Wednesday , February 15, 2012 - 2:34 PM
Before the start of the basketball season, analysts projected weak performances out of Pacific-12 Conference squads. The teams proceeded to go out and prove their detractors absolutely right.
But weak is one thing; historically bad is another.
The so-called Conference of Champions has not had a team ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 since November, and that was California at No. 24.
No team even drew votes in the poll for the past month, but Cal (20-6) bucked that trend by collecting three votes this week. Harvard got six, we might add.
Although the type is small, the best I can tell from a scan of conference history is this: During no season since 1950 has this conference and its earlier incarnations finished the season without a team ranked in any of the major polls.
Woohoo ... history in the making.
And this is not the result of some voting bias -- the Pac-12 has earned every bit of this disregard.
Pac-12 teams have played against eight ranked teams this season. They've gone 0-8. In a collective 14 games against Mountain West teams, the Pac-12 has come up with three wins.
In a story in USA Today, writer Steve Berkowitz speculated that the Pac-12 could have the dubious honor of being the first of the power conferences to send only one team to the NCAA since tournament expansion in 1980.
Why? Well, it's been coming. The conference that had at times landed as many as six NCAA berths was down to two in 2010. Injuries, suspensions, early-entry NBA defections have played roles. Perhaps it's just a cycle, but this seems more like a nosedive.
Cal and UW are tied for the conference lead at 10-3, which looks good, but, really, has been unconvincing in both cases. Cal lost to both Oregon State and Washington State, a pair of teams at 5-8 in the conference. The Huskies lost to Oregon (82-57) last week in an absolute stinker.
From a competitive standpoint, at least every weekend is interesting. After all, Oregon, Arizona and Colorado are just a game behind Cal and UW in the conference race.
The one-bid theory is most valid if Cal wins the regular season and the conference tournament, because UW would strain to meet the credentials for an at-large berth. Cal faces the Oregon schools at home and then finishes with three road games, including Colorado and rival Stanford.
UW has to go to Pullman and Los Angeles to finish, after an important match with Arizona at home this Saturday.
The Huskies have managed to win despite some potholes in their game. As coach Lorenzo Romar said after Sunday's win at Oregon State: "Although some of the wins may not have looked pretty, somehow we were able to get them done."
The Huskies look so tantalizingly talented in spurts that it seems they could play with just about anybody. But they've spent most of this season trying to find identity, leadership, consistency and, at times, physical toughness.
And some of their problems are curious. They're 38th in the country in scoring, but 163rd in assists. That says the points are often not a result of scripted offense. And they're certainly not coming from the free-throw line.
The Huskies are 326th out of 344 teams in free-throw percentage at .617. For context, Cal leads the conference at 75.4 percent. Incidentally, 11 Pac-12 women's basketball teams have better percentages from the line than the UW men.
Center Aziz N'Diaye is clanking along at .345 from the line, which might be excused for a man of his size and limited range, but freshman star Tony Wroten Jr. is shooting .564.
The effect is significant. This season UW has taken 97 more free throws than Cal (572-475) and made seven fewer of them (351-358). When the two teams met at UW in January, Cal won by three points, outscoring the Huskies by nine points at the free-throw line.
The conference tournament is fast approaching. It's going to take an almost historic reversal to prove the detractors wrong.
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