The Pac-12 finished the 2019 season as the seventh-best conference in the country, according to kenpom.com. The Power Five doesn’t really apply to college basketball like it does for football but if it did, the Pac-12 wouldn’t be one of the conferences included, at least not last season.
The Pac-12 actually sent three teams to the NCAA Tournament after it flirted with being a one-bid conference, which means that the teams in the conference have season grades ranging everywhere from an “A” to and “F.”
Here are Stadium’s postseason grades for every team in the Pac-12, which take into account the preseason media poll, conference and NCAA Tournament finishes and recent program trajectories.
The teams are listed alphabetically below.
The Wildcats were picked to finish fourth in the preseason media poll, and while they received one first-place vote, they finished in a three-way tie for eighth before losing in the 8/9 game of the Pac-12 Tournament to USC.
Arizona lost seven games in a row in Pac-12 play, falling to 14-12, and its season ended in a three-game losing streak, which was only compounded by Coach Sean Miller receiving a notification that was he being subpoenaed to testify in the federal trial about corruption in college basketball.
His response of “No comment. You can drive back to Phoenix,” to a reporter’s question in late February about the federal trial wasn’t a great look and his comments on Senior Night drew speculation that it might have been his final game coaching at the McKale Center. Those moments spoke to how Miller and his future at the school was a bigger story than Arizona ever was for its on-court performance as a team – a team that lost its top five scorers from 2018 and missed the NCAA Tournament in 2019 for the first time since ’12.
A neutral-court win over Iowa State in the Maui Invitational was a really good win, but there wasn’t another win of note the entire season.
For the second year in a row, Arizona State snuck into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 11 seed that played in Dayton for the First Four. This time, the Sun Devils won the play-in game to advance to the first round.
After being picked to finish sixth in the preseason media poll, Arizona State finished second.
The Sun Devils had mixed results all season, including a non-conference schedule in which they beat Kansas, Mississippi State and Utah State but lost to Vanderbilt and Princeton. They beat Washington in their only game against the Pac-12 champion Huskies, but they also lost to sub-100 opponents Utah and Stanford.
A 21-point home loss to Washington State, which finished No. 207 on kenpom.com, was surely a major black eye on Arizona State’s NCAA Tournament resume and likely part of the reason the Sun Devils were sent to Dayton.
But overall, a handful of notable non-conference wins, a strong conference finish when they were picked to finish in the middle of the pack, guard Luguentz Dort being named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and a second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance was a productive season for the Sun Devils.
The school held off St. John’s, which had interest this offseason in Arizona State Coach Bobby Hurley, and now the question is what he can build in the desert in a conference whose power programs had a down year in 2019.
People thought Cal would be bad last season. Most probably didn’t think they’d be that bad.
After being picked to finish 11th in the preseason media poll, the Bears finished in last place in the conference and at a dismal No. 241 on kenpom.com. That’s one spot behind Sacred Heart and one spot ahead of Army.
Cal was so bad that any opponent the Bears beat, which is admittedly a short list, meant the opponent immediately added a bad loss to its resume. An 8-23 season (3-15 Pac-12) never saw Cal climb above .500 and the team bottomed out at 5-22 (0-15 Pac-12) after a 16-game losing streak.
Somehow the Bears broke that losing streak with a home win over Pac-12 regular season champion Washington, which was the first game in a three-game winning streak.
Their season ended with Coach Wyking Jones being fired after just two years at the school.
The Buffaloes were picked to finish seventh in the Pac-12 and they finished in a three-way tie for fourth, so in that regard, Colorado slightly overachieved last season. Its 23-13 record (10-8 Pac-12) looks good on paper, but like every team in the conference, that record comes with the context of the Pac-12 finishing as the seventh-best conference in the country according to kenpom.com.
All of the Buffaloes’ non-conference wins came against opponents ranked outside of the top 130 on kenpom.com and conference losses to Utah (No. 109 on kenpom.com), Stanford (No. 112) and Washington State (No. 207) were regrettable. A five-point loss to regular season champion Washington in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals was respectable and Colorado lost at Texas in the regional final of the NIT.
Sophomore Tyler Bey was named the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player and point guard McKinley Wright IV became a better shooter, although his points and assists per game took a dip from his freshman year.
Colorado simply had a fine season. It didn’t enter last fall with lofty expectations and it slightly exceeded whatever expectations there were, with its best win coming against an Oregon team that hadn’t yet reinvented itself.
The Ducks took the scenic route to a respectable grade for the 2019 season. The overwhelming preseason favorites to win the Pac-12 debuted at No. 14 in the AP Top 25 poll, but they started just 4-3 through Dec. 1, 9-4 in non-conference play and they were 15-12 (6-8 Pac-12) at one point in late February.
Former top-five recruit Bol Bol (21 ppg, 9.6 rpg in nine games) suffered a season-ending foot injury and he announced he was done for the season in early January, which certainly altered the path of the Ducks’ season.
But Oregon rallied to win 10 straight games, finishing tied for fourth in the Pac-12, winning the Pac-12 Tournament as the No. 6 seed. That allowed them to steal a bid to the NCAA Tournament and ultimately make the Sweet 16 after wins over No. 5 seed Wisconsin and No. 13 seed UC Irvine.
A matchup zone helped Oregon finish with the nation’s 13th-most efficient defense that ranked among the top 20 in defensive 3-point percentage, block percentage and steal percentage.
The Beavers were picked to finish 10th in the preseason media poll and they ended up in a three-way tie for fourth with an 18-13 record overall (10-8 Pac-12). It was the program’s first time with a winning record in conference play since 1990 (!), which has to count for something even if Oregon State’s season ended with a loss to Colorado in its first game in the Pac-12 Tournament.
