These are no Siskels and Eberts, but a handful of Pac-12 beat writers had the best – or worst? – view of what was one rotten men’s basketball season. Jeff Faraudo of the Oakland Tribune (Cal), Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic (Arizona State), Bill Oram of the Salt Lake Tribune (Utah), Ryan Divish of the Tacoma News Tribune (Washington) and Tom Kensler of the Denver Post (Colorado) join the Daily News’ Jon Gold for a roundtable discussion on what doomed the conference…and what it can do to fix itself.
2) Why do you think the conference fell so far, so fast?
Jon Gold:: Some major recruiting whiffs by the conference’s top schools two and three years ago created a trickle down effect, so not only did the rich not get richer, but the poor got a little wealthier, creating one horrendous middle class. When a kid like Taft’s Spencer Dinwiddie ends up at Colorado and shines – and not as a backup at say, UCLA – then comes the parity.
Jeff Faraudo:: Lots of reasons, including recruiting mistakes, player defections (both to the NBA and other schools), coaching instability, lack of national TV exposure and, ultimately, UCLA’s struggles. For better or worse, the Bruins have been the league’s basketball flagship since the 1960s, and when they’re bad the conference suffers.
Doug Haller: : Everyone starts with the early departures, and yes, they have played a significant factor. But that’s a cop out. Every conference has early departures. (In fact, over the past four years the Big 12 has had more players with eligibility remaining leave for the NBA.) The bigger issue is recruiting. According to Rivals, the conference produced just three Top 10 recruiting classes from 2008-2010. That wasn’t enough to offset the early departures.
Bill Oram: : Well, it was Utah’s first year in the league… Kidding. Sort of. I do think there is some truth to the fact the conference sent so many players to the NBA in recent years. Over the last four years, the Pac-10/12 lost 21 players who still had eligibility to the NBA Draft. And then there are the guys who left for non-NBA reasons: Matt Carlino, Mike Moser, Reeves Nelson, Jabari Brown, Keala King, Richard Montgomery, Jio Fontan… That’s the abridged list. Every departure doesn’t just represent a great player leaving, it also means another hole that will be filled by a wild card newcomer, likely a freshman. Freshman-heavy teams generally struggle. I do, however, think it’s very easy to be amid a season and scream, “This season is so bad!” And it is. But consider this, which Ken Pomeroy pointed out in an interview this week: In 2003-04, six Pac-10 teams finished with losing records (we’re looking at four this season), and UCLA went on to reach three Final Fours.
Ryan Divish: : Really, it’s all Reeves Nelson’s fault. Let’s just blame it all on him. Just kidding. It fell short because the player turnover was high and some of the returnees just didn’t get any better. UCLA is obviously the prime example. They lost to players to early entries and then Josh Smith comes in 60 pounds overweight and out of shape. Washington State loses Klay Thompson, predictably. But DeAngelo Casto wasn’t expected and it hurt them dearly. You just can’t have both factors. Teams like Washington, Arizona and even Colorado were relying on a lot of freshmen and inexperienced players early which led to inconsistency. USC, which wasn’t supposed to be good in the first place, was destroyed by injuries. Oregon State had talent, but couldn’t find a true leader on the court.
Tom Kensler:: Coaching turnover at several schools, players transferring out and the loss of all those NBA draft picks a few years ago. But, frankly, after three down years for the Pac-12, the latter explanation feels like ancient history.