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February 19, 2010

The Wild, Unpredictable West

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 3:53 am

It may not rise to the level of fury John Gasaway experiences any time the term “rebound margin” is uttered, but one of my great annoyances in college basketball analysis is when conference results are used to discuss the strength of a conference as a whole. Consider this an intractable truth of basketball: Whenever two teams from the same conference meet, one of them will win and one of them will lose. (I know. Profound.) The net result is always the same for the conference’s strength as a whole.

That said, in-conference results can certainly determine a lot of a conference’s fate come March. And while the Pac-10 certainly earned its poor reputation this season fair and square with a poor showing in the non-conference slate of games, the inability of any team to separate from the pack in the conference is doing further damage to the Pac-10’s chances of being anything more than a one-bid league this season.

Cal is clearly the class of the Pac-10 on paper, with a lofty standing of No. 24 in the Pomeroy Ratings and some momentum entering this weekend’s play–three straight wins, including a big one at Haas Pavilion over Washington. How then to explain tonight’s result? Giving up 80 points in 64 possessions to the country’s No. 206 team in adjusted offensive efficiency, the Bears lost by 16 at Oregon State. The Beavers shot a sizzling 61.1 percent inside the arc (22-of-36) and made 36 trips to the free throw line in a home blowout that will mar Cal’s resume come Selection Sunday.

(As for how an Oregon State team that lost at home to Seattle University and Sacramento State could beat up on the Pac-10 leaders … well, it’s the latest example of the Beavers’ results being largely unconnected to the quality of their opposition, as I noted earlier in the year.)

The Huskies looked to have a good shot at breaking out of the pack of teams vying for position behind conference leaders Cal and Arizona State after finally winning a road game at Stanford last Saturday. Instead, Washington’s tournament hopes took a major hit with a rare home loss against stingy USC, which built a 16-point lead midway through the second half and survived a Husky rally. Now, Washington probably finds itself in the position of needing to win the Pac-10 Tournament to reach the NCAAs. My lede aside, the Trojans are the last team the Pac-10 wants winning since USC is ineligible for postseason play thanks to self-imposed violations. Nonetheless, the Trojans–now tied for second place with Arizona State, a half-game behind Cal–might just win the conference regular season.

The wackiness of the evening in the Pacific time zone wasn’t limited to the Pac-10. In fact, Gonzaga suffered an even bigger upset at the hands of lowly Loyola Marymount, ranked No. 187 by Pomeroy even after the win. The Zags have come through against the West Coast Conference’s other top teams (sweeping both Portland and St. Mary’s), but have been surprisingly poor against everyone else in their league. Gonzaga’s tiebreaker advantage means it would take two stumbles to let the WCC regular-season title slip away, but this loss could prove costly in terms of keeping the Bulldogs from being able to stay in Spokane for the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, which would require a protected seed of fifth or better.

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