LOS ANGELES — People still don’t think this league is any good.
So what if the Pac-12 only got two teams into the NCAA Tournament? The conference was a battle, and its teams will surprise people in the coming weeks, whether that be in the NIT, CBI or the Big Dance.
Sure, the Pac-12 can’t compare to the other power conferences in terms of elite teams — there are no Final Four-bound teams in the Pac-12. And yes, the bottom of the league couldn’t finish in the top half of the Horizon League.
But 1 through 9, the Pac-12 is solid, which made for an eventful, upset-filled conference tournament this past week. No team was safe at Staples Center last week.
“(The Pac-12) got a bad rep at the beginning of the season,” said Cal forward David Kravish. “Tough conference despite what everybody says.”
Give each team in the league the eye test. Washington has the most talent, with Tony Wroten flying to the hoop, Terrence Ross swishing from deep and 7-footer Aziz N’Diaye controlling the paint. But Thursday morning, Oregon State upset the top seed in the quarterfinals, knocking the Huskies out of the NCAA Tournament.
The hottest team going into the tournament had to be UCLA, but the Bruins lost to Arizona on Thursday as well.
The biggest regular season surprise? Probably Oregon, which finished tied for second despite a lack of standout talent and athleticism. The Ducks, didn’t win a game at Staples, losing to Colorado on Thursday night even though they beat the Buffaloes exactly one week earlier.
Then we get to Cal, for all intents and purposes the best team in the conference — but one plagued by inconsistent play and an uninspiring bench. The Bears toughed it out in a rematch with Stanford Thursday but could not come back against Colorado the next night.
Simply put, the Bears lost to a really good team. Sure, Cal could have played better. Going down 12-2 in the first three minutes certainly didn’t help. Neither did a four-minute scoring drought late in the game. But the Buffaloes were just the better team on Friday and every day of the tournament — more physical and athletic on the defensive end, more efficient and balanced on the offensive end.
They played their hearts out. Led by three senior starters, Colorado played with a purpose, wearing last year’s NCAA Tournament snub as a badge across its sleeve.
“We don’t talk about bubbles,” Colorado head coach Tad Boyle said after Friday’s semifinal win over Cal. “What these young men went through last year, we don’t want to go through that again.”
The Buffs won’t have to, as they’ll face UNLV as an 11 seed in the West regional on Thursday. I won’t be shocked if Colorado, picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12, reaches the Sweet Sixteen.
“I’m pretty sure everybody counted the Pac-12 out this year,” said Cal guard Allen Crabbe.
The parity in the Pac-12 does not demonstrate mediocrity. It illustrates competition.
Having the top three seeded teams lose before the final day does not make the Pac-12 a bad conference. The fact that the sixth-seeded team was good enough to win four games in four days to claim the title makes it a good one.
Only 6-foot-7, forward Andre Roberson is one of the most gifted, athletic rebounders and shot blockers. Senior Carlon Brown threw down some acrobatic dunks, the exclamation points at the end of the Buffs’ semifinal and final.
Even with just two teams in the NCAA Tournament, the Pac-12 will be represented well.
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