There was an interesting article recently on sportsillustrated.com regarding San Diego State and the Mountain West Conference. As the article points out, the MWC looks like it may very well only get two teams into the NCAA Tournament this season, after getting five teams in last season and finishing as the No. 1 ranked RPI conference in the country.
Pete Thamel, the author of the article, points out that while San Diego State keeps winning, there are still “plenty of reasons to be skeptical.” Thamel said that the conference in general has “tanked” this season, largely because UNLV has been “one of the country’s biggest busts.” Thamel’s points are well stated about the MWC and the Aztecs.
Many of his points could equally be applied to the Pac-12 and West Coast conferences as well.
Right now, Gonzaga is the only WCC team that’s a safe bet to make the NCAA Tournament. BYU suffered a huge blow in losing to Portland and as of Jan. 30 is listed among the “First Four Out” by Joe Lunardi of ESPN. Lundardi currently has Saint Mary’s among the “Last Four In” as a No. 12 seed taking on Oregon in the play-in round.
No other team in the conference has a remote chance at an at-large bid and thus would have to pull off a shocker in the conference tourney to crack the field. If the Bulldogs of Gonzaga aren’t careful, they could find themselves on the outside looking in if such an upset did take place in the conference tournament.
Meanwhile in the Pac-12, Lunardi currently has seven teams in the NCAA Tournament, but only one higher than a No. 7 seed. There is only one team, Arizona, that is essentially assured of a spot in the tournament at this point.
Of the other six teams, Oregon and Stanford are both among the “Last Four In” playing in the opening play-in round, and Arizona State and California are both “On the Bubble.” That leaves Colorado, a No. 10 seed with its best player out for the season, and UCLA, a No. 7 seed. UCLA should be fairly safe, but the Bruins really don’t have any quality wins other than knocking off other non-Arizona Pac-12 teams.
From the state of Utah, there is but one team currently projected to make the NCAA Tournament, and it’s not the Cougars, Utes, Aggies, Wildcats or T-Birds. Try the Wolverines of Utah Valley, on top of the revamped WAC with a 6-0 conference record. Go figure.
Here is the seventh edition of the Pac-12/MWC/WCC power rankings (games through Jan. 29).
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Since the previous edition of the power rankings, the Wildcats (21-0, 8-0) have beaten Colorado at home by 12, Utah at home by nine in a close game and Stanford on the road by three in another tight one.
Two more close calls for Arizona this season; still no losses. The Wildcats thus remain on top of college basketball and these power rankings.
Since Jan. 16, the Aztecs (18-1, 7-0) have defeated UNLV at home by 11, San Jose State on the road by 25 and Utah State at the Spectrum in Logan by five in overtime.
SDSU, currently projected by Lunardi as a No. 3 seed, has perfected the art of winning ugly. The Aztecs are well below average in shooting the basketball, but they rebound and play defense like crazy.
The Bruins (16-4, 5-2) remained in second place in the Pac-12 despite their road loss to the Utes on Jan. 18. Since that loss, the Bruins have handled Stanford and California at home, each by double digits.
Even as the third-ranked team in these power rankings, the Bruins are still not a lock for the NCAA Tournament. Jerry Palm of CBS Sports has them as a No. 9 seed in his latest projections.
The Bulldogs (19-3, 9-1), since the last edition of the power rankings, have gone undefeated with wins at Loyola Marymount by 10, at home versus San Diego by just three, at home over BYU by 15, and on the road over Santa Clara by a mere two points.
Not overwhelming, but any of the other teams from among these three conferences aren't either. The Bulldogs, like UCLA, are currently projected as a No. 7 seed by Lunardi and a No. 9 seed by Palm. There's not a lot of wiggle room.
Take your pick from here on out. I’ve been high on the Sun Devils all season because of their star sophomore point guard, Jahii Carson. The only consensus on the Sun Devils, as with just about all Pac-12 teams, is that they are squarely on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament right now.
