Talking heads will talk. And insult.
We have said all along on BN this season that the Pac-12 was not a good conference, and we used that as evidence that the Bruins' performance this year did not mean that this was a great team and that Howland had suddenly regained his touch from the Final Four years (there were THREE of them!!). I'm happy we won the conference regular season title, don't get me wrong. But it really wasn't the great accomplishment is might have been in certain previous years when the conference had 3-4 legit top 15 teams.
Well, now ESPN gets on board. In this Bleacher Report-like list (which is not a compliment, btw) of predictions to look for in the tournament, their low expectations for the Pac-12 get a nod (bold is mine):
#6: The Pac-12 will go 0-5 in the first (second) round -- Immediately after the 68 teams were announced, the Twitterverse was filled with chatter about the Pac-12's seeding. Oregon's slot as a 12-seed, despite its second-place finish in the Pac-12 and a tourney title, was the most puzzling placement. The league can prove its worth with a strong showing in the NCAA tournament. But I think they'll do the opposite and struggle throughout its brief stay in March Madness. I could see the Pac-12 losing its five first-round matchups. Yep. Sounds crazy, I know. But Minnesota has the athleticism and strength inside to upset UCLA. I don't think Oregon is better than Oklahoma State. I think Anthony Bennett will lead UNLV to a win over Cal, even though the game will be played in San Jose. Illinois will get hot and torch Colorado. And Belmont is a tough mid-major that won't be intimidated in its upset over Arizona. That's an 0-5 tally for that league.
If there is one thing the Tourney lacks, it is hype, so perhaps we are lucky that writers like this guy will go out on a limb and make such bold predictions. On the other hand, it could be that there is a ridiculously amount of hype so writers need to go for the sensational to chip off a piece of the action and attract a page view or two.
So will the Pac-12 be the Pac 0 for 5? Maybe, maybe not. No matter what tWWL throws against the wall, we'll find out for real by this weekend.
But the take home point of this is to see the continued lack of respect for the Pac-12 this year. If the Selection Committee didn't make it clear enough, here's ESPN to back it up. And they aren't just ignorant or being petty. Unfortunately, it is deserved. The Pac-12 was a bad conference this year. The level of play was poor and inconsistent. The RPI was embarassing. The bad losses by the conference's top teams, U.C.L.A. included, were shameful.
The Howlers have been using U.C.L.A.'s conference title as some sort of proof that Ben Howland had a good year coaching. Unfortunately for their delusions, context matters. Being the best of a bad conference does not logically make you a great team, nor does it mean your coach did a magical job. ESPN thinks the Pac-12 conference gets shut out, and that its champ will lose to an 11 seed that lost 11 of its last 16 games leading up to the tournament.
I desperately hope this prediction is wrong on Friday. But it doesn't change their message. They aren't defending the Pac-12, saying we are all underseeded, and picking us for the Sweet 16 and beyond. Just the opposite. U.C.L.A. should be competing for national prominence, not for the lead of a mediocre batch of teams in the conference's worst year in a long long time.