Selection Sunday winners and losers

Selection Sunday unfolded exactly as expected for the Pac-12, with Arizona earning a No. 1 seed but not the No. 1 (overall) seed, UCLA on the No. 4 line and USC receiving a No. 7 seed.

It was harsh confirmation that the conference failed to build on the momentum generated last March, when it sent four teams to the Sweet 16, three to the Elite Eight and shocked everyone in the known universe except Bill Walton.

The low bid total for the 2022 NCAA Tournament reflects the Pac-12’s poor showing in non-conference play. If that sounds familiar, well, it experienced much the same fate in football.

Remember all the way back in the fall, when the Pac-12 went 0-5 against Brigham Young, lost twice to San Diego State and Utah State and dropped games to Fresno State, Nevada, Montana and NAU?

Remember when it was difficult to spot a competitive difference between the Pac-12 and the best Group of Five teams in the region?

Well, consider the conclusions drawn by the NCAA Tournament selection committee, which serves as judge and jury of regular-season performance:

— The Pac-12 received the same number of bids (three) as the West Coast Conference.

— The Pac-12 received fewer bids than the Mountain West (four).

That cannot be spun in a positive fashion, folks.

In football, mediocre quarterback play and the carryover effects from the COVID-shortened season in 2020 were at the root of the Pac-12’s woeful non-conference showing.

The subpar outcome of Selection Sunday (relative to the WCC and MW) is also based on poor early-season results:

Four times in the past decade, the Pac-12 has posted an out-of-conference winning percentage below 70. All four times, it has received either two or three NCAA bids.

One problem — perhaps the biggest problem — is a dearth of talent. Only one player, Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin, is currently projected to be picked in the first round of the NBA Draft.

(Last year, the conference produced four first rounders. The year before that, six.)

Of course, the head coaches are responsible for finding and developing the talent and preparing the teams for non-conference play. They didn’t clear the bar. Yet at this point, it appears all 12 will return for next season.

Fortunately for the Pac-12, there is a way to make Selection Sunday disappointment vanish:

If the conference produces the national champion, or multiple teams in the Elite Eight, the low bid total will be forgotten.

But if two (or all three) teams flame out on the opening weekend, the criticism will be significant, and justified.

To the winners and losers from Selection Sunday …

Winner: Arizona. The Wildcats are the top seed in the South and the No. 2 overall seed (behind Gonzaga). They have already beaten the No. 4 seed in their region (Illinois), nearly beat the No. 3 (Tennessee) and match up well with the No. 2 (Villanova). As we see the brackets, Arizona has an easier road to the Final Four than the other No. 1 seeds, and it’s not close.

Loser: Colorado. The Buffaloes didn’t get a sniff from the selection committee and watched Rutgers, which was seven spots lower in the NET rankings (No. 77), collect one of the final at-large bids. Why? CU can claim just one Quadrant I victory, whereas Rutgers owns six.

Winner: The Mountain West. The bid total is reason to celebrate and far more important than the seeds themselves (No. 6 Colorado State, No. 8 San Diego State, No. 8 Boise State and No. 12 Wyoming). The last time the MW sent at least four teams into the Madness? Back in 2015.

Loser: UCLA. Thanks to process of elimination, we knew UCLA’s road would be rocky before the East was unveiled. Sure enough, the Bruins must navigate a region with Baylor, Kentucky and Purdue in order to return to the Final Four. And their second-round date with Saint Mary’s won’t be easy, either.

Winner: Portland. The Rose City couldn’t have asked for more compelling or relevant teams with Gonzaga, Boise State, Saint Mary’s and UCLA. Ticket sales at the Moda Center won’t be a problem.

Loser: USC. The Trojans got the seed they deserved (No. 7) after a season that was short on quality wins. But their site assignment is just this side of brutal. They’re headed to Greenville, S.C. to face Miami, with the winner slotted to play Auburn. The second-seeded Tigers possess one of the tournament’s top talents (forward Jabari Smith) and will have a massive home-crowd advantage.

Winner: The Big Ten. It led all conferences with nine tournament bids but doesn’t have a No. 1 or 2 seed. The league bombed last March, so there’s pressure to avoid a repeat and justify the massive bid total to a somewhat skeptical viewing public.

Loser: Tennessee. None of the top-16 seeds have more reason to fume than the No. 3 Volunteers, who were seeded below Duke despite a better NET ranking, more Quad I wins, fewer Quad III and IV wins and a vastly more difficult schedule.

Winner: Duke. The Blue Devils didn’t deserve a No. 2 seed unless you think the selection committee was feeling sentimental about Mike Krzyzewski’s retirement. No chance of that, right?

Loser: The ACC. Yes, the conference snatched a fifth berth when Virginia Tech claimed the automatic bid. But only Duke is a top-four seed in any region. The only Power Five league that’s truly a basketball conference is staring at a bleak March by its lofty standards.

Winner: West Coast Conference. Anytime the WCC sends more than one team (Gonzaga) to the tournament, it’s a massive win. This year, with three bids, is worthy of a celebration. Don’t be surprised if USF is still standing in the round of 32 and Saint Mary’s makes it to the second weekend.

Loser: College basketball. It had the sports world’s attention for about an hour, then Tom Brady happened.

Winner: West Coast college basketball. With the top-two overall seeds in Gonzaga and Arizona, plus UCLA and its Final Four experience, the region is better positioned (pre-tournament) to claim the national championship than it has been in ages. The West last ruled the sport 25 years ago, when Arizona cut down the nets.

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