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Kyle Smith the Pac-12’s NCAA Tournament prospects: ‘we’re penalized because, top to bottom, we’re pretty darn good’

Kyle Smith’s team might not be in position to make an NCAA Tournament run, but he thinks more Pac-12 teams should be in that conversation

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Pac-12 has been through a lot recently. From their lack of football success to shocking departures of the LA schools and rumors of conflicts behind the scenes, it hasn’t been easy for the Conference of Champions. One hope the conference has to get some positive headlines in the national media is finding success on the basketball court. Both Arizona and UCLA are top ten squads poised to make a deep run into the NCAA Tournament.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that those two teams might be the only hope the conference has at finding postseason success.

As things stand right now, the Pac-12 is projected by ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi to have just two teams in the big dance this March. That figure would be by far the fewest among major conferences, tied with the WCC and American.

Few people have watched more Pac-12 basketball this season than Washington State head coach Kyle Smith. He believes that the Pac-12 deserves better national standing, and is calling out a couple of other conferences by name.

“Someone told me that [ESPN’s] Joe Lunardi has seven teams from the ACC in the NCAA Tournament, and they’re an awful league.” Smith said in his press conference on Tuesday. “They’re behind the Mountain West. We are penalized because top to bottom we’re pretty darn good. It hurts our league as far as getting more teams in there.”

Depending on which metric you look at, Smith’s claims may or may not be completely accurate. When it comes to strength of schedule, the Pac-12 is currently ranked third in college basketball (with the Mountain West ranking fourth and the ACC ranking seventh). As for the NET rankings, the MWC leads the trio there with an average NET ranking of 89.82, followed by the Pac-12 at 94.33 and the ACC at 110.93 (ranked fifth, sixth and seventh respectively). The RPI tells a similar story, with the Mountain West ranked fourth nationally, the ACC sixth and the Pac-12 coming in just behind them at seventh.

Different metrics tell different stories, but the key point is that all three leagues are grouped together tightly. Despite that, the Pac-12 is lagging behind those conferences in projected Tournament teams with two according to ESPN, compared to four from the Mountain West and seven out of the ACC.

“I thought the same thing last year. The West Coast Conference was tooting their horn about getting four teams in there, but the bottom of their league was just horrendous. We’re battling to get three teams in, but we’ve got 12 teams and a much better league than the Mountain West. You know, that’s just how it goes.”

Of course, Lunardi’s projections aren’t set in stone and don’t tell the complete story of the season. As things stand right now, the Pac-12 has four teams on the bubble for Lunardi sitting in either his first four out or his next four out. We’ll have to wait and see if any of those teams, or any other teams, can make a final push in the final weeks of the regular season to help the Conference of Champions with a little good news in their time of need.

WSU MBB: Coach Smith Press Conference - 2/14/23 - YouTube
Washington State Men's Basketball Head Coach Kyle Smith discusses the upcoming homestand against Oregon State and Oregon.

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