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.
1) How bad was the brand of basketball played in the Pac-12 this season compared to in years past?
Jon Gold: So bad that it almost made you forget that there were once brighter days. Much brighter days. Even last year, which was not a great season, was far, far better than the collective stink bomb offered by the league. This is the conference of Alcindor and Walton and Payton and Bibby and Roy and now it’s the conference of … Jorge Gutierrez?
Jeff Faraudo: One of the worst seasons I’ve watched, and I’ve seen a few. The middle of the pack is OK. The problem is there are no great teams at the top, and the three at the bottom are absolutely horrible. Among the worst in recent league history.
Doug Haller: I cover Arizona State, so maybe I’m not the best person to ask. But it was bad. Everything that could’ve gone wrong, did. USC’s Jio Fontan blows out a knee. Arizona’s Kevin Parrom (an all-conference talent in my opinion) gets shot. UCLA’s Reeves Nelson gets kicked off the team. Joshua Smith shows up out of shape. Oregon’s Jabari Brown, hyped as one of the Pac-12’s top freshmen, transfers. The stream of misfortune never ended, and the product suffered.
Bill Oram: Well, it certainly wasn’t good. The first sign was when Arizona lost to Seattle Pacific. It’s kind of hard to really gauge how much teams, such as that Wildcats, which had those early losses, actually improved when those same teams ended the season with losses to opponents like, oh, Arizona State (such as the Wildcats). I don’t hate this season in the Pac-12 entirely, because it made for a lot of parity and a lot of unexpectedly close games. I loved how the final weekend played out, purely from a drama standpoint. But that absolutely killed any chance the conference had in terms of polishing its national profile before the tournament. By the end of the season, I think the good teams in the conference — Oregon, Washington, Cal, Arizona — were actually quite good. Their best players were coming on strong (minus Jorge Gutierrez, sheesh). The crucial wins at the end just weren’t there.
Ryan Divish: Obviously it wasn’t good. There isn’t the depth of talent as in past years. And a lot of the best talent was largely inexperienced. That combination led to some troubles in the preseason. Nearly every team relied on multiple underclassmen – either a true freshman, redshirt freshman or an inexperienced sophomore – to not only play, but play heavy minutes and contribute. Also the senior class around the league wasn’t particularly strong – with most of the top players already in the NBA. That being said, the basketball being played at the end of the year wasn’t horrible. The top nine teams were competitive with each other during conference play. The league was maligned nationally, and for good reason. But I don’t think it was catastrophically awful like some people made it out to be.
Tom Kensler: As a beat writer for Colorado, this is my first year in the league but the quality of play, talent level of the teams and depth of the conference certainly has a way to go to match that of what CU was accustomed to facing in the Big 12.