With the lull in the schedule, now is a good time to take stock of the performance of the Pac-10 as a whole thus far. Although we're only about halfway through the non-conference schedule for most teams, it's not too early to air some serious concerns about the Pac-10's poor showing thus far.
If you have any doubts about whether this is a down year for the Pac-10, look no further than the Sagarin conference rankings. The top seven conferences are as follows:
2. Big 10
3. Big 12
5. Big East
6. Conference USA
These rankings are not misleading by any stretch of the imagination. While Stanford, Oregon and Arizona have all shown well, the other seven conference teams haven't done anything to help the conference's image or its computer ratings. With almost half of the non-conference games already in the books, it will be difficult for the Pac-10 to bounce back and achieve the lofty conference ratings it has achieved in the recent past.
I thought it might be helpful to provide an overview of the quality non-conference opponents each Pac-10 team has played or will play this season. The following table lists the quality opponents (in my judgment) on each team's schedule.
|Arizona||Western Kentucky||Home||W (107-68)|
|Arizona State||Kentucky||Neutral||L (82-65)|
|Oregon State||None (Kansas State is toughest opponent)|
|North Carolina||Neutral||L (74-57)|
|Washington State||TCU||Away||L (86-83)|
A few notes on the above:
- Obviously, the distinction between "quality" opponents and those I left off the list is completely subjective. I tried to err, however, on the side of inclusion. For example, it's debatable whether such teams as UNLV (which plays quite a few Pac-10 teams this year) should be included in a list of quality opponents. I gave UNLV and some other teams the benefit of the doubt.
- There are a number of games that are technically at neutral sites, even though they will take place in one team's backyard. For example, the Newell Challenge will be played in Oakland, but is considered a "neutral" game for Cal and Stanford. I listed these games according to their technical designation.
A lot can be read into the above list, but I'll limit my analysis to a handful of points:
- A number of teams that people are projecting to finish in the middle of the Pac-10 have weak out of conference schedules and have lost key games that represented opportunities for "quality wins." Arizona State arguably has already played it's four toughest non-conference games thus far, and is 1-3 in those games. Cal may have the weakest non-conference schedule aside from OSU; the Bears have already lost to Georgia, and their only other high profile game is against Kansas, a probable loss. USC has an easy non-conference schedule as well, with Missouri projecting to be their only ranked opponent. (USC has already lost to Rhode Island and UCSB in addition to Missouri.) If Stanford finishes tied with (or possibly even a loss behind) any of the aforementioned schools, Stanford may have a significant edge in terms of getting a tournament bid or higher seed.
- A lot of people disagreed with me when I suggested in January of last year that the Pac-10 would get six tournament bids. The argument seemed to be that the conference had never gotten that many bids, and that it would represent a significant departure from past years, in which 4 or at most 5 teams was the norm. We may see another break from the past this year. There's a real chance, in my opinion, that the Pac-10 could wind up with only three bids this year, and I would suggest that four is going to be the maximum. In short, too many Pac-10 teams have dug themselves significant holes already and will have a tough time impressing the committee unless they finish well north of .500 in conference. In particular, USC and Arizona State may very well need to win as many as 11 conference games to make the tournament (although strong showings in the conference tournament are now a wildcard). Cal's weak out of conference schedule may make 11 conference wins a necessity for them as well, unless they pull a shocker and beat Kansas at the Newell. Zero quality wins out of conference would be a huge gap on the Bears' postseason resume. The Kansas game will be huge for the weenies.
- Stanford may very well wind up with the highest SOS among all Pac-10 teams, and at the very least, it should have one of the 2 or 3 highest SOS's. With wins over Florida and Xavier, Stanford already is assured of more quality out of conference wins than USC, ASU and Cal can achieve at this point given their remaining schedules. Of course, all this is academic if Stanford falters in conference play. But, I suggest keeping SOS and "quality wins" in mind if Stanford find itself jockeying with several teams in the middle of the conference standings.
- Another concept that will become relevant later in the season is "bad losses." Several teams already have them, including UCLA, which lost to San Diego, and USC, which lost to Rhode Island and UCSB.
That's the lay of the land in the Pac-10 at this early point in the season. Looking at the big picture, Stanford, Arizona and Oregon have put themselves in excellent position heading into the meat of the schedule, with the Cardinal in particular having earned some entries for its postseason resume. USC and Arizona State have dug themselves early holes, and Cal will need to pull of a big upset against Kansas if it's going to have any quality wins out of conference.