The Pac-12 -- as a conference, as an entity, as a supposed major 12-school alliance of college athletics -- is in the midst of a full-blown crisis.
This goes beyond basketball (as John Canzano of The Oregonian has thoroughly reported, the issues spread far and wide sit at the feet of commissioner Larry Scott), but we'll stick with the hoops horrors here.
On Tuesday night, Washington won at home against 4-10 Cal State Fullerton. The game represented the final nonconference result of the regular season for all Pac-12 teams. The league finishes at a collective/wretched 92-58 against Division I opponents -- a brutal record for any conference carrying a "major" moniker.
Every team in the conference has at least three losses -- and there hasn't been a league game yet. The American Athletic Conference has five teams with only two losses or fewer, same as the ACC and SEC.
The mean KenPom rating for the Pac-12: 96. (The Big 12, which doesn't have a KenPom team ranked lower than 86th, means out at 35. Wow.) In the NET rankings, no Pac-12 teams crack the top 44, while only two (Arizona State and Washington) even show in the top 60.
It's pitiable how poorly the Pac-12 has performed against other power conferences this season, winning only 21 percent of its games, and that doesn't even account for the fact that the league only earned two wins vs. the American, which is now rating ahead of the Pac-12 for the first time in its existence. In locally humiliating news, the Pac-12 went 7-10 against the West Coast Conference which, per my research, marks the first time in history the WCC has won more games than it's lost vs. the Pac-12 in a single season.
Oh, there's so much more. The Pac-12 ranks 20th in turnover percentage and 18th in 3-point shooting. Half the league has lost at least five games. The American has but three of those examples. The slumping Big East: one. Ditto for the Big 12. All other major leagues have only two.
In December, the Pac-12 had the worst win percentage of any major conference in two decades. The next-worst isn't even close. The Pac-12 barely eked out above par in December, winning 51.4 percent of the time -- and against a lot of poor teams. Since 1998, the only conference close to that ineptitude was the Big Ten of 2003-04, which won 60.5 percent.
The Pac-12 IS 4-31 VS. QUADRANT 1 OPPONENTS.
Its .613 nonconference win percentage vs. Division I opponents this season is only barely above the .607 mark of 2011-12, the ugly season that saw the Pac-12 receive only two NCAA tourney bids, when league champ Washington was shipped to the NIT.
There have been losses to Seattle (twice) and New Mexico State (twice) and San Diego (twice) and Santa Clara (twice) and Hawaii (twice) and Indiana State and Montana State and Yale and Texas Southern and Princeton and Kent State and Belmont and Liberty and so many more.
And now, fittingly, as we have turned to January: No Pac-12 teams are ranked in either the AP Top 25 or the USA Today Coaches Poll.
Here's how the Major 7 conferences stack up in nonconference performance -- which includes non-D1 opponents:
- Big Ten: 130-32 (.802)
- ACC: 153-41 (.789)
- Big 12: 95-26 (.785)
- Big East: 100-31 (.763)
- SEC: 127-43 (.747)
- AAC: 114-42 (.731)
- Pac-12: 100-58 (.633)
This is not a dumpster fire. It's an inferno of garbage broiling as high as a mountaintop. The Pac-12's doing this after a 2018 NCAA Tournament that saw the league only get three bids and fail to win a game.
In 2019, the Pac-12 winding up as a one-bid conference, hideous as that outcome may seem, is on the table. That would be historic. No major conference in the past 25 years has met that fate, but given the overhaul from the selection committee in how it sorts teams and views nonconference performance, it's plausible. How ironic that this year's chair, Bernard Muir, is a Pac-12 athletic director (Stanford).
The league now needs four teams to completely separate from the pack in order to give itself a halfway-decent chance at three bids. Arizona State, Oregon, Washington and Arizona practically need to go undefeated against the rest of the conference (will not happen) and take swipes only at each other to best serve the Pac-12 come Selection Sunday. The team with the best regular season needs to not be the team that wins the conference tournament.
As we head toward an infamous March for this conference, I can't help but wonder: Will this reach such an embarrassing point that more schools than initially expected will be moved to blow it all up and change coaches, if not athletic directors? The conference has to make sweeping changes. It has no business being in this position in basketball; football's arguably an even bigger problem. The Pac-12 is propelled by a floppy rudder, and it's no longer on the precipice of a season of notoriety -- the stink of infamy has already set in.
One of the best players in college hoops doesn't even start
A top-10 scorer in college basketball -- and for now, the best sixth man -- plays for Kent State, is averaging 25.4 points vs. D-I competition and looks like the finest player in his conference.
Jaylin Walker's senior season is unfolding in a way he couldn't have anticipated back in the fall. The former MAC tournament MVP -- and a guy who scored 24 against UCLA in the NCAA Tournament in 2017 -- was suspended for the first five games of 2018-19 for violating Kent State University policy.
