The Pac-12 has three of the top teams in the country this year, and two more likely tournament teams.
But that bubble area for at-large teams seems unusually weak, and ESPN’s Jay Bilas certainly agrees with that.
“I’ve never seen as squishy end of the line as this,” Bilas said on Friday afternoon inside McKale Center. “We’re talking about teams that are going to have eleven league losses in a league like the ACC be right there to get in the tournament, and that doesn’t feel right. It just shows you that there’s not a lot out there.”
One of the main reasons Bilas attributes to that is the lack of mid-major power this year compared to previous years.
“It’s just a one-year thing,” Bilas tacked on about what he makes of that happening this year. “We haven’t had anything like this. People are going to complain about early entry and stuff like that, but that’s not the case. One of the things people will say, and it’s not that they’re wrong, is that it’s well because the big-shot programs lose guys early, that means that mid-majors have older teams and they’re more likely to do this, this, and this; but where are they now?”
“There are several good mid-major teams out there, but not in an at-large sense. We’ve had mid-major teams that were right there to get into the tournament, and we don’t have those this year; they’re just not there.”
The ACC has 15 teams compared to the Pac-12’s twelve, which results in more chances for those lower echelon teams to pick up crucial wins, like one example Bilas gave.
“That’s why we’re talking about teams like Clemson. Clemson’s got double-digit losses in their league already, and Joe Lunardi’s got ‘em in the tournament, and you’re going man that wouldn’t even be discussed in another year.”
“At the end of the line, there are going to be some teams that get in that you’re gonna go ‘Really?’,” he added. “That’s just the way the year’s gone.”
Clemson, which is 4-11 in ACC play and 14-13 overall, doesn’t have any really good wins...just a bunch of close losses. Them and Pitt have kind of the same thing going on. Meanwhile, a 4-11 Pac-12 team like Washington State (actually 5-10) has no shot at the postseason in the eyes of the people who make such decisions.
The bubble’s weak, but the ACC shouldn’t take on that much more respect than a conference like the Pac-12.
“It’s really strong, but especially at the top,” Bilas said of the Pac-12. “I evaluate conferences, and people do that differently too, because you’ve heard a lot about the ACC being the strongest it’s ever been. I don’t buy that, but I understand it. The rationale there is look how good the bottom of the league has become, and to me that’s not a big deal. Just because you gotta push a little harder to beat the bottom teams, you’re still beating them.”
“I think the strength of the league is predicated by how many nationally relevant teams you’ve got, and how many can compete for the whole thing, and I think the Pac-12 has three,” continued Bilas. “Oregon, UCLA, and Arizona are all capable of winning this thing. I don’t think there are that many leagues that have three, I just don’t.”
“There are three legit Final Four teams.”
So maybe the Pac-12 won’t get as many bids at the ACC, but the western teams probably have a better chance of winning the only thing that matters...the Natty.