It’s been apparent for a while now: The Pac-12 has very good basketball teams in Arizona and Utah, and there’s a distinct chasm between the gilded two and the other 10.
Stanford had seemed a bridge to that gap until its last two games, but now it appears distinctly possible that the Pac-12 experiences the ignominy of getting only two teams in the NCAA tournament — a year after qualifying six.
Stanford, after owning a 14-point lead in the first half at Washington State, fell to the Cougars. Then last night, at home, the Cardinal’s spirited rally from a 22-point deficit midway through the second half fell short and it lost to the Bruins.
That’s troublesome to the Cardinal resume, and the assumption that the Pac-12 was probably a three-bid league is now giving way to the chance that if Stanford doesn’t right the ship, Arizona and Utah might be the only teams in the field.
Unless there’s an outlier down the stretch or in the Pac-12 tournament, I see three teams other than Arizona and Utah with a realistic shot on Selection Sunday (I would have included Washington, but the Huskies, now 14-8, appear to have fallen off the map without Robert Upshaw — not that things had been going all that well lately with him, either).
Stanford — Cardinal dropped to 15-7 with the two recent defeats, which means the USC game Sunday is an absolute must. Next week comes a trip to the mountain schools, and a split would be a good idea. Stanford does have a quality win at Texas, but it’s not helping that the Longhorns have sunk to 14-8 and are on a four-game losing streak. The guess here is that if the field were picked today, the Cardinal would be a part of it, but the RPI has dropped about 15 spots to 46, and the margin for error isn’t much.
UCLA — Bruins (14-9) have had a very sketchy season, with a five-game losing streak in December and January and nothing approaching a good non-league victory. But they beat Stanford twice and upset Utah at home to revive their hopes. Thursday night’s Stanford win was important in that it’s UCLA’s first true road victory of the season, unless you count the crosstown scrap against USC. The RPI is at 45. One thing the basketball committee doesn’t like is flighty; as much as another quality victory, the Bruins need to show they’re stable down the stretch, winning the flip-a-coin games. That includes at Cal Saturday night.
Oregon — Somehow, Dana Altman has pieced together an NCAA contender, or at least a team on the periphery of it at 16-7. A win over Illinois (15-8, 5-5) at the United Center in Chicago is a plus, but otherwise, it’s hardly a glowing portfolio, including two blowout losses against Arizona. The RPI is 56, indicating a lot of work is still to be done — and the Ducks have five road games remaining in addition to hosting the mountain schools. All of it suggests Oregon is going to need either (a) a breakthrough against Utah, or (b) a significant run in the Pac-12 tournament.