It’s no secret: the Pac 12 is not having a good year.
You won’t find highly a anticipated top-5, or even top-10, conference challenge match-up featuring a Pac 12 program. There is no marquee team, let alone marquee star, power conferences need to be considered elite- Cal is ranked highest this week at AP #24 (although yes, a few other squads did receive notes). Oregon State owns possibly the conference’s best win to date, over Texas on a neutral floor. Meanwhile, Utah lost to Montana State at home and is yet to record a D1 victory. I can’t even get into the mess that is UCLA.
It begs the question: is the Pac 12 even the best conference in its own region?
The nine team West Coast Conference deserves, at the minimum, some consideration. The WCC is coming off a successful two-year stretch in which St. Mary’s joined conference power Gonzaga in the national spotlight and polls, and then added a dangerous BYU program over the summer. In fact, according to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, the WCC’s top three teams (Gonzaga, BYU and St. Mary’s) better the top three in the Pac 12 (Standford, Cal and Washington) with an average rating of 24.6. The Pac 12’s top three average 29.6.
The WCC may never boast the depth foisted upon the Pac 12 by King Football and powered by BCS dollars, but the top of the league can certainly compete. Gonzaga is the class west of the Rockies, led by the inside-out combo of sharp-shooting freshman Kevin Pangos and 7-foot senior Robert Sacre. The Zags boast the top offensive efficiency in either conference at 110.9 and are second in defensive efficiency (behind Stanford). Meanwhile, Cal must now make due after suspending its leading rebounder in sophomore Richard Solomon. Stanford, whose only lose came at Syracuse, stands as the biggest regional threat to Gonzaga. The Cardinal rely on its stingy defense and 22 pts/game from the backcourt duo of Aaron Bright and Chasson Randle.
BYU joined the WCC when the football team went independent- an addition which, unlike with Colorado and Utah to the Pac 12, actually improves the basketball side of the conference. Trying to prove there is life after Jimmer, Brandon Davies is back in the starting lineup for the Cougars, averaging better than 12 pts, 6 rebounds and over 2 assists a contest. Jimmer didn’t take all of the shooting talent out of Utah as the Cougars are putting up a 58.7 eFG%, seventh-best in the nation.
San Diego and Pepperdine are dead weight at the bottom of the WCC even more than Colorado and Utah. Yet while Arizona and Oregon appear a step above Loyola Marymount in the middle of the WCC, it’s LMU who owns wins over two ranked teams already.
Saturday the two conferences collide when BYU welcomes the Ducks to Salt Lake City. Oregon hasn’t lost since dropping its opener to Vanderbilt, while BYU has loses to Utah State and Wisconsin on its resume. At stake is more than just a quality win for both teams. BYU has a chance to serve further notice to the Pac 12 that the expanded WCC deserves attention in the region, and that bigger isn’t always better on the basketball floor.