Cal Basketball: Pac-12 Notebook -- Plenty to Worry About Heading into Final Week

Will Bobby Hurley's Arizona State team get into the NCAA Tournament?Photo by Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY Sports

Among the concerns: Washington's postseason status, USC free-throw shooting and understanding Bill Walton

I’m worried.

No, these concerns have nothing to do with income taxes or Presidential tweets. I’m worried about Pac-12 basketball as it enters the final week of its regular season.

Let me list the things that are keeping me up at night.

Worry No. 1

---Washington, the team that has dominated the conference, not only dropped out of the rankings, but is no longer a shoo-in just to get into the NCAA Tournament.

Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com has the Huskies as a No. 10 seed in his latest NCAA Tournament projections. That is not a safe spot if you assume several teams currently on the cusp of getting an at-large berth will get knocked out following the inevitable upsets in conference tournaments that will add unlikely automatic qualifiers.

Listen to what Palm told the Seattle Times about Washington. Warning, it isn’t pretty:

“They lost to Cal and they were lucky not to lose to Stanford. You can’t play that way in the committee chairman’s house. [Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir is the selection committee charman.] And you can’t lose to Cal, the worst team in a power conference. That was a no-show trip.

“Look at it this way, they don’t have a win over a team that’s going to make the tournament. Think about that for a second. They weren’t really a bubble team last week, but when you start losing to Cal that becomes the most notable thing on their resume.”

And if they lose one or both games this week to Oregon and Oregon State and falter in the Pac-12 tournament?

“Then they’re in trouble,” Palm said. “So the worst-case scenario is, yes, they could miss the NCAA tournament. They would win their conference’s regular-season title and they could miss the tournament.”

That is exactly what happened to Washington in 2012, when it won the regular-season title and did not get an NCAA Tournament bid.

USA Today had the Huskies as a No. 9 seed in its projections, while ESPN's Joe Lunardi and Sports Illustrated have the Huskies seeded eighth. Howie Schwab of Fox even had Washington as a No. 7 seed.

The wide variation suggests the committee may not know what to do with the Huskies.

Worry No. 2

---The Pac-12 might get only one team into the NCAA Tournament.

The conference has had at least two NCAA Tournament teams every year since 1978, when the conference was the Pac-8 and only 32 teams participated in the NCAA Tournament.

That could change.

You’ve seen the above concerns about Washington, but if the Huskies win the Pac-12 tournament to get the automatic berth, would any other conference team get in? Arizona State, with its wins over Kansas and Mississippi State, is the only other team with a shot at an at-large berth. And the Sun Devils’ status is shaky at best.

Fox’s Schwab does not have the Sun Devils in his field at all, and does not even include them in his “First Four Out.”

ESPN's Lunardi, Sports Illustrated and USA Today all have ASU among their “Last Four In,” and those teams virtually never make it to the final 68-team field once all the conference tournament upsets come in.

Washington and Arizona State may be battling for one NCAA Tournament spot.Photo by Joe Camporeale - USA TODAY Sports

Worry No. 3

---Matisse Thybulle’s mediocre statistics in the games against Cal and Stanford may have ruined his Pac-12 player of the year chances.

The fact is, his showing last week should enhance his chances, not hurt them. The two conference games Washington lost (Cal and Arizona State) as well as the close call against Stanford were probably Thybulle’s worst games of the conference season.

He averaged 5.0 points (on 6-of-21 shooting), 1.3 blocks and 2.3 steals in those three games, and was held under his average in all three categories in each of those games.

That shows you how much influence he has had on the Huskies’ success. You can beat the Huskies if you limit his impact on the game. That has happened only three times. If he has his way, as he does most of the time, Washington wins. That pretty much describes a player of the year.

Worry No. 4

---If Cal beats Stanford this week and does not embarrass itself in the conference tournament, that may justify Cal keeping Wyking Jones as its head coach.

The win over Washington, which was the biggest upset in Division I basketball this season, as well as the postgame locker-room celebration, brought smiles. A win over Stanford may provide misguided hope.

As laudable as it is that Jones had the team playing hard and improving despite its prolonged struggles, the team is 7-22, will finish in last place in the Pac-12 for the second straight season, lost 16 games in a row in one stretch and still ranks last among 351 Division I school in field-goal percentage defense.

A brief late-season surge when the pressure of expectations has been lifted should not replace a season-long perspective.

Worry No. 5

---USC may never make another free throw, and it is ruining its season.

This statistic is hard to believe but here it is: USC made just one of 13 free-throw attempts in its last two games. The one made free throw was supplied by 7-foot sophomore Victor Uyaelunmo, who was 5-for-23 from the line this season before he sank a foul shot against UCLA.

The Trojans were outscored 33-1 at the foul line in those games against Oregon State and UCLA, and USC lost each by five points.

USC star Bennie Boatwright, who went 16-for-33 (48.5 percent) on three-point shots over the past three games, was 0 of 5 from the foul line in those three games.

USC head coach Andy Enfield made 92.5 percent of his free throws during his career at Johns Hopkins, and he was hired by the Milwaukee Bucks as a shot doctor to work with Bucks players on their jump shots and free throws.

The doctor apparently is out.

Worry No. 6

---For a brief moment last week I understood what Bill Walton was talking about.

This is of great concern, because the former UCLA star goes off on so many tangents during a broadcast that comprehension is not usually a worthwhile pursuit. Kudos to Dave Pasch, who has somehow learned to coexist with Walton, even slipping in a sentence or two to let listeners know what going on while still legitimizing Walton’s latest topic.

Can’t remember now which Walton pearl made sense to me last week.

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