California v UCLA
Getty Images

Selection Sunday is in exactly two months and the Pac-12 is shaping up to have the fewest amount of teams in the NCAA Tournament of any Big Six conference. 

In the latest Bracketology by CBS Sports' Jerry Palm, only three teams are projected to make the field: Arizona, Utah and Oregon. For a conference that had hopes of potentially sending at least a half dozen teams to the Big Dance in perhaps its final season, it's been a disappointing development.  

Perhaps the two most disappointing teams within the conference this season both reside in Los Angeles. USC opened the season ranked No. 21 in the AP Top 25 and UCLA was tied for the third of unranked teams but receiving votes after reaching the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season. However, heading into the third week of Pac-12 play, the Trojans and Bruins are near the bottom of conference standings and it would take a dramatic turnaround during the next nine weeks to reach the Big Dance.

A new era of college basketball is on the horizon next season. Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington will depart for the Big Ten. Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah will join the Big 12 -- the best basketball conference in the country. Cal and Stanford will play conference games coast-to-coast when they become a member of the ACC. Oregon State and Washington State will play games in the WCC next season.

The final football season in the Pac-12 saw countless memorable moments: Washington's run to the College Football Playoff National Championship game, Arizona's 10-win season, Deion Sanders' takeover at Colorado, Oregon's Fiesta Bowl win and more. 

There is still time for the Pac-12 of things to deliver similar magic in basketball, but it is running out.

California v UCLA
It's been a long season for the UCLA Bruins. Getty Images

Rough days in Westwood

UCLA's season has simply been a disaster.

Pick your favorite lowlight from this season: Mick Cronin talking about the lack of NIL opportunities within the program, Cronin not talking to reporters after a loss to Cal, Cronin saying that star freshman guard Sebastian Mack would be playing "about five minutes per game" if he was on a veteran UCLA roster or maybe the Bruins losing on the road to Utah by 46 points — the largest conference loss by the Bruins in over 27 years.

The season was bound to be boom-or-bust from the start after UCLA brought in eight newcomers to an inexperienced roster. Mack is the only player in the group averaging more than double-digits this season. UCLA improved to 7-10 after a 12-point win over Washington last weekend, but faces Arizona, Arizona State and rival USC in the next three games. Unless UCLA turns things around soon, it is heading toward missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in Cronin's tenure. 

Trojans are in trouble

Just down the street, you'll find a USC team that has also failed to meet preseason expectations. The Trojans started the season as the No. 21 team in the AP Top 25 preseason poll and now find themselves 8-9 overall. Just when it looked like things couldn't get any worse for USC, the school announced last week that superstar freshman Isaiah Collier would be out for the next 4-6 weeks due to a hand injury. Collier and Boogie Ellis started the season as arguably the top backcourt in the country and with Collier out of action for the foreseeable future, it's hard to see the Trojans getting back on track anytime soon. 

Another USC freshman guard — Bronny James — recently had his minutes restriction lifted and made his first start last weekend against Colorado. If USC wants to change the direction of its season, it starts with James taking on a larger role within the offense and others stepping up around him. If that doesn't happen, it's hard to see USC finishing in the top half of the Pac-12.

Ups and downs for Arizona 

The song "Hot N Cold" by Katy Perry can accurately sum up the last six weeks of the season for No. 12 Arizona:

"Cause you're hot then you're cold. You're yes then you're no. You're in then you're out. You're up then you're down."

The Wildcats made a statement in a 98-73 win over Wisconsin on Dec. 9 to solidify themselves as the No. 1 team in the nation. Days later, Arizona lost a marquee nonconference showdown to Purdue ... then followed that up with a 13-point win over Alabama with an overtime loss to FAU. Arizona put up 100 points in a win over Cal in the conference opener but then allowed 100 points two days later in a loss to Stanford. After Arizona suffered its worst loss of the season to the Cardinal, it followed it up with two quality double-digit wins over Colorado and Utah just to lose to Washington State on the road days later. Do you see where I'm going with this?

