The Big East, Big Ten and Pac-12 can each make a case that they were college basketball's most-improved conference in the 2019-20 season as all three were on track to send more teams to the NCAA Tournament this year than they did in 2019.
But with substantial gains in its non-conference winning percentage, number of projected NCAA Tournament teams and average NET ranking, the Pac-12 clearly took the most strides of any league after languishing in mediocrity for two seasons. Of course, the league had nowhere to go but up while the Big East and Big Ten were already enjoying some success.
Still, the Pac-12's quick re-emergence is enough to earn it the designation of the most-improved conference in 2019-20 as last eight of the conference's teams showed clear year-over-year improvement.
Pac-12 teams that improved
Oregon: The Ducks entered the season with three Sweet 16 appearances in the last four years. But they had lost 13 games each of the past two years and were trotting out an overhauled roster against improving league competition. It all came together quite nicely for coach Dana Altman as senior guard Payton Pritchard's All-American campaign paced the Ducks, who finished 24-7 (13-5 Pac-12) and won the outright league title.
UCLA: It's been well-documented by now, but the Bruins proved its all about where you finish and not where you start. Last season, they were ranked No. 21 in the AP Top 25 to begin the year but then struggled, went through a mid-season coaching change and failed to make the NCAA Tournament. This season, in Mick Cronin's first year, they began the season 8-9 overall and 1-3 in league play but roared back to finish second in the conference with a 12-6 record.
USC: The Trojans rebounded nicely from a 16-17 season by finishing 22-9 (11-7 Pac-12). They were on track to end a two-year NCAA Tournament drought before the season's cancellation. USC also landed Evan Mobley, the No. 3 overall prospect in the 2020 class.
Arizona: You could argue the Wildcats underachieved relative to the amount of talent on their roster. Three Arizona players were taken in the first round of the latest CBS Sports NBA Mock Draft. But it was a rebound year for the Wildcats nonetheless. After going 17-15 in the 2018-19 campaign, Sean Miller's club finished this season 21-11 (10-8 Pac-12) and in position to return to the NCAA Tournament.
Colorado: The Buffaloes likely would have snapped a three-year NCAA Tournament drought this season as a veteran-led team put together one of the best seasons of the Tad Boyle era. They struggled a bit late in the season but had a non-conference win over Dayton on their resume.
Stanford: The Cardinal only improved their league recordby a game from 8-10 to 9-9. But they improved their overall record from 15-16 in the 2018-19 season to 20-12 and were projected to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in Jerod Haase's four-year tenure as coach. Their nucleus should return mostly in tact next season.
California: It was hard to imagine how things could get much worse for Cal after consecutive eight-win seasons. But there was no guarantee first-year coach Mark Fox would get immediate results, either. But he guided the Bears to a 14-18 record, and Cal won seven league games after winning a total of five in the previous two seasons before Fox's arrival.
Washington State: Similarly to Cal, it seemed like the Cougars were at rock bottom after going 4-14 in league play the last two seasons. But it was going to be hard to improve under first-year coach Kyle Smith while the rest of league was getting better, too. But Washington State pulled it off by finishing 16-16 overall for their first .500 season since the 2011-12 campaign. They also won six league games.
Pac-12 teams that held steady
Arizona State: The Sun Devils held steady even after losing two of their top three scorers from a team that finished 23-11 (12-6 Pac-12) and made the NCAA Tournament. A 20-11 (11-7) season was Bobby Hurley's third straight 20-win campaign. This program is poised to take a step forward next season so as long as a couple of its veterans testing the NBA Draft waters opt to come back and join a talented recruiting class.
Oregon State: The Beavers fell from 10 conference wins to seven this season but finished the year ranked No. 71 in the NET, up 14 spots from their final ranking a season ago. It's a program that's only made one NCAA Tournament appearance since 1990, so consecutive 18-win seasons is nothing to be embarrassed about.
Pac-12 teams that regressed
Utah: After five straight winning seasons in Pac-12 play, the Utes regressed to 16-15 (7-11 Pac-12). But they were still competitive and should be back on the upswing next season as they did not use a single senior in their rotation this year.
Washington: It seemed unthinkable that the Huskies could add two of the top-10 prospects from the 2019 class and enter a tailspin. But that's what happened. They finished 15-17 overall and last in the Pac-12 with a 5-13 league record after going 27-9 and winning the league's regular-season title the year before. They lost several key contributors from that 2018-19 team. But the Huskies should not have fallen as far as they did
Non-conference winning percentage
*vs. Division I opponents according to NCAA
- 2019-20: 104-27 (79.4%)
- 2018-19: 111-52 (68.1%)
- 2019-20: 114-42 (73.1%)
- 2018-19: 149-55 ( 73.0%)
- 2019-20: 117-44 (72.7%)
- 2018-19: 109-73 (59.9%)
NCAA Tournament teams
*2020 teams according to CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm's final projection
- 2020: 7
- 2019: 4
- 2020: 10
- 2019: 8
- 2020: 7
- 2019: 3
Average NET ranking
*according to NCAA
- 2019-20: 38.1
- 2018-19: 64.5
- 2019-20: 51.4
- 2018-19: 47.4
- 2019-20: 60.6
- 2018-19: 101.4