Parity in Pac-12 makes for unpredictable tournament

Updated March 12, 2019 - 7:30 pm

Southern California men’s basketball coach Andy Enfield highlighted the unexpected scenario of his team’s game Wednesday — the first of the Pac-12 tournament against defending conference champion Arizona.

“Last year we played (the Wildcats) in the championship game,” he said. “And now we play them in the first round here, the first game of the tournament. Last year we played them in the last game in the tournament.”

Such is life this year in the so-called Conference of Champions.

Plenty of parity.

The Pac-12 tournament begins Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena without a team ranked in the Associated Press top 25 poll, and with only two in position to secure bids to the NCAA Tournament, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi.

Regular-season champion Washington is all but assured a berth to the NCAA Tournament after posting a 15-3 league record, and runner-up Arizona State is in a similar position with a 12-6 mark. But the remaining 10 teams all face the same reality.

Win to get in. Lose and go home.

“Every team is excited to be here. It’s your second season, so to speak, because everyone’s 0-0,” Enfield said. “I think anything can happen this whole week.”

The selection committee a year ago sent three Pac-12 teams to the NCAA Tournament and all three lost their first game. The conference’s struggles carried over into this season, resulting in mediocrity — and parity — throughout the standings.

Third-place Utah and 10th-place Stanford, for instance, were separated by only three games.

“There’s a lot of optimism probably in every locker room, going into the games,” Stanford coach Jerod Haase said. “Our situation is fairly synonymous with the rest of the league. We’re very young. Learning on the fly. … And the league has been injured, which plagues our team as well.”

Haase believes a lower-seeded team could win the conference tournament this year and secure the league’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid.

Enfield expects a better future for the Pac-12.

“I can’t speak for other teams in the league, but when you lose key guys, you have to count on the next wave to produce and try to keep or improve on last year’s team,” Enfield said. “I think, around the league, there are some young teams, there’s some inexperienced teams, teams like ours that have lost key guys. I think it is cyclical, but I do think next year the league will be much better. Top to bottom.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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