His first game of eligibility was Nov. 23 at Vanderbilt. Kent State coach Rob Senderoff did what most coaches would not have done in that situation: he kept his best player pinned to the bench to start the game. Senderoff told me he did it in part because the team was 4-1 at the time, had won its previous game and didn't want to disrupt the flow of the starters.
"He was not happy about it," Senderoff said. "I actually said to him, after shootaround of the game against Vanderbilt when he knew he wasn't starting, I said, 'Hey, it'll be one or two games maximum. Don't worry about it."
Walker is still yet to start in this his final college season. Amazingly, Kent State's gone 7-1 since he became eligible, its only loss at Louisville. The Golden Flashes have won at Vanderbilt -- Walker's season debut had him drop 22 on the Commodores, including a clinching 3-pointer in the closing seconds -- at Detroit and at Oregon State.
"He's making some shots where there's nothing teams can do," Senderoff said. "He made two against Oregon State where there's four seconds on the shot clock, side out-of-bounds, and he made a turnaround 3 ... you couldn't guard it any better, and he made it."
In Kent State's recent 70-68 win over Albany, Walker scored 26 points and took over the game down the stretch. He hit four 3-pointers on seven shots ... and yet lowered his 3-point shooting percentage and 3-pointers made per game. In the Detroit win, Walker had 11 straight to steal that one on the road. And he's from Detroit! The game was scheduled for him -- and Senderoff still didn't start him.
"I would sit there and tell you that probably half the people in the building were there to see him," he said. "Honestly, we haven't talked about it since."
It's like a no-hitter situation. This coaching move has sparked a scoring monster. Walker's shooting 55 percent from 3, making him one of the best long-range threats in college basketball. It's incredible because Walker's previous three seasons didn't have him shooting better than 33 percent from deep.
"Last season he put up good numbers but his percentages were down," Senderoff said. "Some of that was adjusting to being the main guy every night. Some of it, we didn't have a ton of playmakers on the team to make his job easier. This year, we play with four guards a lot and that helps him. On top of that he's a senior and has worked ridiculously, ridiculously hard. Right now the shooting numbers and his efficiency numbers are nothing I've ever seen."
Senderoff said that even though conference play (in the very good MAC) is set to begin, he's going to continue with the strategy until, or if, a change feels necessary. Making it better, Walker's teammate, Jalen Avery, is on pace to lead the country in assist-to-turnover ratio for the second straight season.
"He's helping other guys with their confidence as well, because other guys need to start," Senderoff said. "It would impact their confidence, getting taken out of the starting lineup. And it's not impacting Jaylin at all. He's sacrificing, our best player, for the team."
The 26 best nonconference wins this season
If you're a diehard college basketball fan, you might be aware of the KPI. It's one of the six major metrics the NCAA publishes on its ever-present team sheets, which the selection committee consults with each year when it selects and seeds for the NCAA Tournament.
One of the helpful points of reference with the KPI is its tracking of the most significant wins each season. Given that 99 percent of regular-season nonconference play has concluded, let's see which outcomes are currently carrying the most weight; some results might surprise you. This list will fluctuate as the teams who lost in the results shown below improve and fall back in KPI's rankings. Game location, score and respective KPI ranking for the teams involved are all taken into account.
- Nov. 20: Lipscomb @ TCU (1.074)
- Nov. 28: Syracuse @ Ohio State (1.055)
- Nov. 22: Wisconsin def. Oklahoma (1.001)
- Nov. 14: Michigan @ Villanova (.967)
- Nov. 7: Ohio State @ Cincinnati (.961)
- Dec. 22: Arizona State v. Kansas (.952)
- Dec. 1: Louisville @ Seton Hall (.937)
- Nov. 17: Saint Louis @ Seton Hall (.924)
- Nov. 11: Florida Atlantic @ UCF (.892)
- Dec. 29: Kentucky @ Louisville (.888)
- Nov. 21: Gonzaga def. Duke (.878)
- Nov. 15: Ohio State @ Creighton (.871)
- Dec. 1: Gonzaga @ Creighton (.868)
- Dec. 29: Princeton @ Arizona State (.866)
- Nov. 17: Furman @ Villanova (.848)
- Nov. 17: Cornell @ NJIT (.843)
- Dec. 4: Georgia State @ Alabama (.840)
- Dec. 15: Charleston @ VCU (.836)
- Nov. 25: Villanova def. Florida State (.823)
- Nov. 28: Virginia @ Maryland (.822)
- Nov. 19: Arizona State def. Miss. State (.819)
- Dec. 22: Seton Hall @ Maryland (.818)
- Nov. 14: Saint Mary's @ New Mexico State (.810)
- Nov. 14: Indiana v. Marquette (.805)
- Dec. 21: Marquette v. Buffalo (.803)
- Nov. 26: Nebraska @ Clemson (.803)
@: designates true road win
v.: designates home win
def.: designates neutral-court win
It's 26 instead of the conventional 25 because Marquette and Nebraska's wins currently rate identically. Only three teams have two of the 26 best noncon wins so far, per KPI: Ohio State, Arizona State and Gonzaga. I'll circle back to this list either in late February or early March to see how much changes and which victories still rank among the very best outside of league play.
