BY Art Thiel 03:40PM 01/13/2012

Thiel: Cougars, Huskies not helping Pac-12 rep

At season’s midpoint, a weak Pac-12 is ranked ninth among conferences; it may get only one team in the NCAA tourney.

Isaiah Thomas was just one of numerous stars to depart college early, leaving the Pac-12, acccording to UW Lorenzo Romar, barren as a post-harvest garden. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

On the eve of the annual basketball disagreement at Hec Ed between Washington and Washington State at 4 p.m. Sunday, it is a little uncomfortable to note the regard in which Pac-12 Conference basketball is held at mid-season is, while not exactly as low as whale poop, smellable from the surface.

For whatever faith you put in such things as computer rankings of conferences, the Sagarian compilation in USA Today this week ranks the once formidable Pac-12 ninth, which puts it behind the League of Women Voters, North Korea and Herman Cain. And just ahead of the Big Rock Candy Mountain Conference.

This is not necessarily shocking, given the departures of so many top players to the NBA, worlds such as Zalgaris (see Reeves Nelson, UCLA) and occasional graduation. It is, however, embarrassing.

There is but one team in the top 50 of the index of all indexes, the RPI. Cal is No. 38, and beat Colorado, ranked 63rd, 57-50 Thursday night. Arizona is 54th. Other than that, mostly crickets.

Meanwhile, the West Coast Conference, historically the wearer of little-boy pants in Western hoops, is increasingly the studmuffin. Thursday night, its top two teams, Gonzaga and St. Mary’s, went at it in Moraga, CA. for another episode in the region’s best rivalry. As Gonzaga center Robert Sacre told the Spokane Spokesman-Review,  “They hate us and we hate them. It’s a love-hate relationship. They make us better. We make them better.”

Apparently, St. Mary’s made Gonzaga a lot better by crushing the 21st-ranked Zags 83-62. But regardless of outcome, Sacre at least talked the rivalry talk.

Basketball fans locally aren’t hearing anything like that this week, a supposed “rivalry week” for Washington that really isn’t. As was the case Tuesday with Seattle U. and Cameron Dollar, Washington State is coached by a former UW assistant, Ken Bone. The mutual love and respect theme of the Lorenzo Romar coaching tree is second only to a “Sgt. Pepper” Beatles tribute band.

Romar likes Bone so much that this summer, he took a little family vacation to Pullman just to hang out with Bone and his family. Not sure that would happen with the coaches at Louisville and Kentucky.

Not only is there no personal animus, the schools that genuinely don’t care for each other,  Gonzaga and Washington, refuse to play. So in this part of the country, when it comes to anticipation regarding a match-up, until Seattle U. gets consistently good, we are left to our imaginations. The Zags have to import an out-of-region opponent each December to generate hoops buzz.

Thin as the rivalries are, so is the Pac-12 talent level. Romar Friday used a wasteland analogy to try to explain the Pac-12 woes. He said it was like a garden whose harvestable vegetables had been taken away.

“Nothing happens until things blossom again,” he said. “Over the past few years, so many stars have moved on, some to the NBA, and we haven’t replaced them yet. There’s also been a lot of different coaches.”

While it’s true that the stars of last year’s teams, Washington’s Isaiah Thomas (Sacramento) and Washington State’s Klay Thompson (Golden State) have moved on to the NBA, the same thing happens with premier talents in every conference. Somehow, the re-seeding has proceeded more slowly along the left side of the continent.

Certainly, freshman guard Tony Wroten has dazzled, but Washington as a team still managed to lose at home to South Dakota State — by 18. The Cougars these days are led by Brock Motum, a 6-10 junior forward from Australia whom no one has mistaken for Tom Chambers. He couldn’t keep the Cougs from their own clank, a 64-63 nonconference loss to UC-Riverside last month, as well as an overtime conference loss at woebegone Utah last week.

In the larger hoops picture, the loss of quality amusement may be a trifle. The bigger deal is that the Pac-12’s weak showing in non-conference games has numbed its chances for at-large bids come NCAA tourney selection time. The non-conference portion of the schedule is done and gone, so Pac-12 can’t play catch-up against itself, because it doesn’t have any elite teams to beat.

“There is some concern for long term,” Romar said, referring to the March selections. “We’ve made our bed, and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it. The only thing we can do it is get better. It doesn’t change our approach.”

True enough, but the consequence may be that the only Pac-12 team in the tourney this year will be the one that gets the automatic seed by winning the conference tourney.

Talk about one-and-done. There’s still a couple of months left, but the Huskies (10-6) and Cougars (9-7) would do well to get a bloom on, starting Sunday.


