Pac-12 basketball hype was as big as it has been in quite a while going into the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Seven whole teams were headed to the big dance and a handful of them had the chance to make nice runs. The conference was stepping up and ready to take off.
And then it didn't.
The Pac-12 was DOA in the first few days with one-seeded Oregon the only team making it out alive and even they barely survived against a Jameer Nelson/Delonte West-less Saint Joseph's team. So now the sky is falling and the Pac-12 is overrated.
But there are a few things some are forgetting and a conception that was confirmed last week.
1. The Pac-12 was stronger at the top the past couple of years, getting three teams into the Sweet 16 in the past two tournaments.
2. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the conference.
3. The conference was deep, but incredibly thin up top with Oregon the only true really good team.
1. It's a misconception that the Pac-12 was super weak in recent seasons. The conference wasn't very deep and has some issues, but it was solid and had come a long, long way from the dregs of the early 10s. Arizona was a proven power and there were a few teams like Oregon and UCLA who even if they didn't have excellent regular season resumes, proved themselves in the tournament.
The conference was not a juggernaut, but it also wasn't a sleeping giant that finally awoke this year. The conference got six teams into the Sweet 16 in two years and got some teams into the tournament.
2. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the conference. The conference had three pre-season Top 25 teams, but none in the Top 25 and one, Cal, was relying on two freshmen to lead Parity them. The Pac-12 wasn't supposed to do much nationally this year. I don't think anyone would have been the least bit surprised if someone said the Pac-12 wouldn't get a single team in the Sweet 16 in 2016.
Plus, the bottom of the conference with schools like Arizona State, USC and Washington were supposed to be pretty bad. Along with this, not much was expected for middle programs like Colorado and Oregon State who ended up making the tournament in the better half of the seeds.
3. Yes, the conference was as deep as it has been in ages. Does that mean the conference was that good, no? But does it also mean it wasn't that good either? Not necessarily.
Being a deep conference that can get seven teams into the tournament is nice, but it isn't a great indicator of overall strength. Parity rules college basketball right now and it's not that hard to win around 20 games and get into the tournament. It's more about not screwing up by losing bad games than doing that much. With parity, we have gotten to the point where seeds 3-14 aren't even that different and we are closing in on 2-15 being that as well.
Case in point, Washington is a team that gave up 103 points to Long Beach State at home in the opening round of the NIT who was probably non-conference losses to Oakland and UCSB away from getting into the tournament. The Huskies are deeply flawed and them getting into the tournament wouldn't in the long run have shown how strong the conference was.
The strength of a conference lies much more in its elite teams than it's number of middle-level teams. Being the ACC with national title contenders like North Carolina, Virginia, Miami and maybe even Duke means a lot more than getting teams like Colorado, Oregon State and USC in who are going to play in coin toss games.
So... what does this all mean? Not as much as it probably seems. The conference isn't much better, but isn't much worse than it was the last couple of years.
To me, the big takeaway is where the conference is going to go from here. Will Arizona climb back to elite status? Can Oregon maintain elite status? Can UCLA bounce back? Can Washington become the title contender they have the potential to be? Can Oregon State maintain their success? Will Colorado and Utah maintain despite huge losses after this season? Can Cal keep up after losing Brown and Rabb? Can USC take the next step?
These are the questions which will dictate whether or not this tournament flop matters.