With nowhere else to go now for college football history, as COVID cases mount nationwide and top players succumb to the virus, we shift gears here on Pac-12 Friday to the history of basketball in the Conference of Champions.
We start with the 1950s, for a variety of reasons: reliable sabermetrics from Sports-Reference.com and the advent of a legitimate NCAA Tournament championship with 16 teams in 1951 … Enjoy!
Fueled by the fourth-best defense in the country, Cal reached the regional final before losing to the University of San Francisco. The only conference losses came on the road to Washington and at home against a No. 6 UCLA squad coached by John Wooden (see below).
10. 1957 UCLA Bruins (22-4)
These Bruins did not win the conference, and thus, they did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament (very different rules then when it was a smaller affair). But UCLA split with Cal, while also losing to Washington on the road. A road loss to USC by four points ended the team’s title hopes, however.
9. 1956 UCLA Bruins (22-6)
After a perfect conference season, the Bruins lost in their NCAA opener to USF, spoiling an opportunity for something more special. Struggling to a 4-5 start, with all the losses away from home, UCLA then ripped off a 17-game winning streak which included 16 wins in league matchups.
8. 1951 USC Trojans (21-6)
One of the quirks of sabermetrics is that sometimes the numbers don’t lie when the results have been fluky. These Trojans finished just 8-4 in conference play, and they did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament. USC was 18-2 before playing its final 7 games on the road, and that caused them to slip down the stretch a bit.
7. 1958 Oregon State Beavers (20-6)
If the Beavers had not lost their final two games, they would have made the NCAA Tournament as the outright conference champion. As it was, they had to settle for a shared league championship with Cal, and Oregon State lost the tiebreakers. This team was built on the sixth-best defense in the country.
6. 1959 California Golden Bears (25-4)
Odd as it may be, these Bears won the NCAA Tournament to win the national championship. Cal fielded the top defense in the country on their way to a 14-2 mark in conference play reflected that—as did the four-game March Madness run through No. 18 Utah, No. 15 St. Mary’s (CA), No. 5 Cincinnati, and No. 10 West Virginia.
5. 1954 UCLA Bruins (18-7)
One of the more underrated Wooden teams at UCLA, this Bruins squad was ranked as high as 13th in the country by the Associated Press poll. Losing the final two games of the season at home to USC, however, doomed UCLA to a disappointing finish for the sabermetrically strong group.
4. 1951 Washington Huskies (24-6)
Reaching the regional finals of the NCAA Tournament was the ceiling for this team that posted an 11-5 record in conference play. The only non-league loss came to No. 2 Oklahoma State in March Madness. A 10-0 start was the key to propelling this team to its eventual heights.
3. 1953 Washington Huskies (28-3)
With a 15-1 record against league foes, these Huskies really dominated the conference on their way to the Final Four. Second-ranked Washington lost in the national semifinals to No. 5 Kansas, but it recovered to beat No. 7 LSU in the third-place game to finish the season with a consolation prize.
2. 1952 Washington Huskies (25-6)
Despite a 14-2 record in conference play, the Huskies didn’t win the conference championship, and they did not participate in March Madness. They still finished third in the SRS, while putting together nine-game and eight-game winning streaks. Late losses to UCLA really hurt, however.
1. 1955 UCLA Bruins (21-5)
The best conference team of the decade put together an 11-game winning streak in the middle of the season, while also posting an 11-1 record in league play. The Bruins finished second in the SRS, while finishing the regular season ranked 9th in the AP poll. But they didn’t win the conference, after losing at the end of the year to Oregon State.