
Even saying that, it’s one thing to concede that there’s plenty still to be determined. It’s another to look at several Pac-12 resumes to date and judge them even remotely worthy of the NCAA field — even if you project them playing at the same level the rest of the season.
Let’s assess the six he selected:
— Arizona. It’s undefeated and has a big game Saturday night in Tucson with Florida. As the league’s only ranked team, it appears to be a probable lock for the tournament.
— Colorado. The Buffs are 7-2 entering a Wednesday-night game with Lamar, and have wins over Dayton, Colorado State and Baylor. The Baylor win has dimmed a bit, since the Bears are a disappointing 5-3, with two home losses. Still, I’d put CU’s long-term NCAA future at maybe 65-35, to the good.
— Oregon. Ducks are 8-1 with a good win over Nevada-Las Vegas. Much of the schedule has been soft, but it looks like a team with, say, a 50-50 shot at the tournament, maybe a little better.
— Cal. Bears are 6-2. They were drilled by 25 at Wisconsin, lost a heartbreaker to UNLV and have a big home game Saturday with Creighton. While Cal has the look of a team good enough to finish in the top two of the league, there’s nothing yet to hang your hat on, pending what looks to be a huge game with Creighton. So its NCAA chances, on Dec. 12, are sketchy.
— UCLA. Bruins are 6-3, with nothing approaching a quality win. And they lost to Cal Poly. Projecting them into the NCAA field takes a lot of imagination.
— Stanford. Viscerally, the Cardinal (6-3) looks about like UCLA right now, with nothing impressive on the books, and a home loss to Belmont. So an NCAA bid would be an upset unless things reverse course.
What was a relatively promising start for the league — the wins over Baylor and UNLV, for instance — has leveled off, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pac-12 encounters some of last year’s difficulty come selection time, though not to that extreme degree. Without a solid base of non-conference chops, it’s hard for teams to push themselves into consideration absent an exceptionally high-level resume in league play. That’s precisely what kept regular-season winner Washington out of the field last year. (For some teams, Cal being one, there is still time to leave a mark.)
Couple that with the notion that the bottom of the league seems to have pushed up, and it could be hard for would-be NCAA contenders. There doesn’t appear to be a truly bad team this year, which portends some losses by the better teams against the lower ones.
Bottom line, if you take Oregon, Cal, UCLA and Stanford, I’d guess maybe two of those teams make it — but not all four. And ultimately, the league gets three or four teams in.