Now that referring to Eastern Conference requires a snide comment alluding to minor league baseball, Jerry Springer or the XFL, even mothers across the nation know that the power in the NBA lies in the West. Traces of decency have been found in Indiana and New Jersey, but let’s face it – winning the Eastern Conference will be about as immaterial as your second week of class.
Given the pretentious imbalance existing in the professional basketball circuit, it would only be natural to assume a similar trend in the collegiate ranks. After all, the West Coast has boasted some of the best basketball institutions in the nation.
UCLA, arguably the most storied and prolific program in NCAA history, typically fielded a tournament-worthy team. Up in Berkeley, Ben Braun had turned Haas Pavilion into the home of a Pac-10 powerhouse over the last five years. Go even further north and hear recent stories of grandeur despite shagginess at Oregon. A few years ago it even seemed as if USC was on the verge of asserting itself as a staple of West Coast basketball; so much for that.
Yes, the Pac-10 has taken a swan dive, and with it the nation’s respect for West Coast college basketball. Right now, there are only three teams in either Top 25 poll from the Westerly conferences, and only two of those teams – Arizona and Stanford – are from the Pac-10, the other being West Coast Conference dictator Gonzaga.
What it comes down to is a severe void of impressive nonconference wins. You can win all the games you want against mid-major or lesser teams, but if you don’t beat any tournament bound teams, you can kiss the tourney goodbye. And if you start losing to mid-major teams, you just might become a mid-major team.
Big West teams like UCSB, Utah State and Cal Poly have thrown out the notion that they play in an inferior conference. UCSB and Cal Poly went a combined 3-0 over the Pac-10, dispensing typical powers UCLA, USC and Cal, while Utah State beat BYU, the only other Westerly Conference team granted votes in the USA TODAY/ESPN Top 25.
Either the Big West is on the up-and-up or the Pac-10 has a serious problem on its hands.
For the first time in decades, the Pac-10 could realistically send only two teams to the tourney.
Meanwhile, the Atlantic Coast Conference has absolutely no weak spots; just look at the records: #3 Wake Forest (11-0); #2 Duke (12-1); #14 Georgia Tech (12-2); Florida State (12-3); #11 North Carolina (10-2); N.C. State (9-2); Virginia (10-3); Maryland (9-3); and Clemson (7-6).
Meanwhile, the Big East has very few weak spots. Of the 14 teams in the league, three grace the top 20 and only Saint John’s has a losing record.
Slowly, the density of the college basketball landscape is blowing east, and with the way things are going in the Pac-10, it may soon be said in the same breath as the Big West.