The Pac-10: Schu's version

Usually around this time of year, the Pac-10 wonders whether it can get four teams, and in good years five representatives, into the NCAA Tournament. This season it finds itself in uncharted territory. The computer rankings consistently rate it as the No. 2 conference in the country, yet it's in danger of receiving just two tournaent bids.

So who wants to be No. 3? This we know. Arizona and Washington are in, and they're probably going to get favorabe seedings. If the UA closes extraordinarily strong, a one, while probably not likely, is still a possibility. As it is, Washington and Arizona will probably be seeded in the two and three range.

And then from there it gets muddy.

Stanford presently ranks third in the Pac-10 with an overall record of 13-9 and league mark of 7-5. It hosts the LA schools this week, travels to Oregon and closes with home dates against the Washingtons. If Stanford can get to nine conference wins, it's probably going to get a look, and one would think going 2-4 down the stretch in the regular season would be enough, as terrible as that seems given its bubble status. Despite a lackluster overall record, Stanford will get extra study by the NCAA Selection Committee because of an early-season gauntlet away from refurbished Maples Pavilion. The Cardinal didn't play a home game for the first month of the campaign.

But there's a looming question. Leading scorer Dan Grunfeld suffered a season-ending knee injury Saturday. The Cardinal is thin as it is. If it goes into a significant tailspin, you can close the book.

UCLA stands at 7-6 in league play, and 13-8 overall. Remaining schedule: At the Bay Area schools, USC, a huge showdown with Notre Dame Feb. 27, and the season wrapup at home against the Oregon schools. Nine Pac-10 wins could be enough, since the only loss that might be considered bad, including non-conference, is a home shellacking by California. That said, it's been unable to break through against the league's top tier. Some have suggested the Notre Dame encounter is about as close to a play-in game as there is in the regular season. The scedule is such that UCLA should win most of its games down the stretch. If that happens. there will be dancing in Westwood.

Oregon State is 6-6 in league play, 14-9 overall, and fresh off a huge win over Washington at home. Remaining schedule: at the Arizona schools, Bay Area at home, at the LA schools. That's a tough closing stretch where three wins and a first-round triumph in the Pac-10 tournament is probably what's necessary. An 18-win Oregon State team will get some looks.

Arizona State has an overall record of 16-9, and a marquee player in Ike Diogu, but its 5-8 conference record suggests it has to win four of five in the regular season--meaning it's going to have to beat Arizona or Washington--and probably advance at least into the second round of the Pac-10 tournament.

California is 5-7 in conference play, and 12-10 overall. It's probably looking at needing to win five of six coupled with success in the Pac-10 tourney to get a sniff. Same holds true for Washington State, which stands at 5-8 in league play, but 10-12 overall. If it can reach .500, the NIT is likely in the offing by virtue of its win at Arizona.

Oregon has an overall record of 12-9, but it's 4-8 in Pac-10 play and at the moment is on the outside looking in as far as a berth in the league tournament is concerned. However, if Oregon goes on an unlikely tear, there's still faint hope, but with four of six away from Mac Court, the conference's most disappointing team appears poised to spend the post-season watching from home.

It's true there have been leagues where teams advanced to NCAA tournament play with sub-.500 conference records. However, those conferences tended to have more than two teams at the top of the heap. While the Pac-10's RPI is second, it's lack of top-heavy options only muddies the waters. A regular season showing of 9-9 is probably the bare minimum, and that doesn't take into account the importance of a first-round win in the Pac-10 tourney.

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