Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament preview: Fear and loathing in Las Vegas

Basketball player bounces ball.
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The 2018-19 Pac-12 men’s basketball season has not been kind, prosperous or even entertaining for the fans, players or programs themselves.

On the heels of another disappointing football season in which the conference failed to send a team to the College Football Playoff for the third time in five years, plus last season’s embarrassing run in the NCAA basketball tournament in which only three conference teams qualified for “the “dance” — all of them ended up losing in the first round — the Pac-12 was due a boost that unfortunately never materialized.

The last Pac-12 program to make a Final Four was Oregon in 2017, and the last school to win a national championship in men’s hoops was Arizona way back in 1997.

The conference brings in less total revenue than its competitors from the Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC and only slightly more than the ACC, largely because of the decision by current Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott to not partner with a major television network to broadcast games.

Scott instead kept the Pac-12 Network independent in order to keep total control of rights, but in the process has surrendered millions of dollars that would’ve come the conference’s way if he had simply partnered with a network such as Fox, which owns 51 percent of the Big Ten.

Scott is betting that his approach will pay dividends in the next five or so years, but as of now, the conference is falling behind other major programs when it comes to attracting talent, maintaining consistency and generating positive revenue streams.

The “conference of champions” has been a total dud yet again in the men’s basketball realm.

The Pac-12 suffered the worst December stretch by a major conference in 20 years. UCLA, its most prestigious program, fired its head coach midseason and barely finished above .500. Two of its programs have come under the microscope of the FBI for illegally paying players. The conference has suffered losses to mid-major schools such as Princeton, Liberty and Santa Clara.

The Pac-12 is trailing competitors while also suffering from incompetent leadership and failing in spectacular fashion to generate success in the two sports that pay the bills in collegiate athletics.

Naturally, this story somehow leads us to Las Vegas.

The conference’s annual basketball tournament has taken place in Sin City since 2013 but perhaps never to as little enthusiasm. There is a real possibility that the team to win this tournament could be the sole program to play in March Madness, and with the poor showings of the conference blue bloods such as UCLA, Oregon and Arizona, the chances of electric atmospheres at these games are remote. Television ratings won’t be much better.

In his signature work “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” Hunter S. Thompson famously remarked, “For a loser, Vegas is the meanest town on earth.”

Both Cal and the Pac-12 as a whole will test that hypothesis starting March 13.


Colorado snapshot

The Bears will be facing off with Colorado on Wednesday in round one of the conference tournament for their second meeting of the season. The Buffaloes took the first game, winning 68-59.

The Buffs finished the regular season on a three-game winning streak, defeating Utah, UCLA and USC in Boulder after losing to both Washington and Washington State.


Cal snapshot

Washington, Washington State and Stanford. Three schools and three wins for Cal in its past three games.

How this has happened after starting 0-15 in conference is frankly mind-boggling.



Colorado will likely win, but Cal has a real shot of pulling off an upset.

Buffs by 5.

Rory O’Toole covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].