First-year league member Colorado won the Pac-12 basketball tournament Saturday afternoon at Staples Center in Los Angeles, defeating the Arizona Wildcats 53-51 in a game that wasn’t decided until the final seconds. The Buffaloes delivered their second blow in two days to Washington’s chances of receiving an at-large invitation to the NCAA Tournament Sunday (bids will be issued at 3 p.m.).
Ironically, it was Colorado’s victory over California in Boulder two Sundays ago that boosted the Huskies into position — brief, sole possession of first place — to capture the conference title outright, which Washington did a week ago when Stanford also knocked off Cal in Palo Alto.
The Huskies, going flat at the wrong time of year and consistently maintaining their position as a horrible free throw-shooting team, couldn’t capitalize on the No. 1 tournament seed they received as a consequence, pitching the entire NCAA Tournament picture for the Pac-12 into tumult.
The optimum situation for Washington would have been for the Huskies to win the conference tournament, thus ensuring an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. But the Huskies last Thursday became the first No. 1 seed in conference tournament history to lose to a No. 9 seed, falling ignominiously to Oregon State, which encored by losing to Arizona.
Barring a win in the conference tournament, the next-best scenario for Washington would have been for California, the No. 2 seed, to win the league. But California lost in the semifinals to Colorado, the UW benefactor just two weeks ago, Saturday night.
Now, the NCAA Selection Committee must determine how many teams, if any other than Colorado, deserve a spot in the Big Dance.
For weeks, it’s been assumed the Pac-12 would receive no more than two bids to the NCAA Tournament, the automatic spot and perhaps one at-large.
Given the poor resume of all Pac-12 teams in terms of RPI rankings, head-to-head competition against top-50 RPI teams, and head-to-head marks against the Associated Press top 25, it has even been considered possible that the Pac-12 would receive only one spot in the NCAA Tournament, the automatic berth.
Colorado’s victories over Cal Saturday and Arizona Sunday would seem to drop Washington to the No. 3 position in the league’s pecking order, despite the Huskies’ regular-season conference championship, given the following:
Colorado, which crushed Washington during the regular season, is the Pac-12’s best team because of its tournament championship (which is why it earned an NCAA invite by winning the tournament).
California is No. 2 on the basis of beating Washington in Seattle during the regular season and advancing farther in the Pac-12 tournament.
Washington is No. 3 despite its Pac-12 regular-season championship on the basis of having lost to both Colorado and Cal, and getting dinged with back-to-back “bad losses” in its final two games.
The conference’s regular-season champion has never not been invited to the NCAA Tournament, but Washington’s poor season-long profile, the league’s dismal overall record against outside competition, and the Huskies’ gaspipe sucking to end the year gives the NCAA plenty of ammunition to set a precedent.
The question now seems to be: Are the Huskies NIT bound?