Obviously, this is a season unlike any other for the Pac-12, and not just because the conference expanded. Still, with the Huskies earning their 11th and 12th conference wins last weekend with a sweep of the Arizona schools to complete their home schedule, I was curious how many Pac-10 teams won at least 12 games and were not chosen for the NCAA tournament, at least since it expanded to 64 teams in 1985. As it turns out, there have been three teams, all of whom went 12-6 in conference:
- the 1984-85 UCLA Bruins (15-12, 12-6)
- the 1987-88 UCLA Bruins (16-14, 12-6)
- the 2009-10 Arizona State Sun Devils (22-10, 12-6)
Bizarrely, of the three examples, two were coached by the same person (the late Walt Hazzard). I saw a reference to Hazzard not being particularly concerned with non-conference games, which makes sense looking at UCLA’s overall record those two seasons. While the Bruins played difficult schedules, it’s incredible that the same teams that went 7-14 against non-conference opposition could go 24-12 against Pac-10 foes.
The 1985 UCLA team proved it could beat teams outside the West Coast during the NIT, knocking off Louisville and Indiana at Madison Square Garden to win the tournament. As for the 1988 team, it lost in the opening round of the original Pac-10 tournament to lowly Washington State, never even got bubble consideration and was passed over for the NIT. Hazzard was fired at season’s end and replaced by Jim Harrick.
Naturally, Arizona State is the better comparison for what will likely happen to at least one Pac-12 team this season. The conference wasn’t a whole lot better two years ago, when the only NCAA tournament representatives were regular-season champions California (an 8 seed) and tournament champions Washington (an 11). The Sun Devils were lacking in marquee victories (they beat just one team out of conference ranked in the nation’s top 150 by Kenpom.com) and fell victim to an opening-round upset in the Pac-10 tournament, knocking them off the bubble. A disappointed Arizona State squad ended up losing to Jacksonville at home in the first round of the NIT.