By Sam McPherson

The Pac-12 Conference may be the Conference of Champions, but the 2014-15 men’s basketball season hasn’t been kind to the league on the West Coast. Sure, the Arizona Wildcats are in the Top 10, but there isn’t much quality depth for the conference this year, and that will hurt the league come Selection Sunday.

Currently, for example, sports guru Jeff Sagarin has the Pac-12 ranked sixth amongst basketball conferences: the lowest of the Big Five and behind the basketball-only Big East, as well. This means the conference’s relative strength-of-schedule marks for league games actually is going to hurt bubble teams like UCLA, Stanford, Oregon State and California. 

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The conference is somewhat top-heavy this season with Arizona, Utah and Oregon all sporting at least 22 wins currently. No other team in the league has more than 18 victories right now, and only five of the conference’s 12 teams are above .500 in league play as the last week of the regular season looms.

The trio at the top of the league are probably locks for the NCAA Tournament right now, regardless of how they finish the last week and how they fare in the conference tournament March 11-14. According to the 2015 Bracket Matrix, the Wildcats are a No. 2 seed, while the Utes are a No. 4 seed. The Ducks are projected as a No. 11 seed, despite their 22-8 record—because of the conference’s weak overall perception.

To wit, a team like Michigan State is projected as a No. 7 seed with its 19-10 record, because the Big Ten is ranked No. 3 by Sagarin in total conference strength. A 10-6 record in Big Ten conference play carries more weight than Oregon’s 12-5 mark in Pac-12 league games.

What if the Ducks lose their final regular season game against the Beavers on Wednesday night, though? And then Oregon loses its first game in the Pac-12 tourney? Then the team from Eugene could find itself at 22-10 and out of the tournament—all because the Pac-12 just isn’t that good this year.

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Fair or not, that’s the way it goes when it comes to March Madness, so the aforementioned four, second-tier teams in the Pac-12 have some work left to do if they want to make the Big Dance. The Cardinal and the Bruins are both projected right now in the first group of six just outside the tournament, for example. Oregon State and Cal have a lot more work to do to just even be in the same conversation with Stanford and UCLA.

In the end, the only way to truly secure your bid to the NCAA Tournament every March is to win your conference tournament. And the bubble shrinks come Selection Sunday, because there always are upsets in conference tournaments—and a Cinderella team makes a run to claim its league automatic bid.

And that means one less team on the bubble every time it happens. Stanford and UCLA don’t want those teams claiming their spots, and Oregon State and Cal want to be those teams making the miracle runs to a league championship.

It all makes for an interesting final month every year in college basketball. They don’t call it March Madness for nothing, and that term doesn’t apply to only the tournament: The whole 31 days is mayhem, every year, and that’s why we love the college game.

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Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.