I know this is a football term, but we all know what MACTION means in a college sports context. That term is easily transferable to college hoops. The Pac-12 and the AAC provide PACTION and AACTION, at least in theory.
So far this season, there is very little PACTION out West or AACTION in the AAC’s expansive geographic footprint.
Once again, the autumnal months are destroying the Pac-12’s chances of collecting a large number of NCAA Tournament bids… and if anything, this year is clearly worse than 2017. Remember that Washington defeated Kansas roughly 12 months ago and still didn’t make the NCAAs. Arizona State beat Xavier and Kansas — TWO NO. 1 SEEDS! — and still didn’t get direct entry into the round of 64. The Sun Devils went to Dayton for the First Four and lost to Syracuse.
This year, what is there to bolster the Pac-12’s portfolio? UCLA beating an ordinary Notre Dame team at home is merely the avoidance of a discouraging loss, not the procurement of a resume-boosting win. It is similar for California over San Diego State. Arizona State beating Mississippi State is one of the very few value added wins on the Pac-12 ledger through a full month of hoops, and even then, MSU has to show in SEC play that it is a tournament-worthy team.
The Pac-12 — which put only three teams in the field of 68 last season, one in the round of 64, and generated ZERO WINS last March — shows no signs of improvement over last season. Think about that.
Even under the most optimistic projections, it is very hard to see more than four teams coming from that high-major conference. Three seems likely, and two seems well within the range of possibility.
PACTION? There isn’t much to be found in 2018.
Then move to the AAC, where Houston and Cincinnati are getting work done… and then the music largely stops.
This past week, Connecticut lost to Florida State. SMU lost at home to TCU. Wichita State got crushed by Oklahoma. On a broader level, Memphis, Tulane, East Carolina, South Florida, and UCF have all absorbed losses in the first month of play which will probably look bad on the resume in late winter of 2019, just before the brackets are revealed. The two teams other than Houston and Cincinnati which have made notable statements this month are Temple (wins over both Georgia and Missouri) and Tulsa (a win over Kansas State this past Saturday). However, Temple needs UGA and Mizzou to be good, which is no guarantee, and Tulsa has absorbed some bad losses to go along with the K-State win.
The AAC, like the Pac-12, figures to get no more than four of its 12 teams into the Big Dance. That is an early assessment, and I will allow that the AAC might be able to grow at a rate the Pac-12 can’t match. Still, in a 12-team league, a four-bid haul is small. AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco probably thought a few years ago that SMU and UConn would be reliable sources of NCAA bids. As long as they require more time to build, and before Memphis gets going under Penny Hardaway, this season could be rough.
AACTION is modest and not magical thus far.
Minimal PACTION and barely more AACTION is bad for those two conferences, but it means that other conferences can gain more traction.
No two conferences are more likely to benefit from this dynamic than the ACC and the Big Ten, with the Big 12 also having a place in the conversation if Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor can sort themselves out.
That ACC team — there is at least one every year — which goes .500 or 8-10 in league play and loses early in the ACC Tournament? That team got a Dance card in 2016 and 2018. It wears Orange. That kind of ACC team is once again more likely to get a bid than not if the Pac-12 and AAC don’t improve.
Bids have to go somewhere. Remember: Last year, FIVE teams finished below .500 in their Power Five conferences and yet got an at-large NCAA bid.
Oklahoma, Texas, Syracuse, Arizona State, and Alabama all got in. That was a partial product of the Pac-12 and AAC having only three bids apiece.
The practice of doing bracketology before late February is a waste of time, and is not something to be taken seriously, even if the foremost basketball scholars in the world were involved. However, while bracketology shouldn’t be done until the last Monday of February at the earliest, we can constantly assess the national landscape and derive a better understanding of where power centers are strong or weak. This forms the mosaic from which the “Chase for 68” is formed.
The Pac-12 and AAC are — once again — clearly behind most of the pack, despite various recent investments in their basketball products.
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