The good ol’ days are gone for the Pacific 10 Conference as the league has suffered a plummet in skill level this season that’s gotten them from having six participants in the NCAA Tournament last year to only two in this one: Cal, the regular-season champion, and Washington, the conference tournament champion.
California Golden Bears (23-10, 13-5)
No. 8 seed, South Region
It took 50 years for the Pac-10 to be weak enough for Cal to win a regular-season championship, but it finally happened. Behind the conference Player of the Year, guard Jerome Randle, who averages 18.7 points per game, the Bears are undoubtedly the Pac-10’s cream of the crop. Their reward for being the best of definitely-not-the-best is a game against the South Region’s No. 9 seed, Louisville (20-12, 11-7 Big East).
California knows how to party, and that’s what the eighth-seeded Bears were doing up until running into Washington in the conference tournament final. Winners of nine of its last 10 games coming into the match up against the Huskies, Cal missed on its chance at a first-ever tournament championship in great part due to Randle being in foul trouble. Washington, using surges while Randle was on the bench, won 79-75.
Even with the disappointment of being unable to complete the championship combo, Cal is playing decent enough to give itself a chance against the Cardinals. But this season, in a battle between the Pac-10’s best and the Big East’s sixth-best, one must go with the guys in the proven conference. The Bears will roar loudly at Louisville, but it’s the Cardinals who’ll fly away with the win in crunch time.
Washington Huskies (24-9, 11-7)
There’s two sides to every story, and the Huskies’ side says they would have beaten Cal even if Randle had played all 40 minutes of the tournament final. That may very well be, seeing how Washington had won six games in a row before facing the Bears.
The duo of forward Quincy Pondexter and guard Isaiah Thomas was the Pac-10’s best this season. Thanks to their combined 37 points per game, Washington, seeded No. 11 in the East Region, reached a national-No. 10 ranking at a point. That was before drinking some reality tea and hitting a five-losses-in-seven-games’ stretch. Since, however, the Huskies have been much more respectable, winning 12 of 14 and going from bubble team to the Pac-10’s rightful NCAA Tournament delegate.
On a roll or not, though, Washington will have the same fate as that of its conference comrade, Cal: a first-round loss to a Big Easter, a much-more-tested No. 6 Marquette (22-11, 11-7 Big East). The Pac-10 was just too frail this season, and the NCAA Tournament’s second round is for the big boys.
Better luck next year, Pac-10.