TEMPE, Ariz. – The nine times the Pac-10 has allowed all conference schools to play in its postseason men’s basketball tournament, teams that play the first night – the play-in games as they are colloquially known – have had some success.
But one thing has never happened.
No seventh- through 10th-seeded team has made the final, let alone earn the conference’s automatic NCAA tournament berth.
Informed of this fact, then asked why it is important to finish in the top six and avoid a Wednesday night game in Los Angeles in three weeks, Washington State coach Ken Bone laughed.
“Well, it’s important because no one has ever played the first day and got to the final,” he joked Friday after the Cougars practice in preparation for this morning’s game with last-place Arizona State.
But then Bone turned serious.
“It’s important for a few reasons,” he said. “It’s important because to finish in the top six means we’ve played good basketball from here on out.
“Number two, it’s all about doing as well as you can in the Pac-10 tournament and teams that have stayed out of that play-in game have had more success over the years than teams that have played in it.”
The middle of the conference is muddled, to say the least.
The Cougars are fourth at 7-7 (17-9 overall), but closer to seventh place than they are to third-place Washington, 10-4. Behind WSU are USC and Oregon, tied at 6-7, followed by Stanford and California, both 6-8.
The closeness of the race makes the matchup with cellar-dwelling ASU (1-12 with 11 consecutive Pac-10 losses, 9-16 overall) crucial if WSU wants to avoid the first day’s play in L.A.
“There are a bunch of teams all stacked up right behind us,” said junior forward Abe Lodwick, “so a game here or there can affect the whole league.
“All we can focus on is the game we have coming up and we can’t worry about the rest of the league.”
“It’s important that we win a few games here down the stretch and ensure we are at least in that top six,” Bone said.
The Cougars could have given themselves a little wiggle room with an upset of 12th-ranked Arizona on Thursday night, but even Klay Thompson’s 30 points weren’t enough in the 79-70 loss.
Yet the defeat came with a caveat.
“Our guys feel good about the way they competed (Thursday) night,” Bone said. “We’ve won games before where we didn’t feel as good as we did last night after a loss. That might sound crazy, but this time of the year, for us to succeed, we’ve got to bring it every game and hopefully every possession.
“If we can continue to play with that type of energy and focus, we have a chance to do some good things here at the end of the season.”
As long as that doesn’t include a Wednesday game in L.A.