Since Jan. 16, ASU (16-5, 5-3) has defeated Utah by four at home, Colorado by 21 at home, and California in overtime on the road.
The Lobos picked up a nice 13-point win at Utah State on Tuesday. Before that they also won at Colorado State in a close game, they beat Boise State by nine at home, and they won at Fresno State by 11. That’s four straight wins now since their home loss to UNLV on Jan. 15.
New Mexico (16-4, 7-1) is slated as a No. 9 seed right now by both Lunardi and Palm. The Lobos should finish with a good conference record and once again get bounced pretty quickly in the NCAA Tournament.
Since the last edition of the power rankings, the Cardinal are 2-2 with wins over Washington at home and USC on the road. They were handled at UCLA on Jan. 23 but very nearly pulled off a major upset over Arizona on Wednesday night with the game tied in the final minute.
Stanford (13-7, 4-4) seems to be trending upward as the season progresses, while Pac-12 teams such as Oregon, Colorado and now California seem to be trending downward.
Speaking of California, the Golden Bears (14-7, 5-3) drop four spots in this edition thanks to three straight losses. The Bears lost at home to ASU in overtime and on the road to UCLA and USC. The USC loss is a bad one. Prior to the three-game losing streak, Cal defeated lowly Washington State at home by 21.
The good news for the Bears is that they have just four road games left this season. Their game this Friday versus Arizona is one to watch.
I’d say it’s optimistic to project the Buffaloes in the NCAA Tournament at this point. They don’t look like an NCAA Tournament team without star player Spencer Dinwiddie, who was lost for the season.
Since Jan. 16, Colorado (15-6, 4-4) defeated USC by 21 (which makes Cal’s loss to USC look even worse) but then lost at Arizona and Arizona State by a combined 33 points.
The Broncos (15-6, 5-3) are right now slightly on the outside looking in of most NCAA Tournament projections. They have been so close in most of their losses, however, that I just think they will keep improving and find a way to get into the tournament. The next four games will be huge for the Broncos: at UNLV, vs. No. 5 SDSU, at Utah State and vs. New Mexico.
Since the last edition of the power rankings, the Broncos beat Utah State, San Jose State and Air Force and lost at New Mexico by nine.
Oregon (Pac-12): The Ducks are 2-5 in conference play and third from the bottom of the standings. Since Jan. 16, they've lost at Oregon State and Washington and won at Washington State. The Ducks don’t have enough quality wins to coast into the NCAA Tournament. They still have to play Arizona, UCLA and Arizona State twice each in the regular season.
Saint Mary’s (WCC): Since losing to Santa Clara at home on Jan. 9, the Gaels (16-5, 6-2) have won four straight home games over San Francisco, Pacific, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount. They now have to play four straight on the road, including a trip to the Marriott Center this Saturday.
Utah (Pac-12): The Utes (14-6, 3-5) pulled off the upset of UCLA at home on Jan. 18 and followed that up with competitive road losses at Arizona State and Arizona. The Utes are a good team, it’s just hard to justify putting them higher than this based on their resume. It’s not good to be the only team Washington State has defeated in conference.
BYU (WCC): The Cougars (13-9, 5-4) crashed down from their five-game winning streak with two straight losses — a triple-overtime thriller at Portland and a poor showing at Gonzaga. The Cougs still seem to be considered a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament, however, and now have four straight home games upcoming.
Washington (Pac-12): The Huskies (13-8, 5-3) are currently fifth in the Pac-12 standings with wins over Oregon State, Oregon, Colorado, Utah and Arizona State. Despite an RPI ranking of No. 105, the Huskies could still make a push for an NCAA Tournament bid and could be a dangerous team in the conference tournament.
The Aggies are finding out what life is like in a bigger basketball conference as they sit third from the bottom at 2-6 in league play. The schedule gets easier, and they came close against San Diego State and Boise State recently, but at this point the Aggies will have to win the conference tournament to make the NCAA Tournament and will have to play well just to have a shot at the NIT if they don’t win the MWC tournament.