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The NCAA Tournament should be the farthest thing from this team's mind

You know, in a way, our discontentment with this 8-4 nonconference record speaks as loudly as anything about how far this program has come in the last four-plus years. Three years ago, we would have killed for eight wins in the nonconference slate and shrugged our shoulders with four losses against teams -- three of them currently ranked 3, 16 and 19 -- that are a combined 41-5 and rated an average of 24.25 by Ken Pomeroy.

Now? We're wringing our hands over a nonconference loss that might be the difference between making a third consecutive NCAA Tournament or being shipped off to NIT no-man's land.

The trouble with that, though, is that we are now officially way, way ahead of ourselves in terms of thinking about the NCAA Tournament. We probably were all year, but in light of Saturday's loss, it's become really, really clear that the postseason ought to be the farthest thing from all of our minds.

It's not so much that one loss should have changed our opinion so much; it's that the loss looked so strikingly similar to the other three losses, that we can no longer ignore what has become increasingly obvious: This team has some major flaws that don't look like they're getting any better.

In each of the four losses -- save for the game against Pitt, which is increasingly looking like an anomaly -- the blueprint has been the same: Play solid defense and keep the game close by grinding it out with a below-average offense, only to sabotage the whole thing with a stunning stretch of terrible basketball that the below-average offense doesn't have a prayer of overcoming.

It's the complete and total lack of growth in this offense -- and perhaps even regression -- that's got me wondering not whether we can compete for an NCAA Tournament berth, but whether we ought to be worried about a six-win Pac-10 performance.

My heart tells me that's ridiculous, but my head tells me something else entirely. Think the shots are likely to be more open in Pac-10 play than they are now, when playing teams that not only pride themselves on defense, but are familiar with our offense and personnel? It's going to be harder to play well on offense in the coming weeks, not easier.

In an ideal world, you want to have your most basic questions about your team answered as you head into Pac-10 play. In what is perhaps as shocking a development as those second-half meltdowns, Tony Bennett might have more questions now than when the season started.

Let's just hope he didn't use up all that Bennett magic in the last two years, but this team is in severe need of some answers.