It used to be that West Coast basketball was pretty darn impressive. UCLA. UNLV. Arizona. Those teams once ruled the college game.
Now it’s pretty darn depressing.
How sacrilegious is it that UCLA (19-14) and Arizona (23-11) didn’t make the 68-team NCAA Tournament field? Just two Pac-12 teams advanced, surprising conference tournament champion Colorado (23-11), fourth place during the regular season, and California (24-9) – but only as a play-in selection.
It’s so bad that the season-long conference champion, Washington (21-10), with a 14-4 league mark, was shunned and dispatched to the NIT, not so much a consolation tournament as it is a condolences tournament.
While the Pac-12 got one in plus a conditional choice, the Mountain West advanced four. Talk about a power shift. Mid-majors are now eating the majors’ lunch.
A dozen West teams managed to secure a berth, although it doesn’t appear that any of them has the legs to run more than just a little further. They 12 are: play-ins Cal (24-9) and BYU (25-8), UNLV (26-8), Colorado (23-11), Colorado St. (20-11), New Mexico St. (26-9), New Mexico (27-6), Montana (25-6), Long Beach St. (25-8), San Diego St. (26-7), Gonzaga (25-6) and St. Mary’s (27-5).
Two West teams are guaranteed to advance to the third round because they play other West teams. No. 5 New Mexico plays No. 12 Long Beach St. in the West Region in Portland, Or. Also, in Albuquerque, No. 6 UNLV faces No. 11 Colorado in a South Region matchup.
Here’s a look at the NCAAs from a West Coast perspective:
Dayton: BYU (25-8) vs. Iona (25-7). Play-in game. Iona is the MAAC regular-season champion, winning 11 of 12 before an upset in conference tournament. Active 6-7 forward Mike Glover, 9.0 rpg and 18.5 ppg, will be a challenge for Cougars to contain. BYU wins.
Dayton: California (24-9) takes on South Florida (20-13). Play-in game. The Bulls of South Florida do not allow many points, just 56.9 ppg, seventh fewest in the nation. However, they also don’t score many points, just 61.8 ppg. If the Bears are going to beat them, Pac-12 Player of the Year G Jorge Gutierrez needs to exploit the middle and make the extra pass. Cal Wins.
Portland: No. 13 New Mexico St. (26-9) vs. No. 4 Indiana (25-8), South Region. Tough opening opponent for the Aggies, who coasted through regular season and conference tournament, winning 13 of their final 15. Indiana has knocked off Butler, Notre Dame, Kentucky, Ohio State and Michigan State this season. The Hoosiers should handle the Aggies. New Mexico St. Loses
Portland: No. 5 New Mexico (27-6) vs. No. 12 Long Beach St. (25-8), West Region. Despite the spread in the seeding, this is a close matchup, perhaps an upset special? Long Beach has four seniors, led by 6-9 F Drew Gordon, the Mountain West Player of the Year. New Mexico’ has its own stellar senior G Casper Ware. He’s a player to watch, not just in this game, but the tournament. He had 33 points in the conference title game last week. He had 38 points against Pacific and 29 in a loss to North Carolina. New Mexico Wins.
Albuquerque: No. 6 UNLV (26-8) vs. No. 11 Colorado (23-11), South Region. In the other matchup between West Coasts teams, the Runnin’ Rebels are led by 6-8 sophomore F Mike Moser, a UCLA transfer, who averages 14.1 ppg and 10.6 rpg. Colorado counters with a budding NBA-caliber 6-7 G Andre Roberson, averaging 11.6 ppg and 11.1 rpg. This will be the test as to the Pac-12’s worthiness. Colorado Wins
Albuquerque: No. 4 Wisconsin (24-9) vs. No. 13 Montana (25-6), East Region. Montana has one of the longest winning streaks in America – 14 straight, including a dominant 85-66 victory over Weber State (24-6) in the Big Sky title game. Still, they’re facing a Badger team that play tenacious defense and has beaten Ohio State, Indiana (twice) and lost in overtime to Michigan State. Montana Loses.
Louisville: No. 6 Murray St. (30-1) vs. No. 11 Colorado St. (20-11), West Region. CSU drew the short straw as the Rams play perhaps the hottest team in America. The Racers have lost just one game, a 72-68 setback to Tennessee St. on Feb. 9. They are led by junior G Isaiah Canaan, averaging 19.4 ppg and shooting 47.3 percent from three-point range. The one thing the Rams have going is that they’ve faced these kinds of challenges all season, with the nation’s fifth toughest schedule. But…Colorado St. Loses.
Louisville: No. 14 BYU (if it wins Tuesday) vs. No. 3 Marquette, West Region. If the Cougars aren’t gone in the first round, they won’t get to the third. BYU Loses
Pittsburgh: No. 7 Gonzaga (25-6) vs. No. 10 West Virginia (19-13), East Region. This is not an exceptional UWV team but it’s all about location. The game will be played in Pittsburgh, not a particularly long drive for Mountaineer fans. Gonzaga should be favored and should win, but the crowd is the X-factor. Gonzaga Wins.
Columbus: No. 6 San Diego St. (26-7) vs. No. 11 North Carolina St. (22-12), Midwest Region. The Wolfpack has been tested in the ACC so they should be ready for anything the Aztecs can give them. But the Aztecs are tough down the stretch, with a 16-4 record in single-digit differences. San Diego St. Wins
Omaha: No. 7 St. Mary’s (27-5) vs. No. 10 Purdue (21-12), Midwest Region. Both teams have impressive records but it’s hard to say they reflect where they are now. St. Mary’s struggled down the stretch, losing three of their five games in mid-February. But the Gaels recovered to beat Gonzaga in the conference tournament. Purdue plays a tough schedule but is 1-9 against ranked teams when it played them. The Boilermakers do have the lowest turnover rate in the country. They have won 13 straight NCAA openers. Make that 14. St. Mary’s Loses.
Nashville: No. 12 Cal (24-9) vs. No. 5 Temple (24-7), Midwest Region. The Bears have to win seven straight games to capture the nation championship. They likely will fall six short. Cal should win its play-in game but then plays a Temple team that has beaten Duke and had a five-week 11-game win streak. Cal has a chance but Temple should prevail. Cal Loses
So that leaves just four winners out of the 12 West teams, New Mexico, Colorado, San Diego St. and Gonzaga. That would be a sad showing for such a vast part of the country.
It doesn’t get a lot better either. It wouldn’t be surprising if all four teams lose in the next round. New Mexico likely plays No. 4 seed Louisville (26-9), big, powerful and tested. The Lobos don’t have much of a chance in that one.
Colorado, the pride of the Pac-12, would probably face No. 3 Baylor (27-7) and 6-11 center Perry Jones III. End of the line.
San Diego St., not the power it was a year ago, will run out of gas against its likely opponent, No. 3 Georgetown (23-8), which has had two straight opening-round losses. Not this year.
Gonzaga, probably the best team in the west, carries the hopes of a Sweet 16. But the Zags also run into a (possible) team in the next round that has a chance to win it all, Ohio State (27-7). And the game is in Pittsburgh, just a couple hundred miles from Columbus. The final hope dies.