Following Friday's 69-60 victory over Arizona State, a win that significantly aided Cal's chances of reaching the NCAA Tournament, Bears head coach Lindsay Gottlieb made the case that the Pac-12 is so good that it provides a lot of opportunities to produce meaningful wins.
You could argue whether the Pac-12, with four teams in the AP top 20 this week, is stronger than the Atlantic Coast Conference or the Southeastern Conference, but the Pac-12 is certainly at a similar level.
But playing in a strong conference like the Pac-12 is a double-edged sword. Wins are difficult to come by, so Cal's 15-11 overall record and 6-9 conference mark do not look particularly impressive. But every win you do get in the Pac-12 boosts your status significantly. Arizona State is only fourth among Pac-12 teams in its AP ranking of No. 17 and entered Friday's game with the third-best conference RPI ranking of No. 15. But the Beears' victory over the Sun Devils boosted Cal's RPI ranking seven spots -- from No. 45 before the game to No. 38 on Saturday morning. That is a significant jump this late in the season for a single victory.
The Bears' five-game losing streak heading into their game against Arizona State was not as crippling in the Bears' bid for an NCAA Tournament berth as it might have seemed because four of those losses were to teams that are among the top 31 in the RPI rankings as of Saturday morning.