November 23, 2011
Newly expanded conference, fresh start for everyone involved. Welcome in Utah and Colorado to the family, tip off the basketball season. Check, check, check, check and check, one problem, someone forgot to tell opponents of the Pac 12 this was the year they take a step forward as a conference.
Things got off to a rocky start, first for the Arizona Wildcats as they fell to division II Seattle Pacific in an exhibition. Sean Miller’s club then reeled off four straight wins before falling to the unranked enigma that is the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Not to be out done, their rivals in Tempe, the Arizona State Sun Devils dropped a 66-60 decision to predicted West Coast Conference cellar dwellar Pepperdine followed up by a 76-71 defeat at the hands of New Mexico.
The bad starts weren’t just isolated in the desert as possible PAC 12 contender Washington won its first three to start the year before dropping a 13-point decision to St. Louis of the Atlantic 10 in a game that wasn’t that close. Conference newcomer Utah wasn’t immune to the upset bug either as they were walloped by Boise State 80-59 then Montana State bested them 70-64.
This was seemingly a nightmare script not even Hollywood could pen. Speaking of Hollywood that brings us to USC and UCLA. USC has gotten off to its own stellar 2-3 start with losses to Nebraska, San Diego State and Cal Poly. The Trojans averaged a staggering 50 points per game in those three losses, including a putrid 36 versus Cal Poly. The team that has become the poster child for the conference’s awful start has to be the UCLA Bruins. Ben Howland’s squad opened the season by falling to Loyola Marymount 69-58 who played without their best player Drew Viney. With a chance to redeem themselves in front of the home crowd they then laid a 20-point egg against Middle Tennessee State. Things seemed to get worse for Howland off the court as he got into a verbal altercation with senior leader Reeves Nelson and suspended him for the game against Middle Tennessee State. After a quick reconciliation, Nelson was reinstated then proceeded to miss the team flight to the Maui Invitational and was sat for the first half versus host Chaminade. Oregon also has had its own off the court troubles early in the year as Freshman guard Jabari Brown quit the team two games into the season. Brown was expected to help hold down the Ducks’ backcourt until Minnesota transfer Devoe Joseph became eligible. Now coach Dana Altman is forced to adjust on the fly with an already young roster, just two 4-year seniors.
For those keeping track, that is seven of the conference’s 12 teams with some sort of black eye or dark cloud on its season before Thanksgiving. So, my advice to California, Colorado, Oregon State, Stanford and Washington State; watch your step!