The community of college basketball fans in the United States wants the Pac-12 to be a one-bid conference this year. It is hard to find fault with that desire. Even Pac-12 fans can see and acknowledge that. However, if we were to present a scenario in which the conference gets more than one team into the field, which scenario would advance the league’s interests more?
That question is the simple basis for this check-in on Pac-12 basketball after Washington went into Tucson and defeated Arizona to move to 10-0 in the league. The Huskies’ win in McKale Center on Thursday night sets up a huge showdown with Arizona State on Saturday night in Tempe.
The question is straightforward: Is the Pac-12 better off with a Washington win or an Arizona State win? You can have your opinion, but mine is clear: Washington is the better answer for the league.
The objection to that answer is clear and entirely reasonable: Arizona State, after losing at home to Washington State on Thursday, is in huge NCAA Tournament trouble. That’s an eyesore of a loss on several levels. Given that Arizona State can improve its resume by beating Washington — and won’t improve its resume by beating any other Pac-12 team, it stands to reason that any last shred of an at-large possibility for ASU depends on beating Washington. Therefore, one can make a perfectly convincing case that the Pac-12 would be helped more by an ASU win than a U-Dub victory.
Fair point. Yet, the Washington argument is better.
If Washington does fall into a rut and loses three or four games in the next month, the Huskies’ at-large status — which looks decent at the moment — will be thrown into question. No, it doesn’t seem that anyone in the Pac-12 is ready to beat Washington, but let’s work with the idea that Arizona State beats the Huskies and knocks them off course for a few weeks. Washington might finish 15-3 in the Pac and lose in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament. That won’t look very convincing on Selection Sunday. The Pac-12 could then be a one-bid league.
Remember: The winner of the Pac-12 Tournament will go to the NCAA Tournament no matter what. Therefore, instead of hoping at this point that Arizona State will build an at-large resume, the more reliable path to two bids in the Pac-12 is for Washington to solidify itself to the fullest possible extent. If the Huskies build an airtight at-large candidacy, they can make the Pac-12 Tournament final (at least the semis) and feel utterly safe on Selection Sunday in the at-large pool of teams. They would join the autobid winner to give the Pac-12 two teams in the field of 68.
If Washington finishes 17-1 in the conference and makes the Pac-12 Tournament final, that will be enough to get an at-large invite.
The Pac-12 shouldn’t depend on Arizona State as an at-large. The league needs Washington to forge a bulletproof resume, become the at-large NCAA Tournament team, and join an autobid winner in March Madness.
Washington, not Arizona State, needs to win on Saturday in order for the Pac-12 to avoid the one-bid nightmare which is a very realistic possibility. Washington winning the Pac-12 Tournament is therefore the true doomsday scenario this conference needs to avoid one month from now.
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