Battered & bruised, Pac-10 hoops is taking a beating this year

It’s like trying to dribble with a lopsided basketball.  You never know what to expect from the bounce.

That’s the case with Pac-10 basketball this season, as the men’s teams continue to beat up on each night after night.  And Arizona’s colleges are doing their part to enhance the confusion.

Over the weekend, UofA was stunned by Oregon State, 63-55 – the first time since 1983 that the Beavers have left UofA’s gym with a win!  But Lute Olson took over the next year and that was the end of O State’s wins in Tucson – until now.

In Tempe, Arizona State was taking care of business Saturday by beating Oregon, 61-51, managing to get the job done in the midst of some ugly play (seven turnovers in eight possessions that put them in a 24-15 hole early).  The game was typical of the inconsistent play Herb Sendek is getting from this year’s squad.

ASU (8-5) has the best chance of overtaking California to claim the league title since they’re just one game behind the Golden Bears; UofA’s (7-6) hopes continue to fade with the upset by Oregon State.  Both AZ schools have to play Cal on the Bears’ home court, where Cal is 12-1 this season.  And the road games left for California are against three of the worst teams in the conference: Oregon, Oregon State, and Stanford.

But the entire Pac-10 conference appears to be using that same lopsided basketball all season long.  It’s entirely possible that a conference that had six teams in the NCAA tournament last year will limp into Mad March with just its conference champ – and get zero at-large bids.

Even California isn’t living up to expectations, whether they hold on to win the conference or not.  They were ranked No. 13 in the pre-season, based in large part on the fact that their top four scorers from last season were returning.  But they’re sitting at 17-8 overall and have lost all three games they’ve played against Top 25 teams.

UofA was a Sweet Sixteen team last season and, despite losing its top two players to the NBA, was expected to do much better.  Washington started the season ranked in the top 15 but is 17-8 overall and in fifth place in the conference. UCLA also lost three key players to the NBA, but is hanging on to a tie for third in the conference this year – but not in a good position for at-large consideration.  And Stanford is at the bottom of the pile, just one game ahead of last-place Oregon – but is undefeated in conference when playing at home.

It’s been a strange year.

Let’s face it.  The Pac-10 is just weak this year, from top to bottom.  There isn’t one team in the conference ranked in the Top 25.  On average, the teams are young and outside shooting is anemic.  Not a recipe for March success.

If Cal takes care of business on the road in the next couple of weeks and then continues its winning ways at home, the Bears should have things well in hand by the time they meet Stanford at the trail’s end.

But where does that leave Arizona and Arizona State?  Those at-large bids may be hard to come by this year, based on what we’ve seen so far this year.  The best bet is likely to be ASU, but the Sun Devils need to prove themselves worthy of a ticket to the Dance down the stretch.

They have a week to step back and assess the situation, and get in some extra practice time, since their next game isn’t until Sunday when they travel to Tucson for a rivalry game against Arizona.  But that game also kicks off a three-game road trip that includes games at  California and Stanford, and both teams have proven they are good at protecting their home court.

We’ll just have to see how the ball bounces the next couple of weeks.  So expect a crazy finish in the Pac-10.

Boink. thud. boink. thud. boink…