Monday, December 19, 2011

Pac12 Basketball Stinks

You know the Pac12 is in trouble when all it has to brag about is a loss--Stanford falling to No.1 Syracuse last month. Call it a near victory, which sounds better. Stanford led most of the way before Syracuse took control in the last few minutes, winning 69-63.

For Pac12 men's hoops this brush with victory in a game against an elite team is as good as it gets. The conference has nothing else to brag about. Any discussion about Pac12 basketball winds up listing negative after negative. Most damning is that the conference hasn't has a team in the AP Top 25 for a couple of weeks. Another black eye: no Pac12 team has a victory over a Top 25 team. There's more. In conference ratings, the Pac 12 is shockingly low, down there with the obscure doormat leagues.

This abyss was unexpected. The season began so hopefully, with UCLA, Cal and Arizona appearing on most pre-season Top 25 lists. Then reality set in.

UCLA was the first to flop, with shocking losses to rinky-dink teams. Its best player, Reeves Nelson, always a fragile head case, spun out of control and was kicked off the team. Center Josh Smith, a key player, showed up fat and slow-footed and is still many weeks away from reaching his top shape. Aided by a soft schedule, UCLA has limped to 5-5, way below expectaions.

Considered by some writers the best team in the conference, Cal, featuring defensive whiz Jorge Gutierrez and sharpshooter Allen Crabbe, has also stumbled, losing to two Top 25 teams. The Missouri loss was a slaughter but the Bears were nipped by San Diego State during the short suspension of starting power forward Richard Solomon. Then No. 24 and the lone Pac12 presence in the AP Top 25, Cal--and the conference--fell off the list. Look behind that glossy 9-2 record and you see that the Bears have been gorging on little teams. Adding wins in conference play may not be easy. They just got some more bad news about Solomon, that he's out for a few weeks with a stress fracture in his foot. 

Arizona's ranking was based on its hotshot freshmen blooming quickly. They haven't, which has contributed to the Wildcats' shaky start. Washington, with solid veteran Abdul Gabby and talented freshman Tony Wroten, has promise, but getting wiped out at home last weekend by lowly South Dakota State, 92-73, raises some red flags.

Amid all this gloom, picked to finish in the bottom half of the conference, Stanford, with its 9-1 record, has been a pleasant surprise. But are they for real? Boasting size, depth and some scrappy young players like freshman Chasson Randle and sophmore point guard Aaron Bright, they have potential. But the Cardinal, which has yet to beat a good team, could also crumble against conference competition.

As you might expect, since the Pac 12 has no headline-grabbing teams, it also has no headline-grabbing stars. The elite teams are wobbly and the rest of the league is mediocre. This shapes up to be one of the worst conference seasons in many years. And just wait until March Madness. Pac12 fans won't just be mad, they'll be embarrassed. The conference will be lucky to get three invites.