March 29, 2018

The Pac 12: Still Underappreciated?

By Warren Grimes

In the women’s tournament this year, three Pac 12 teams made it to the Elite Eight (none of them Stanford). All three lost, but one could deduce from this event that three of the top eight teams in the country came from the Pac 12 conference. Or, based on reaching the Sweet Sixteen, one could conclude that four of the top 16 teams were in the conference. These are credible assertions, but they were not accurately reflected in the tournament seedings.

For the third year running, Pac-12 teams outperformed their tournament seeding. That’s compelling evidence that the conference is still underrated by those who do the seedings. That underappreciation is surely linked to the national press and those who do the weekly national ratings of women’s teams.

Taking the longer view, the conference has a spotty record. Stanford won the national title in 1990 and in 1992. Since then, Stanford has been to ten additional final fours, and reached the championship game on two occasions (2008 and 2010). But for a 27 year period no other conference team has reached the end round (USC finished in the Final Four in 1986 and Cal in 2013). The conference was dominated by Stanford for two reasons: (1) Stanford was very good and (2) the other conference teams were not.

By 2013, the Pac-12's somnolence was ending. That year, the Cal Bears were given a second seed in the tournament and went all the way to the Final Four. More impressively, in 2016, two Pac-12 schools reached the final four for the first time (OSU and Washington). And in 2017, a second-seeded Stanford team butted its way back to Final Four. These events seemed to put the world on notice that the conference was for real.

Unfortunately, the tournament seedings of Pac-12 teams, at least over the past three years, have lagged behind performance. For example, in 2016, the year that two conference teams reached the Final Four, both Washington (given a #7 seed) and Oregon State (given a #2 seed) outperformed their seedings.

In 2017, seven Pac-12 teams headed for the tournament. Three of those schools performed better than their seed (and only one, OSU, underperformed — OSU was a second seed and lost to third-seeded Florida State in the Sweet Sixteen). Stanford was a #2 seed and bested #1 seed Notre Dame to get to the Final Four. Even more impressively, Oregon, a #10 seed, had three consecutive “upset” victories (including wins over #2- and #3-seeded teams) to get to the Elite Eight.

In 2018, six Pac-12 teams were selected (USC felt underappreciated). And once again, all but one of the six teams performed as well or better than their seed. California (a #7 seed) lost to #10-seeded Virginia, but that result could well have turned on Cal’s best player being held out of the game for medical reasons. Two teams bested higher-seeded rivals: UCLA, with a #3 seed, bested #2-seeded Texas; and OSU had a banner run to the Elite Eight — with a #6 seed, OSU beat #3-seeded Tennessee on its home court (The Vols first ever NCAA loss on their home court), then took down #2-seeded Baylor in the Sweet Sixteen. The remaining three Pac-12 teams, including Stanford, played to seed.

So for three consecutive years, the Pac-12 has outperformed its seedings. Is this a statistical anomaly? An accident?

I doubt it. The Pac-12 conference is as good or better than any conference in the country, with some really talented players, and the best lineup of coaches that I can recall. The conference is super competitive. So why this underappreciation?

To really get the conference on the map, the Pac-12 needs another national championship, lacking for the last 26 years. Recognizing UConn’s dominance, even a runner-up status would help — Stanford last played in the championship game 8 years ago (2010). No other Pac 12 team has reached the end game in decades. Teams like Stanford and Oregon have to assert themselves — and climb into the rarefied air of the top four teams in the country. That could happen soon, and I hope it does.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The PAC-12 didn’t show toughness when it counted. Being in the top 16 is really not good enough. You can see the separation in toughness. That’s why Baylor lost and Tennessee lost, despite the talent. Unfortunately this hurts recruiting. Looking at 2018 and beyond, UCon, ND and Louisville will continue dominating because they are stacked with new top 20 recruits.