Sorry, Coach K, but your reign is over. Finally, after years of watching Duke teams tear down the nets in March, I can safely say that the team that wins the NCAA Tournament will come from the Pac-10. For the first time in my life, it seems like Duke wasn’t even ranked in the top ten for a whole week. While Coach Krzyzewski’s young squad has undoubtedly struggled, they are not alone, as the ACC is no longer the number one conference in the land. Perennial conference powers such as Wake Forest and North Carolina State sit in the bottom of the division, while up-and-coming Clemson and Virginia Tech reside near the top. The Big East is simply ugly, as Pittsburgh is the only team that really has any chance of making it to the Final Four (although watch out for Marquette…). However, aside from Pitt and Marquette, the Big East is full of underachieving (see Georgetown) and overly inexperienced (see UConn, Louisville) teams. Additionally, the SEC is a one-horse race, as no team comes close to touching Florida, and really no other team has a legitimate shot at the Final Four. While the Big 10 and Big 12 certainly sport the two best first-years in the country (Greg Oden and Kevin Durant), the overall quality of both leagues is down from usual years. In the wake of all the traditional powerhouse conference rises a not-so-new yet often overlooked conference: the Pac-10.
For years, Pac-10 teams have complained that they get no love. They are barely on television when compared with the above conferences, rarely get more than three of four teams into the NCAA tournament, and are generally overlooked and underestimated by basketball analysts on the East coast. The casual college basketball fan just has no true idea of how good these Pac-10 schools really are. The Pac-10 is clearly the best conference in the nation from top to bottom. The best team in the conference is, without a doubt, UCLA, who made it to the championship game last season. This year, the conference sports only two truly “weak” teams in Oregon State and Arizona State, and even they haven’t been truly horrible. Every other team has a legitimate shot at reaching the National Championship. While one may look skeptically at the Washington Huskies’ 1-6 conference record, they are one of the youngest and most talented teams in the entire nation, let alone the Pac-10. The Huskies’ future there is certainly bright, and they are certainly capable of a late season run. Perennial Pac-10 powerhouse Arizona finds itself in seventh place eight games into their conference season. Unlike Duke, Arizona isn’t experiencing a down year. They have one of the most talented teams in the country and were widely expected to compete for a National Championship this season.
The Pac-10 currently has four or five teams in the top 25 polls (they differ), and Arizona is one of them. So while UNC dominates the ACC, Florida tears apart the SEC, Ohio State and Wisconsin duke it out for the Big Ten, and the Big 12 teams fail to live up to expectations, the best basketball is being played out west. Turn off ESPN, CBS, and ABC and turn on FSN to watch the best teams in the best conference in the country tear each other apart because, I assure you, it’s a preview of March Madness. Put Arizona in any of the other five power conferences, and I would be shocked if they had more than one or two losses. However, a new and exciting day in college basketball is upon us, and it starts out West. Sorry Coach K, but I hope it lasts.