Oh, how times have changed. Death, taxes and UCLA basketball used to be three of the most dependable things in life. Sadly, only death and taxes remain as such.
Indeed, these are tough times on the Pac-12 college basketball front. The decline of the UCLA Bruins is a big reason for the overall falloff in the conference, but not the only cause since no other school has stepped forward to pick up the slack. It's just as likely today that you'll hear fans and bettors discussing other left coast teams like Saint Mary's, Gonzaga or San Diego State as there is mention of a Pac-12 squad.
Just how bad things have become can be found in the latest AP and coaches polls. The California Golden Bears are the only bunch getting even a sniff of respect in either rankings, and with just two points from the coaches, their days as part of the "others receiving votes" list could be numbered.
Four teams made it to the NCAA Tournament a year ago, which isn't an embarrassing number until you realize half of that quartet made it by the skin of their teeth. Southern Cal received an at-large bid thanks to the field being increased to 68. The Trojans promptly fell in one of the 'First Four' contests, dropping a 59-46 decision as 4-point favorites to Virginia Commonwealth out of the Colonial Athletic Association, the Rams using that victory as a springboard all the way to the Final Four.
Washington played their way into the 2011 NCAA Tournament by winning the (then) Pac-10 tourney in a bit of a surprise. Arizona and UCLA each received at-large bids, with the Wildcats just falling short in the West Regional Finals to eventual national champ Connecticut.
The current quality of play in the Pac-12 might not warrant four teams getting an invite to March Madness. California is the closest thing to a lock at this point based on solid positioning in RPI (31st) and the Ken Pomeroy rankings (19th), not to mention the Bears being the only team to be found in the two major polls. Washington is the next highest in RPI (73rd), with UCLA, Arizona, Stanford and Oregon State all sitting between Cal and Washington according to Pomeroy.
The Bears and Huskies are presently tied for the conference lead with 7-2 Pac-12 records, and both will be on their home courts Thursday looking to improve their standing with the selection committee.
UCLA at Washington – 9:00 p.m. (ET) ESPN
Alaska Airlines Arena, Seattle
Followers of series trends should have no trouble making their play on the Huskies and the 'under.' Washington opened as 4-point chalk and has won the last seven home tilts vs. UCLA while covering six of those contests. The lone spread defeat came last March when the Huskies narrowly missed beating the 8-point line with a 70-63 triumph.
Thursday's total hit the college basketball betting board at 140. Nine of the last 13 in this series have finished 'under,' with five of the last seven in Seattle never reaching the scoreboard tally. That plays well to a current 6-game run for the Huskies to the 'under.' It goes against the grain for UCLA, however; the Bruins enter riding a 6-game string to the 'over.'
Washington does have CJ Wilcox back into the mix after the sophomore guard missed three games with a hip injury. Wilcox is third on the team averaging 14.8 points per game, and scored 15 in the Huskies' 69-67 win as 4½-point 'dogs at Arizona last Saturday.
Arizona at California – 11:00 p.m. (ET)
Haas Pavilion, Berkeley
It's just shy of a year ago when these teams last met and put on a helluva' show, as the Wildcats came away with a 107-105 road win in triple-overtime to 'push' the 2-point spread. In a game that had more than its fair share of statistical storylines, Arizona's bench players outscoring their Cal counterparts 52-3 stood out the most.
The Bears are home favorites this time and being asked to cover nine points on the NCAA odds. Thursday's scoreboard hurdle started at 129.
Arizona's loss to Washington last Saturday snapped a 3-game cover streak for the Wildcats who have won just two of their last six away games this season. Cal is a perfect 14-0 at home this season (9-3 ATS), 16-0 at Haas Pavilion dating back to last season.
The teams have split the last six clashes, but Bears backers have grabbed the cash in four of those to go along with the one 'push' from last February.