SALT LAKE CITY – The Big Ten got the respect, a top-four seed in every region.
The Big East got the numbers, eight teams in the field.
But the Pac-12 opened the most eyes on the first full day of the NCAA tournament Thursday,
Victories by Arizona, Oregon and California not only gave the Pac-12 a perfect 3-0 record but also called into question the NCAA selection committee’s analysis of the conference as a whole. Arizona was seeded sixth, while Oregon and California were No. 12s.
Oregon’s seeding was the most egregious. the Ducks (27-8) tied for second in the league in the regular season and won the Pac-12 tournament. They hit a bump when freshman point guard Dominic Artis missed a month with a foot injury, but he was back for the conference tourney. Oregon dominated Oklahoma State on the glass and led for the final 32 minutes in a decisive 68-55 victory Thursday.
Were the Ducks underseeded?
“Oh, I think they would admit to that. I think they watch TV, and every single person you run into has said the same thing,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said of the tournament selection committee. “I think they were saying about their schedule or something. You know, to me that doesn’t matter. The computer doesn’t select it. I knew right away after watching them this was not your typical 12 seed.”
Oregon coach Dana Altman did his best to be diplomatic when asked about it Thursday.
“Well, I don’t know how to answer that. We went in the game feeling that we were a good basketball team. We finished one game out of the title for the Pac-12 and we played well in the conference tournament. We downplayed it because we weren’t going to change it. There was nothing we could do about it,” Altman said.
“Our guys did a great job of blocking it out and just saying, it’s a number.”
Pac-12 regular season champion UCLA (25-9) also was a No. 6 seed, the committee saying it dropped the Bruins one line after a season-ending injury to wing player Jordan Adams in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals. The Bruins finished one game ahead of Oregon, Arizona (26-7) and California (21-11) in the regular season. UCLA and No. 10 seed Colorado (21-11) began NCAA play Friday.
The Pac-12’s quick start was especially gratifying to league coaches, who saw regular-season champion Washington snubbed last year, when only two Pac-12 teams were included in the 68-team NCAA field, with Cal being seeded so low that it was forced into a play-in game.
“It’s a statement that all of us who coach in the league were hoping we could make. You get respect by what you do in this tournament,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said after the Wildcats easily dispatched bracket-buster darling Belmont, 81-64, in a West subregional.
Miller should have some street cred since he took Xavier to the Sweet Sixteen in three consecutive years and came within a point of taking the Wildcats to the Final Four in 2011, when they lost to eventual champion Connecticut in the West Regional final.
“You’re playing against terrific players, some incredible coaches and teams that can win. I believe we have the ability as a conference to continue to win in March,” Miller said.