On Pac-12 Friday, we have spent the last 7 Fridays looking at the best individual basketball teams of the decades from the 1950s on forward in the Conference of Champions. Now it’s time to wrap up this miniseries with a look at the best years as a whole for the league in hoops. The results might surprise you, in terms of depth from the top of the conference to the bottom.
Honorable Mention: 1975
This was both the last year of the UCLA dynasty under John Wooden—and the first year the NCAA Tournament allowed more than one team from each conference into the Big Dance at the end of the season. The Pac-8 won 63.5 percent of its games, as Oregon State joined the Bruins in March Madness, and only Stanford and Washington State finished the season with more losses than victories.
This is a surprise, for sure, considering the league tournament and the NCAA tourney both got canceled due to the pandemic. Yet half the Pac-12 teams had already won 20 games each, and only California and Washington were looking at sub-.500 seasons when everything got shut down. The Oregon Ducks were the regular-season champions, and at least 7 squads were looking at a bid to March Madness. That’s a good year, for sure.
Four teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament, while a fifth team—Cal—was overlooked and ended up winning the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) to prove it. Overall, four teams, including the Golden Bears, finishing with at least 22 victories, and league champ Stanford finished No. 7 overall in the Associated Press poll. The bad news was none of the four March Madness squads made it to the Sweet 16.
Six teams in the Pac-10 got invited to the Big Dance, with UCLA making it all the way to the Final Four (for the third year in a row). Five teams won at least 21 games, and overall, the conference posted a 60.9 winning percentage. Both Stanford and Washington State also made the Sweet 16, giving the league a lot of national respect for its depth and quality.
Arizona and Stanford tied for the conference title, and the Cardinal finished No. 3 in the AP poll, after being No. 1 for five weeks during the regular season. The Wildcats were No. 4 in the final AP poll, too, after getting as high as No. 2 during the year. Oregon and UCLA joined the top duo as 20-win squads with March Madness bids. Strangely, however, only the Bruins reached the Sweet 16 in a disappointing postseason for the league.
Seven teams from the Pac-12 landed in the NCAA Tournament, as the conference teams won a collective 60.1 percent of their games. Of the 7 March Madness squads, only Oregon State failed to win 20 games on the year. The Ducks won both the regular-season title and the postseason conference tournament on their way to the Elite 8. Unfortunately, no other league team reached the Sweet 16, which was a surprise all things considered.
The Huskies won the regular season, and the USC Trojans took the tourney title, as six of the Pac-10 teams got invited to the Big Dance. Seven teams in the conference won at least 20 games, and only Oregon finished under .500 for the year. The Wildcats reached the Sweet 16 as a 12 seed, but no other teams from the league made it as far in the NCAA Tournament. This pattern reflects the rough impact of conference play, for sure.
This is a surprising year, too, to make the list, for only 4 of the 10 teams in the league went to March Madness. However, overall, the conference won 60.2 percent of its games, with only Cal and Oregon finishing with sub-.500 records. League champ Arizona finished No. 8 in the AP poll and made it to the Sweet 16, and Stanford—snubbed by the NCAA Selection Committee—won the NIT to prove the conference’s fortitude.
UCLA won the conference title, while fifth-place Arizona went on its postseason hot streak to win the NCAA title despite entering March Madness with just 19 victories. The Bruins did reach the Elite 8, while Cal and Stanford also reached the Sweet 16 as the Pac-10 filled up one quarter of the teams to reach the regionals. USC was the only team in the league to get invited to the NCAA tourney and not win a game.
The Bruins won their only non-Wooden NCAA title, while four other teams from the Pac-10 also played in the Big Dance. The same five teams also finished with single-digit losses. Arizona State reached the Sweet 16, while the two Territorial Cup squads combined for a 47-17 record, with Oregon and Stanford also qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.
Interesting how the best year in the history of Pac-12 basketball does not include a national champion, although the Wildcats did lose the title game to Duke, thanks to controversial officiating. Stanford won the league title, finished No. 2 in the AP poll after spending 7 weeks at No. 1, and reached the Elite 8. The Trojans also made a run to the Elite 8, giving the conference three of the top 8 teams in March Madness, while UCLA managed a Sweet 16 appearance, too. Only Cal qualified for the Big Dance without reaching the regionals.