No, The PAC-12 Is Not the Best Conference

Will all of you just stop? Listen to yourselves. Yes, the PAC-12 has had a remarkable first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, but that doesn’t mean they are the best conference in the country, or even close to it.

The league is 9-1 in the tournament so far, with four of the five teams that made it to the tournament advancing to the Sweet 16. The lone loss was Colorado’s 71-53 loss to Florida State in the Round of 32. Despite being the worst of the high-major conferences for years now, this impressive run suddenly has people thinking that the PAC-12 is the best conference in the country, especially better than the leagues that have struggled in the tournament.

The PAC-12 is Not the Best Conference

Other Conferences Struggling

People have been bashing the Big-10, widely regarded as the best league in the country for the entire regular season, for its poor performances in the tournament. Nine Big-10 teams made it to the tournament, but only one made it to the Sweet 16. Some of the tournament’s most notable upsets have also come at the expense of Big-10 schools with 15-seed Oral Roberts beating 2-seed Ohio State and 13-seed North Texas beating 4-seed Purdue.

Some people have attributed the Big-10’s struggles to the conference “beating each other up” during league play, or the fact that their conference tournament was in the same place as the NCAA tournament. I don’t know if either of these played a factor, but I do know that one weekend doesn’t cancel out an entire season of data.

Much less talked about for some reason is the fact that the Big-12 also has just one team remaining despite also being in the conversation for the best conference in the country.

The PAC-12 has more Sweet 16 teams than these two conferences combined, so they must be better, right? Of course not, and you only need to look at the remaining PAC-12 teams’ body of work to see that.

Resumes

If the PAC-12 is the best, then they sure did a great job of keeping it a secret with their non-conference records. Just look at the four remaining teams in the tournament. USC had easily the strongest non-conference, defeating BYU 79-53. All credit to USC; that’s a great win. They also lost to UConn 61-58, the only other high-major team that they played.

Oregon beat Seton Hall but lost to Missouri. And not to take anything away from their win against Iowa, but they had the benefit of getting a game off due to VCU testing positive for COVID-19. We saw in the conference tournaments that teams tended to perform well after they had a game canceled due to their opponent getting COVID. Think Texas over Oklahoma State, Florida State over North Carolina, and Georgia Tech over Florida State.

UCLA’s best non-conference win was a 15-point loss to San Diego State. They also entered the tournament on a four-game losing streak, so apologies for not picking them to make it this far.

Oregon State was picked to finish last in the conference. They ended up finishing 6th and then winning the conference tournament, something they needed to do to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Now as a 12-seed they’ve defeated 5-seed Tennessee and 4-seed Oklahoma State. It’s genuinely a great story. It’s the closest thing you can get to a real Cinderella being from a major conference. 

However, there was nothing to indicate they could be this good. Their non-conference featured losses to Wyoming and Portland, or is that just my east-coast bias talking? Before the PAC-12 Tournament, they only had two wins over tournament teams.

Conference of “Champions”

If I hear Bill Walton call the PAC-12 the “conference of champions” one more time I’m going to pull my hair out. The “conference of champions” hasn’t won the NCAA basketball championship since 1997. The PAC-12 is the conference of champions only in the sense that every year, someone wins the PAC-12 championship.

Even for the constant praise of the PAC-12, and the constant criticism that the Big-10 and Big-12 have received in the last few days, who do you think is more likely to actually win the tournament: 1-seed Michigan from the Big-10, 1-seed Baylor from the Big-12, or any of the six through 12-seed PAC-12 teams? I thought so.

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