This is a program that’s just two years removed from a 1-17 Pac-12 record and it went 0-18 nine years before that. Corvallis has witnessed some bad basketball, but that wasn’t true this season, at least relative to the program’s historical lows.
Redshirt junior forward Tres Tinkle was a member of the Pac-12 First Team and Stephen Thompson Jr. was on the Second Team.
The team’s pinnacle was a four-game winning streak that included a 3-0 start to Pac-12 play that improved its record to 11-4 but the Beavers went 7-9 the rest of the way.
Four losses in five games by a combined 11 points was an especially damaging stretch for a team that could’ve entered the fringes of the bubble conversation with a better finish to the regular season.
The Cardinal were picked to finish ninth and they tied for eighth in the Pac-12 with an 8-10 conference record. Stanford enrolled the No. 20 recruiting class in 2018 according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, but the team managed just a 15-16 record.
The Cardinal lost to the five best non-conference opponents they faced – North Carolina, Wisconsin, Kansas, Florida and San Francisco – and their only notable win was against Arizona State.
Sophomores KZ Okpala and Daejon Davis – a pair of former top-50 recruits – were the team’s leading scorers, but neither was a particularly efficiency scorer. Stanford’s offense was hampered by a 31.7 percent 3-point percentage, 67.2 percent free throw shooting and a 20.8 percent turnover rate.
Former UCLA Coach Steve Alford was fired on New Year’s Eve amid his sixth season in Westwood after a 7-6 start. The Bruins were picked to finish second in the Pac-12 and they debuted at No. 21 in the preseason AP Top 25 poll.
Losses to Michigan State and North Carolina were understandable, although both games were blowouts, then a four-game losing streak with losses against Belmont, Cincinnati, Ohio State and Liberty sealed Alford’s fate.
Under interim coach Murray Bartow, UCLA went 10-10 to finish the season, which ended with a 17-16 record (9-9 Pac-12) and no postseason beyond the Pac-12 Tournament.
For a team with eight former top-100 recruits (not including freshman Shareef O’Neal, who redshirted after undergoing heart surgery) and the nation’s No. 6 recruiting class in 2018, a seventh-place regular season finish in a bad conference, having its coach fired and barely finishing above .500 was a huge disappointment.
The 2018-19 Trojans didn’t lack talent – they had eight former top-100 recruits on their roster.
Yet they finished in a three-way tie for eighth place after being picked to finish fifth in the preseason media poll.
USC’s final record was 16-17 (8-10 Pac-12) after a four-game losing streak to end the regular season. A non-conference schedule that didn’t necessarily rank as one of the strongest nationally but offered opportunities for several notable wins left the Trojans at 7-6 entering Pac-12 play.
USC couldn’t protect its home court against Vanderbilt or Nevada, it couldn’t beat Texas Tech or TCU on a neutral floor and it lost on the road against Oklahoma and Santa Clara. Despite a veteran frontcourt of Bennie Boatwright and Nick Rakocevic, enrolling five-star freshman Kevin Porter Jr. and a team 3-point shooting percentage of 38.2, the Trojans’ adjusted offensive efficiency ranked 72nd nationally and their defense was worse at 118th.
USC Coach Andy Enfield will enter Year 7 at the school having missed the last two NCAA Tournaments.
Like many Pac-12 teams, Utah is a tough team to grade.
What does it mean to exceed, or even live up to, expectations in a bad conference?
The Utes were third in the Pac-12 after being picked to finish eighth in the preseason media poll.
Their 11-7 conference record is notable in a vacuum but they went just 1-5 during the season against Washington, Arizona State and Oregon – the Pac-12’s three NCAA Tournament teams.
A 6-6 non-conference record was far from impressive, especially with neutral-court losses to Hawaii, BYU and Northwestern.
Utah’s offense ranked No. 22 nationally in terms of efficiency and No. 1 in Pac-12 play but the team’s defense was atrocious with an adjusted defensive efficiency of No. 257.
There was a legitimate discussion late in the regular season that the Pac-12 could be a one-bid conference and that one team would’ve been Washington, if the Pac-12 sent only one team to the NCAA Tournament versus the three that made it.
The Huskies, who were picked to finish third in the preseason media poll behind Oregon and UCLA, won the conference by three games. That’s both a testament to the program’s growth in Year 2 under Coach Mike Hopkins and a sign of how bad the conference was in 2019.
The 27-win, power-conference-winning Huskies were rewarded with a No. 9 seed in the tournament.
They challenged themselves in their non-conference schedule with games against Gonzaga, Auburn, Virginia Tech and Minnesota, but they all of them (two were on the road, two were on neutral courts).
Washington then won 12 games in a row after its loss to the Hokies and other than a dismal loss to California, the Huskies’ only losses the rest of the season were against Arizona State, Oregon (twice) and then No. 1 seed North Carolina in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Jaylen Nowell and Matisse Thybulle were named to the Pac-12 First Team, Nowell was named Pac-12 Player of the Year and Thybulle was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.
The Cougars were picked to finish last in the preseason media poll and they finished in 11th, thanks to Cal.
After an 11-21 season (4-14 Pac-12), Coach Ernie Kent was fired and replaced by Kyle Smith, who was the head coach at San Francisco. Washington State’s season ended with a six-game losing streak and with the exception of an unlikely successful road trip to the Arizona schools in early February – the Cougars won 91-70 at Arizona State and 69-55 at Arizona – there weren’t many highlights in 2019.
Washington State’s best non-conference win was against Rider (No. 212 on kenpom.com) and it had three losing streaks of at least five games.
The Cougars were expected to be bad last season and they were bad in a bad conference.