PULLMAN – Roster turnover and overall youth were the preseason excuses as to why the Pac-12 was going to take its lumps in 2015-16, spending the year rebuilding toward a future date when it could rebuild its image as a college basketball power conference.
According to Scout.com, the Pac-12 had six of the 25 highest-ranked freshman classes based on recruiting rankings, and three of the top six, providing an influx of youthful talent.
With all the nonconference, preseason games in the rearview mirror, however, indications are that the outgoing players may not have been as ready to compete as their replacements already are.
“They’re counted on to step in and produce and play right away,” WSU coach Ernie Kent said. “And they’re good enough players that they’re doing those things right away.
All the numbers point to the Pac-12 being one of the best college basketball conferences in the NCAA. The conference has the second-best overall RPI, behind the Big-12, and the third-best overall winning percentage.
Respected analyst Ken Pomeroy rates the Pac-12 the third-best conference in the country. Jerry Palm of CBS projects the conference to receive six NCAA tournament bids.
“The Pac-12 is as good as it’s ever been, with 12 teams that can beat each other on any given night,” USC coach Andy Enfield said.
Kent noted that new rules and officiating points of emphasis, which are designed to increase tempo and scoring, have helped the conference that has always been known for the tendency of its teams to get up and down the court.
While the Pac-12 is not a top-heavy conference and few of the teams are expected to make significant postseason runs – only three teams are ranked in the AP Top 25 and only No. 8 Arizona makes the Top 10 – it has considerable depth.
Few of the teams were unable to pick up a signature win during nonconference play. The conference’s best teams came up with its best wins, with Arizona knocking off Gonzaga, No. 25 UCLA taking down No. 10 Kentucky and No. 21 Utah upsetting No. 15 Duke in New York’s Madison Square Garden.
But the NCAA tournament’s selection committee will have to take a long look at Oregon after seeing the Ducks beat No. 23 Baylor early in the season. Washington, with its four freshman starters, shocked everyone when it beat Texas in China to start the season.
Those big wins in the nonconference games have set the Pac-12 up with a good RPI, meaning that even as the teams beat up on each other over the course of conference play, the respective RPIs should still be relatively healthy at the end of the season.
“I think the Pac-12 has shown that it’s one of, if not the premier conference out there,” Kent said. “I know the Big-12 has a better winning percentage, but if you look at the upsets and the games that were played, the consistency of play in the conference, it’s going to be an incredible conference. It hasn’t been like this in a long time, where game-in, game-out, night-in and night-out, the games are going to be competitive.”
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