Arizona has the best overall roster in the conference and has as good of a shot as anyone to win the conference title, but the Wildcats have been inconsistent. If the trend holds, UA will knock off USC in a statement win just to lose to an unranked team days later ... or will they?

Oregon is emerging as the team to beat

Let's get to some positive developments within the conference. Oregon sits alone atop the Pac-12 with a perfect 5-0 conference record after wins over USC, UCLA, Washington, Washington State and Cal to open up the slate. More good news: star big man N'Faly Dante returned to the lineup after missing the last 14 games with a knee injury that required surgery. Dante made his first appearance last weekend since the season-opener against Georgia  and recorded eight points in 17 minutes in a 80-73 victory vs. the Bears. 

The X-Factor for Oregon is freshman guard Jackson Shelstad, the leading scorer for the Ducks. Oregon faces Arizona at home on Jan. 27 in its biggest test of the season. If the Ducks win that game, they could be considered the favorite in the conference going forward.

Washington State showing life

The last time Washington State made the NCAA Tournament was 2008, but this could be the year it gets back to the Big Dance. The Cougars are coming off consecutive wins over USC and Arizona and have a chance to build on that win streak against Cal and Stanford before repeating the gauntlet against Colorado and Utah. 

WSU freshman guard Myles Rice has been one of the top stories in college basketball this season. Rice didn't play during the 2022-23 season, due to receiving chemotherapy treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Rice is averaging 14.6 points and is coming off an 18-point showing against Arizona. Isaac Jones has been an impact transfer after traveling across the Palouse from Idaho. Jones is averaging 15.4 points and 7.7 rebounds and was recently named the Naismith National Player of the Week. Washington State still has a steep hill to climb to become a NCAA Tournament team, but  it is heading in the right direction.

Washington heading in wrong direction

The Huskies appeared to be headed to the NCAA Tournament, but a 2-4 start to Pac-12 play hasn't helped their cause. UW started 8-3 with all three losses (San Diego State, Nevada and Colorado) to likely NCAA Tournament teams. Washington picked up a signature win over then-No. 7 Gonzaga, but the Bulldogs have since dropped out of the AP Top 25 and they're in danger of missing out on the Big Dance, too. 

Keion Brooks Jr. and Sahvir Wheeler have been among the top scorers in the conference but the biggest question mark heading into the final two months of the season is whether or not UW did enough in the nonconference to make the Big Dance. The Huskies were projected to be in the First Four last week by Palm, but a loss to UCLA didn't help Washington's résumé and they are not in Palm's current projected field of 68.

Colorado needs to stack wins 

In Palm's Bracketology, Colorado is projected as one of the "First Four Out" with Virginia Tech, Washington State and Virginia. The Buffaloes have the best NET ranking (No. 48) of those teams and with freshman Cody Williams back in the fold, the Buffaloes should be able to start stacking up wins. Colorado plays Oregon at home Thursday and that will be an opportunity to pick up a signature victory. 

This is one of the best overall rosters Tad Boyle has had in his tenure at the school and the dynamic duo of KJ Simpson and Tristan da Silva would make the Buffaloes a dangerous team to face come tournament time ... if they get there.

Cal, Stanford still struggling

First-year Cal coach Mark Madsen has his program off to an interesting start. The Bears lost three consecutive conference games to Arizona, Arizona State and USC before knocking off in-state rival UCLA to snap a 19-game losing streak in Pac-12 play. The Bears had previously lost 16 straight conference road games and the last 10 meetings inside Pauley Pavilion. Cal has the worst overall record (6-11) in the Pac-12 and a long rebuild appears on the horizon ahead of the program before joining the ACC next season.

Across the bay, Stanford's Jerod Haase is coaching for his job. Coming into the season, Haase was considered to be on the hot seat and the Cardinal appear to be heading toward missing out on their 10th consecutive NCAA Tournament.