On Pac-12 Friday, we have just about reached the present day for the Conference of Champions in our basketball retrospective series. It was not the best decade for the Pac-12, but it wasn’t the worst one, either. One school started to assert itself in the league, for sure, challenging the powers that be. Which school is that?
Read on to find out, as we also throw in the aborted 2020 season as well, because we can!
Honorable Mention: 2019 Oregon Ducks (25-13)
This team started the season ranked in the Top 15 and then suffered some serious injuries before adjusting its game midseason and pushing itself all the way to the Sweet 16—where the Ducks lost by 4 points to the eventual national champions from Virginia. Oregon won its last 8 conference games, including four matchups in the league tourney, to earn a mere 12-seed spot in the South Regional. The Ducks then knocked off No. 21 Wisconsin in the opening round before losing to the No. 2-ranked Cavaliers in the regional semifinals.
10. 2018 Arizona Wildcats (27-8)
It was a rollercoaster season in Tucson, as the Wildcats started the season ranked third—and then found themselves losers of three straight in the out-of-conference preseason. But Arizona recovered to win the conference (14-4 record) and the Pac-12 Tournament, and this earned them a No. 4 seed in the South Regional. However, the No. 12 Wildcats fell flat on their faces in the opening round, losing by 22 points to unranked Buffalo. They just ran out of gas after recovering from the rough start to the season.
9. 2010 California Golden Bears (24-11)
It’s been a long time since we saw Cal in these rankings! The 1959 NCAA champs took a four-decade break, it seems, in basketball. But with a 13-5 record in league play, the Bears took the conference title and earned a No. 8 seed in March Madness. That was a little disappointing after being ranked 13th to start the season. After beating Louisville in the first round, Cal dropped a decision to No. 3-ranked Duke in the second round.
8. 2016 Oregon Ducks (31-7)
Going from preseason unranked to an Elite 8 berth is about as good as it gets in college hoops these days, and that’s what these Ducks did. With a 14-4 league mark, Oregon also won the regular-season conference title and then won the Pac-12 tourney, too. The Ducks posted a 5-0 record against ranked league rivals, and then in the NCAA Tournament, Oregon beat No. 19 Duke in the Sweet 16. Alas, the magic ran out against No. 7 Oklahoma in the Regional Final. But a No. 5 final ranking was a great achievement for the Ducks.
7. 2020 Oregon Ducks (24-7)
It’s almost as if Nike’s money finally started paying dividends in basketball as well as football for the University of Oregon in the 2010s. The Ducks started this season ranked 15th and finished it at No. 13 in the Associated Press poll. Along the way, Oregon won 5 overtimes games and clinched the conference title with a 13-5 league record. Oh, the Ducks also finished No. 11 in the SRS overall, so they were nothing if not stable.
6. 2011 Washington Huskies (24-11)
For a team that finished No. 7 in the SRS, the Huskies had a wild year. They started out ranked 18th, but Washington finished just 11-7 in league play to claim third place in the conference. However, the Huskies then put it together in the league tourney, beating No. 16 Arizona in overtime to win the conference postseason championship. Ranked 23rd at that point, Washington then lost by 3 points to No. 7 North Carolina in the second round of March Madness. That’s a rollercoaster ride, for sure.
5. 2017 UCLA Bruins (31-5)
We couldn’t have a list without UCLA on it, could we? Of course not. Expectations were solid for the Bruins with a preseason rank of 16, and the team didn’t disappoint—but a 15-3 record in league play was only good enough for third place! UCLA did beat three Top 5 teams during the season, however, before claiming a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. After beating No. 18 Cincinnati to reach the Sweet 16, though, the No. 8 Bruins lost to No. 5 Kentucky in the Sweet 16 to fall short of something truly special.
4. 2017 Oregon Ducks (33-6)
These were the regular-season champs of the conference (16-2), as the Ducks started the season ranked in the Top 5 and finished it ranked No. 9 entering March Madness. Reaching the Sweet 16 with ease, Oregon then beat No. 23 Michigan and No. 3 Kansas to reach the Final Four. However, that’s when the luck ran out, as the Ducks lost to No. 6 North Carolina in the national semifinals—a team that had no business even being allowed to play at the time, considering it was under investigation for major fraud.
3. 2015 Utah Utes (26-9)
One of the new additions to the conference in the decade made its presence felt firmly right away as the Utes, who started the season ranked 25th, finished second in the regular season and ended up ranked 19th at the start of the NCAA tourney. With a No. 8 finish in the SRS overall, this was typical underestimation of the conference depth/ Utah beat No. 22 Georgetown in the second round to advance to the Sweet 16, but there, the Utes bowed out to eventual national champion Duke by 6 points.
2. 2014 Arizona Wildcats (33-5)
This was a great team: preseason No. 6, final ranking No. 4, and overall No.2 in the final SRS. A 15-3 conference record earned the Wildcats one league title, and only a four-point loss to UCLA in the conference tournament final prevented Arizona from a clean sweep in the Pac-12. The only loss against a ranked team for the Wildcats all season came in the Elite 8 to No. 12 Wisconsin in overtime, where Arizona lost by one point.
1. 2015 Arizona Wildcats (34-4)
For the second season in a row, the Wildcats lost to No. 3 Wisconsin in the Elite 8. And it was a very similar season: preseason No. 2, final ranking No. 5, and overall No. 4 SRS finish. The conference recored (16-2) was better, and this Arizona gang won the conference tournament final by 28 points over Oregon. But the end result was the same as the only Wildcats loss to a ranked team all year came in the last game of the season.