Have a question, curiosity or complaint? Do @ me. Lob your question my way on Twitter.
@MattNorlander Johnnies put up 89 on Marquette with only 2 from the bench. Impressive or worrisome? (Or, option 3: both?)— Jeff Burns (@JJBurns11) January 2, 2019
I'd lean toward impressive. To get that many points against a talented team that ranked top-20 in 2-point field goal percentage defense entering the night is notable. Plus, St. John's has one of the thinnest benches in college basketball. It will win, and lose, with six guys. Whenever the Johnnies fall in March, their lack of depth won't be the reason.
Question for the podcast in the future for you and @MattNorlander. Where does Alford land in 2019 or 2020? I’d think he’d be on a lot of short lists.— JWF (@joe2931) December 31, 2018
Alford will coach again in college if he wants. He's won 66 percent of his games as a coach, is knocking on the door of 600 career wins and is only 54. He could sit out the next three seasons and still come back. His days coaching at a top-50 job are done, but someone will hire him. Mark me down for March 2020 when he gets back into the coaching business. We're too far out right now to give a realistic pool of schools.
@GaryParrishCBS & @MattNorlander I just listened to the podcast. You didn't mention Thad Matta as a possibility for the UCLA job. Does Thad not want to coach again? No West coast ties remove him from consideration? Great coach, who I believe would succeed at UCLA.— Thomas Burns (@tburns100) December 31, 2018
Thad Matta wants to, and I think will, coach again. He's three years younger than Alford! I don't think everything that the UCLA job entails would be a good fit for Matta, given where he was in his life when he was fired at Ohio State. But if things wound going that way, and if Matta did for some reason wind up in Los Angeles, I do think he'd eventually leave UCLA having outperformed Alford's tenure.
@MattNorlander @GaryParrishCBS Who, in your opinions, has been the best team of this decade? Villanova, Duke and UCONN all have two titles (UNC just barely missing out on that). Maybe Michigan, with 2 final fours? What would be your qualifiers?— Jesse White (@LuckyBeerCamper) December 20, 2018
If we're starting with 2009-10, my answer is Duke. Two titles, now it has the lead in overall recruiting as of late vs. Kentucky and it's more dominant now than seemingly ever. Lottery picks coming off the assembly line. Villanova would be an extremely close second. Good question, Jesse. Might have to rank out the top 10 at the end of this season.
- Upcoming games to have on your radar: Florida State at Virginia (Saturday), Kansas at Iowa State (Saturday), Michigan State at Ohio State (Saturday), Indiana at Michigan (Sunday) and North Carolina at NC State (Tuesday).
- There is but one winless team left in college basketball. The Juan Dixon-coached Coppin State Eagles are 0-15 as they turn to MEAC play. The drought shouldn't last so much longer; KenPom projects Coppin State to win six games between now and March 7.
- An undervalued one-bid league this season: the Ivy League. The conference now claims victories over Miami (twice), Arizona State, Villanova, California, Saint Mary's and San Diego State. Almost all of them came on the road.
- Illinois fans are probably feeling as low as they have in a long time if not ever. The Illini lost at home to Florida Atlantic on Saturday, an FAU team that's somewhere around the 180th-best in college basketball. Illinois is 4-9 walking into Big Ten play. But here's my prediction: Brad Underwood has the Illini in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
- A fun did-you-know: Virginia had never scored 100 points under Tony Bennett until Monday, when a 3-pointer at the buzzer made it 100-64 Wahoos over Marshall. Even more fun: the final shot was made by Grant Kersey, a team-manager-cum-walk-on. I'm not backing off my Virginia-wins-the-ACC prediction.
- If you missed the news, Rick Pitino is in fact back in the coaching game -- in Greece. And just watch this 15-second video. You'd think Pitino was coaching these guys for seven years, not seven hours. No doubt in my mind the 66-year-old is using this Euro trip as a breezeway back into coaching in the United States.
Rick Pitino is not messing around!#GameON pic.twitter.com/jeDCSLoPVj— EuroLeague (@EuroLeague) December 28, 2018
The final buzzer sounds in Tempe, Arizona, on Dec. 29 as Princeton pulls off the 67-66 upset of Arizona State. Joe Camporeale of USA Today Sports Images took this shot.