  • Anonymous

    Thiel is an idiot trying to be the naysayer to get some press.  Jack Z has not been perfect, but he’s practically rebuilding the team from the ground up.  The farm system is now very highly rated among people who follow those things.  Bavasi was the worst GM is sports and he gutted the talent on this team.  We now have 3-4 promising hitters and 3-4 very promising pitchers.  Thiel lists Cliff Lee as an example?  Seriously?  We never had a chance to keep him, so we traded him for value.  And Brandom Morrow?  Good riddance. 

  • Tian Biao

    carbidedrill, let me ask you something: when you go to Safeco, are YOU excited about watching Charlie Furbush start a game? How about Beavan? Is that fun? Are you excited about watching Smoak, Casper Wells, Saunders, and a bunch of other prospects take the field so we can see if they’re any good? Well, I’m not. Especially when they play 18 times against Yu Darvish and the Rangers, and 18 times against Pujols and C.J. Wilson and the Angels. Damn, i’m tired of prospects, and i’m tired of losing.

    So yes, and in reply to StevenK too, there is hope that Jack Z is better at his job than Bavasi (he could not possibly be worse), and I sure hope he is. But it still means another year of 90-some losses.

    • Anonymous

      Zduriencik is so much better than Bavasi it’s not even funny. 

      Remember these names, because in about 24 months you are going to be sitting in a very crowded Safeco Field cheering like hell for these guys:  Hultzen, Paxton, Walker, Hernandez, Montero, Smoak, Ackley, Franklin, Francisco Martinez, Liddi, Catricala, Pryor, Robinson, Chiang.

  • Bryan

    Art, do you not have an email address anymore?  I can’t always get a message across in 140 characters, nor do I use Twitter in the first place.  Well… After looking at this trade again I’m pretty sure we got fleeced.  Look at Pineda’s first full year of service compared to Pedro Martinez’ first three seasons.  The stats are almost eerily similar.  WHIP: Pedro over first 3 seasons:  1.1507 – Pineda: 1.099 (better than any of Pedro’s first three).  H/9 IP: Pineda 7.0, Pedro 7.47.  HR/9: Pineda 0.9, Pedro 0.83.  BB/9: Pedro: 2.93, Pineda: 2.90.  SO/9: Pineda 9.1, Pedro 8.67.  Add to that the fact that Pineda is big and strong and comes off as a very mature young man, and I have to say the Mariners got absolutely fleeced… AGAIN.

  • HungerGatherer

    If Montero was so valuable to the Yanks he’d still be there. Posada just retired. They have an aging roster and could plug that guy into at least two spots other than catcher.

    Jackie Z is doing his damndest to spin this – but it remains a bad trade for the M’s.

    • Anonymous

      Disagree completely,  both teams filled needs with trade of straight high-end talent, and we have plenty of pitching depth coming up (Walker #1 pick, Hultzen, #1 pick, Paxton, #1 pick (Toronto).

  • Anonymous

    Art, I’ve been watching the M’s since they arrived via lawsuit, and I think it’s abundantly clear that they have acquired more high-end young talent in the last three years than at any time in our long, difficult Mariner’s history.

    To date this year, at least three different organizations that rate minor league talent have placed the Mariner organization in the “top ten”, and two of those put us first, and fourth, of all major league teams. And that was BEFORE we picked up Montero!

    Let’s go position by position:

    C  Jesus Montero, top catching prospect in the game
    1B  Justin Smoak, #1 draft pick, switch hitter, numbers better each year (even with multiple injuries)
    2B  Dustin Ackley, #1 draft pick, consistent agreement that he’s star material
    SS  Nick Franklin, supplemental #1 pick, named by many scouting organizations as top talent; Carlos Triunfel
    3B  Francisco Martinez, Detroit’s overall #4 prospect in their entire system at the time of the trade; Alex Liddi; Kyle Seager
    LF  Vinnie Catricala, Mariner’s minor league player of the year has hit over .300/.360 at every stop; Mike Carp; Casper Wells
    CF  Gutierrez only 28 (and coming back from 1 1/2 years of solved health problems)
    RF  Chih-Hsien Chiang; Johermyn Chavez

    SP  Tiajuan Walker, #1 draft pick
    SP  Danny Hultzen, #1 draft pick
    SP  James Paxton, #1 draft pick (Toronto)
    SP  Blake Beavan, #1 draft pick (Texas)
    SP  Felix Hernandez
    SP Erasmo Ramirez, won Venezuela League rookie level triple crown of pitching in 2009

    Frankly, I don’t think the future has ever looked any brighter from the standpoint of up and coming young talent as it does right now.

  • Chef_rickbond