The Difference a Decade Makes: The Fall of Pac-12 Basketball

WSU is not the only basketball program in the Pac-12 facing struggles this year. In fact, it’s is the first major conference in the past 20 years to conclude December with a win percentage short of .600. The current mediocrity on the hardwood is a topic that’s been recurring throughout the young 2018-19 season.

Arizona State is the only team in the league ranked in the AP Poll following their upset of top ranked Kansas in Tempe while no other teams are even receiving votes. Poor non-conference performances by what seems like every other program will only create roadblocks come time for at-large bids to the Big Dance.

It is hard to believe that 10 years ago the then Pac-10 Conference was a hot bed for competition and talent. The 2007-08 Pac-10 season was one loaded with high quality players and national contenders. The star-studded First Team All Pac-10 read as such:

  • Ryan Anderson, So. (CAL)
  • James Harden, Fr. (ASU)
  • Brook Lopez, So. (STAN)
  • Kevin Love, Fr. (UCLA)
  • O.J. Mayo, Fr. (USC)

This all-conference team – comprised entirely of underclassmen – was made up of current NBA MVP’s, NBA Finals Champions, and perennial all-star performers. And this doesn’t even include Russell Westbrook, a third-team all-conference selection and Defensive Player of the Year. He is now torching up the league with casual triple-doubles and always in the conversation come the MVP ballot.

The conference’s regular season was a spectacle featuring great matchups between the likes of Kyle Weaver and Derrick Low from WSU crashing the boards with Stanford’s Lopez brothers, or a crosstown matchup of USC product O.J. Mayo squaring off with the Bruin’s dominant duo of Love and Westbrook. Throw ASU’s James Harden – reigning 2018 NBA MVP – in that mix, and boy did it make for a thrilling season out west.

Aside from individual stars, these teams were national contenders. Six of them qualified for the 2008 NCAA tournament in the form of Oregon, Arizona, USC, WSU, Stanford, and UCLA. The latter three of which went on to the Sweet 16 with our friends down in Westwood making the Final Four.

Fast forward to the 2017-18 season, only two teams made the NCAA Tournament with neither making it past the first round. The University of Buffalo Bulls thumped Sean Miller’s Wildcats while UCLA fell to St. Bonaventure – comprised of 1,600 undergraduates – in a play-in game.

The all-conference team was highlighted by Deandre Ayton, but outside Arizona’s big man, the star power just isn’t there anymore. It’s even worse considering the selections run two-deep at each position with an additional two more programs (Utah and Colorado) to pull from.

  • Deandre Ayton, Fr. (Arizona)
  • Justin Bibbins, Sr. (Utah)
  • Noah Dickerson, Jr. (Washington)
  • Tra Holder, Sr. (Arizona State)
  • Aaron Holiday, Jr. (UCLA)
  • Jordan McLaughlin, Sr. (USC)
  • Chimezie Metu, Jr. (USC)
  • Tres Tinkle, So. (Oregon State)
  • Reid Travis, Jr. (Stanford)
  • Allonzo Trier, Jr. (Arizona)

Now don’t get me wrong, there is potential for this group to shine, but it’s nowhere near the level it used to be.

All fans can hope for is that it’s just a down time for the Pac-12 because if the level of competition from a decade ago can be regained, west coast basketball would be relevant once again beyond that of WCC-token Gonzaga.

But maybe we ought to be weary of the Christian conference as a whole. After WSU’s 79-71 loss at the hands of Santa Clara on Dec. 29, the WCC holds an 9-7 advantage in head-to-head matchups over the superior Pac-12.

Cross your fingers for a better 2019, because the Pac-12 needs it.

Washington State (7-6) fittingly opens conference play Saturday at rival Washington (8-4). Live coverage of the 7:30 p.m. tip can be found on the Pac-12 Network.

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