There’s been lots of chatter about how poorly the Pac-10 has performed this season but don’t get carried away thinking this year’s version of the conference is historically bad. The current edition may feel a little more down than it actually is because the flagship programs, UCLA and Arizona, could finish 9th and 10th in some order. And admittedly, this season is likely to be historic in that sense – never in the 31 previous seasons of Pac-10 play have both UCLA and Arizona finished with conference records of .500 or worse. (The fewest combined conference wins by the two schools is 16 in 1984. UCLA supplied 15 of those.)
But I’ll submit that to find a worse Pac-10 season, one need not go back too far. I nominate 2004, a season when only four teams in the league finished with a winning record overall. Three teams got bids, putting together a total of one NCAA tournament victory, which came at the expense of a 16-seed. I expect the reason that the ‘04 season gets lost is because Stanford and Arizona were ranked in the top ten for most of the season. Stanford, as you may remember, won the regular-season title and earned a one-seed in the tourney. That was the year that the Cardinal made it to the final game of the regular season before incurring their first loss. Stanford had a great year, but there’s a little bit of the chicken-or-egg situation here. Their undefeated run was partly fueled by a weak conference and that their second-toughest conference game was also the last one on the schedule.
If we were doing some sort of decade retrospective, Stanford may well get the award for weakest one-seed of the aughts. (And if you want evidence that pollsters overvalue record and undervalue schedule strength, Stanford went into the tourney as the number one team in the country.) Even though there will be no unbeaten in the Pac-10 this season, Cal and Washington may well be as good as the Cardinal were in ’04, and USC seems to have firmed up a nice portfolio in recent days, no?
Yes, this season’s Pac-10 is below average by power conference standards, but the odds are in its favor to equal the number of bids from ’04 and certainly to exceed the number of tournament wins from that season.