By TED SILLANPAA
It turns out that Pac-12 isn’t the worst big-time men’s basketball conference after all. Oregon and Cal, both carrying 12th seeds, won NCAA basketball tournament games on Thursday. They beat a pair of No. 5 seeds in the process.
Well, it’s a little early to starting shouting about the value of the Pac-12, so let’s say that the wins by Oregon and California actually show how little difference there is in quality of clubs in this year’s 68-team field.
It’s no surprise that Cal could beat a No. 5 seed like UNLV. It’s not a shock that Pac-12 Conference tournament champ Oregon would beat fifth-seeded Oklahoma State. Four nice teams, but nothing really special about any of them. It was more a surprise that UCLA would get a No. 6 seed after losing to Oregon last weekend in the Pac-12 tourney title game.
There’s much talk about how nothing really separates the top seeds like Louisville (weren’t the Cardinals down double digits at halftime in the Big East championship game?), Duke, Kansas, Indiana, Duke, Gonzaga, etc. Less separates the teams seeded 4 through 12, as Oregon and Cal proved Thursday. And, one might guess, 11th-seeded Minnesota will prove Friday against UCLA .
Wisconsin’s a No. 5 seed. The Badgers scored 17 points in a half the other day. Davidson was seeded 14th and No. 3 seed Marquette needed a miraculous comeback to win Thursday. Could you explain why Notre Dame, Creighton, Illinois and San Diego State got 7 seeds while Cincinnati, Iowa State, Colorado State and Oklahoma are all seeded 10th? Anyone in Northern California who doesn’t believe Saint Mary’s could win a 9-team tournament with those seeded teams didn’t pay attention to college basketball over the winter.
Wait. There is something special about one of the teams that were featured in Thursday upsets by Pac-12 teams. Cal’s Allen Crabbe had 19 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals. He’s the type guy who can carry the Golden Bears deeper into the tournament than their overall talent would merit. Crabbe’s special.
We might be back defending the Pac-12 Conference Friday night after Minnesota, an athletic team, tests UCLA. The number of supposed insiders who have Belmont beating No. 6 seed Arizona is astonishingly large. UCLA and Arizona could take back any gain that Cal and Oregon made for basketball in these parts.
Still, we head further into March Madness certain that there won’t be many real upsets. There’s not much to separate one team from another.