Jon Wilner offers some takeaways on the key developments in the Pac-12 over the past week, including Oregon’s surge to the Sweet 16, UW’s exit, Mike Hopkins’ extension and more.
1. Nuance dominates
One week down, and the Hotline is ready to pronounce the NCAA Tournament a success for the Pac-12. And a failure.
It’s both, and neither.
It’s certainly not an abject failure given that Washington and Arizona State each advanced one round and Oregon made the Sweet 16 … and that expectations were in the gutter following the awful regular season.
But it’s hardly an unqualified success given that the Huskies and Sun Devils weren’t competitive in their second game and that the conference advanced just one team to the Sweet 16 — same as the West Coast and American.
From the weeds of the past five months, the Pac-12’s performance should elicit a sigh of relief. (Better than last year!)
From the perch of history, however, the modest success shrivels in comparison to what it used to be … to what it should be.
So there you have it: Not awful, not great, and largely dependent on perspective.
2. Oregon rolls on
The Ducks’ surge into the Sweet 16 comes as little surprise if you think back to November, when they were 14th in the AP preseason poll and in possession of a talented mix of newcomers and returnees, size and skill.
Then came Louis King’s injury and Bol Bol’s injury and Kenny Wooten’s injury and Paul White’s injury and the search for an identity and the collapses against UCLA and the four losses in six games and the three losses in succession and the middle-tier finish and then … poof! … everything changed.
They committed to winning with defense and to a bigger lineup. King found his rhythm and Payton Pritchard grew into the point guard Oregon always hoped he would be.
For reasons stated above, the Ducks took much longer to coalesce than originally expected, but they had this kind of March charge in them all along, even without Bol Bol.
They were absolutely as mediocre as they looked for many months, and they are absolutely as good as they’ve looked for the past three weeks.
Those dueling Duck existences help define the Pac-12’s season on a larger scale.
3. Washington departs, oh-so-quietly
The Huskies were who we thought they were:
A decent team that won a bad league, that clinched too early, that coasted into the postseason, that got run off the floor in two of its last three games and left a decidedly underwhelming taste in its wake.
The cruelty of March: UW would have been better off as a No. 10 seed, avoiding the No. 1 in the second round.
Instead, the Huskies were slotted into the 8-9 game and, as a reward for beating Utah State, drew an opponent they had no chance to beat.
Sketch the worst possible matchup for UW, and it would wear Carolina blue.
In addition to their advantages in size, skill, depth and overall talent, the Tar Heels are plenty familiar with the UW zone, having seen it a few weeks ago against Syracuse.
They pummeled Syracuse on the boards en route to 93 points and did the same to Washington on their way to 81 (which could have easily been 91 … or 101).
Undoubtedly, a few Huskies fans are left wondering about the fairness of the draw, about Oregon finishing five games back of UW but receiving an undeniably easier path into the Sweet 16.
4. So does Arizona State
We knew the Sun Devils would have anything but a routine visit to the NCAAs — little about this team has been routine for the past five months.
The only question was whether ASU would touch the ceiling with a lights-out performance before it went splat on the dance floor.
There was no ceiling for coach Bobby Hurley’s team, only an erratic, mistake-filled victory over St. John’s in the First Four. Then came the flop.
Yes, point guard Remy Martin was injured.
Yes, Buffalo is one of the best 25 or 30 teams in the country.
Yes, the travel was brutal: The Sun Devils arrived in Tulsa at 3 a.m. Thursday morning, then played Friday afternoon.
Their legs were still in Dayton.
Even accounting for the circumstances, the performance was disappointing. ASU was down 13 at halftime and 18 or 20 for most of the second half.
(Two-year NCAA Tournament tally: Buffalo 180, Arizona and ASU 142.)
It’s a reminder that every game counts, that even a late-December loss to Princeton or an early-February face plant against Washington State matters to the end-game.
Win one of those — much less both — and ASU surely would have escaped the First Four and had an easier road into the second round, and the second weekend.
All in all, we’ll grade the Sun Devils’ season a success.
Their performance cannot be separated from the surrounding muck that was the Pac-12 — the second-best team in the conference wasn’t one of the 40 or 45 best in the country.
But had you dangled second place, 23 wins and a visit to the round of 64 in front of the ASU constituency, no one would have complained.
5. Give that man a rai … err, never mind
Washington’s Mike Hopkins is no longer the best value in Pac-12 basketball.
The Huskies took care of their two-time conference COY, handing Hopkins a new six-year deal worth $17.5 million on Thursday, the day before they opened NCAA play.
That works out to $2.9 million per season, which vaults Hopkins to the top of the conference.
Well, almost to the top.
Utah’s Larry Krystkowiak remains the top-paid coach by a wide margin.
Hopkins is No. 1 in the conference’s non-Krystkowiak wing.
Here is an updated list with Hopkins’ new deal and the old compensation figures for Steve Alford, Ernie Kent and Wyking Jones, courtesy of USA Today’s salary database.
Utah’s Larry Krystkowiak: $3.6 million
Washington’s Mike Hopkins: $2.9 million
Oregon’s Dana Altman: $2.8 million
Arizona’s Sean Miller: $2.7 million
UCLA’s Steve Alford: $2.65 million (dismissed)
Arizona State’s Bobby Hurley: $2.4 million
Oregon State’s Wayne Tinkle: $2.1 million
Colorado’s Tad Boyle: $1.8 million
Washington State’s Ernie Kent: $1.4 million (dismissed)
Cal’s Wyking Jones: $1 million (dismissed)
6. Turnover at the top
The week brought earth-moving news at the top of the conference’s power structure, on two fronts:
Longtime Oregon State president Ed Ray, one of commissioner Larry Scott’s staunchest supporters, announced he’s stepping down in the spring of 2020, at the end of his current contract.
USC ended its endless search for a president by hiring Carol Folt, whose credentials include experience with a scandal-plagued athletic department.
For the past six years, Folt has been in charge in Chapel Hill.
Compared to the clean-up duty awaiting Folt at USC, navigating North Carolina through its mammoth academic fraud case was a lay-up.
Ray’s departure and Folt’s arrival represent the latest instances of turnover at the president/chancellor level.
Without Ray, only two CEOs remains from the group that hired Scott in 2009: ASU’s Michael Crow and UCLA’s Gene Block.
The rundown, with date of appointment:
July 1, 2002
Aug. 1, 2007
May 5, 2009
July 1, 2015
Ana Mari Cauce
Oct. 13, 2015
June 13, 2016
Sept. 1, 2016
June 1, 2017
July 1, 2017
April 2, 2018
July 1, 2019
Ed Ray (outgoing)
Nine of the 12 have changed out in the past four years, if you include Oregon State.
The newcomers have entered a very difference conference from the one that existence at the time of Scott’s arrival.