The Pac-12 basketball conference schedule opens this week with no clear favorite, no signature victories and a nonconference resume that should be burned rather than submitted to the NCAA tournament selection committee.
Call it a severe case of growing pains.
The loss of NBA early entrants Derrick Williams, Isaiah Thomas, Klay Thompson and Nikola Vucevic, among others, all but guaranteed that the first year of the expanded conference would be a difficult one. Only two of the 10 members of the 2011 all-conference team returned, and one of those - UCLA forward Reeves Nelson - did not last through the first semester before he was booted off the team for insubordination.
No incarnation of the league has struggled this mightily before conference play in a long time, maybe ever.
The Pac-12 is 0-12 against ranked teams, coming closest to a victory when Arizona took then-No. 12 Florida into overtime before falling 78-72 in Gainesville on Dec. 7. Washington, Stanford and Oregon State played ranked teams into the final minute, and that is something.
But whereas USC used resume-padding victories against Texas and Tennessee to earn the Pac-10's fourth berth in the NCAA tournament last year (behind Washington, Arizona and UCLA), the league has no compelling victories this year.
The Pac-12 is not a one-bid league, but it is hard to prove that by early results. The league could have made a late push last week, but Kansas beat USC and UNLV beat California, the final games against ranked teams until one of the Pac-12's own breaks through.
One simulated RPI, a metric used by the NCAA selection committee to cull the at-large field, has Arizona as the top-ranked Pac-12 school, at No. 55. California is next, at 66, with Colorado third, at 87. Stanford and Oregon State, both 10-2 as conference play begins, were ranked No. 99 and No. 121, respectively, because of schedules that were not overly taxing.
The preseason media pick to win the conference, UCLA is a mess. Nelson was benched early in the season and finally removed from the team for a seeming lack of interest. The Bruins, already without early NBA entrants Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt, have regrouped, but they seem a long way from a title contender.
Arizona, Washington and California enter conference play as the top contenders, their records tempered by stiff-ish early season schedules. The Oregon schools and Stanford could surprise.
HITS AND MISSES
The Pac-12 is not playing a full round-robin schedule this season, instead sticking to its traditional 18-game format. The format is good for some, bad for others.
• California and Stanford seem to have the best of it, missing road games against Arizona and home games against Washington.
• The Oregon schools also came out well. They do not travel to Los Angeles and play Arizona only once (in Tucson).
• Washington does not play the Bay Area schools on the road, a plus, but misses home games against second-division teams Colorado and Utah.
• The Los Angeles schools have the worst of it. They miss road games at Colorado and Utah, two of the weakest teams in the league, and do not play the Oregon schools at home. UCLA and USC would probably be favored in all four.
The complete breakdown of "misses":
• Arizona and Arizona State: California and Stanford (home); Oregon and Oregon State (road).
• California and Stanford: Washington and Washington State (home); Arizona and Arizona State (road).
• Colorado and Utah: UCLA and USC (home); Washington and Washington State (road).
• Oregon and Oregon State: Arizona and Arizona State (home); UCLA and USC (road).
• USC and UCLA: Oregon and Oregon State (home); Colorado and Utah (road).
• Washington and Washington State: Utah and Colorado (home); California and Stanford (road).