Big 12 And Pac 10 Teams Still Have Work To Do
Aaron Gray
Aaron Gray
National Basketball Columnist
Posted Feb 7, 2006


This hasn't exactly been a season in which the Pacific 10 Conference has played like one of the dominant conferences in the country. It's not a stretch to think it could only land two or three teams in the NCAA Tournament. But the Big 12, after Texas, hasn't been much better.

The Pacific 10 Conference has taken some critical hits – and with reason – this season.

 

There is a very real possibility that as many as five teams, Arizona, Cal, Stanford, UCLA and Washington, could represent the conference when the NCAA Tournament’s field of 65 is unveiled on March 12.

 

But, with the Bruins (barring a major collapse) being the only sure-fire at-large possibility right now, there has to be just the right mix of regular-season and conference-tournament victories by the Wildcats, the Golden Bears, the Cardinal and the Huskies for that to happen.

 

Even with Stanford possessing the opportunity to help its at-large candidacy (and that of his fellow Pac 10 teams) with its game at Gonzaga Saturday night, part of that “the Pac 10 gets five teams’ formula almost certainly would involve someone other than UCLA winning the conference tournament final in Los Angeles on March 11.

 

The Big 12 hasn’t gotten picked on, nationally, quite as much as the Pac 10. But its hope for as many as five representatives in the NCAA Tournament is just about as much of a long shot as is the Pac 10’s.

 

Texas remains in strong contention for a No. 1 seed and Oklahoma (which saw its five-game winning streak snapped, 59-58, in Lawrence Sunday) and Kansas (five wins in a row and 12 in its past 14 games) have played their way comfortably into the land of the at-large.

 

But if the Big 12 is going occupy as many as five spots in the tournament field, two from among Colorado, Iowa State and Nebraska are going to have to close the regular-season play with pizzazz and do some damage in the conference tournament as well.

 

Oklahoma State and Texas Tech went into the season looked up as probable NCAA tourney participants but, which each saddled with a hefty number of newcomers, haven’t played consistently well at any point this season and seem destined for the new-look (and NCAA-run) NIT in March.

 

And they might run into some Pac 10 teams along the way, if Arizona, Cal, Stanford and Washington don’t enjoy February.

 

BOUNCING AROUND THE COUNTRY:

*He isn’t like to be found on anyone’s short list – or long list – of national Coach of the Year candidates.

 

But how can you not help but continue to be impressed with the job that Andy Kennedy is doing as the interim coach at the University of Cincinnati?

 

With a  depth- and size-starved roster, the Bearcats – who had dropped six of their previous eight games – held off Louisville Monday night (74-68) to even their Big East Conference record at 5-5 and stay firmly in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid with a 15-7 overall mark.

 

It apparently isn’t going to get him the full-time gig at Cincinnati but Kennedy’s performance is something athletic directors across the country have to be taking notice of.

 

By the way, that “Skip Prosser leaves Wake Forest for Cincinnati, John Beilein leaves West Virginia for Wake Forest and Bob Huggins takes over at his alma mater (West Virginia)” scenario continues to make the circuit with much frequency.

 

But, as someone suggested the other day, in light of West Virginia’s 8-0 record in the Big East and Top 10 national rating, and Wake Forest’s 1-8 Atlantic Coast Conference start, “Maybe Cincinnati should just offer its job to Beilein.”

 

It’s kind of hard to fault that logic.

 

*At some point I guess I should assemble a “10 most improved players in the country” list.

 

Once I do, look for Pittsburgh center Aaron Gray near the top of the heap.

 

Gray, who averaged 1.7 points and 1.5 rebounds per game as a freshman, and 4.3 and 2.8 as a sophomore, has become one of the country’s most dependable and forceful low-post presences this season.

 

He’s grabbed double-figure totals in rebounds 14 times (he averages 11.0) and is scoring 13.7 points per game.

 

The coaching staff is obviously done a lot of individual skill work with him because he’s got a variety of polished moves, both in the low post and facing the basket. And he is an underrated passer.

 

He’s a big reason why I have been so impressed by Jamie Dixon’s Panthers of late, especially in their narrow Big East Conference losses at Connecticut and Georgetown.

 

If senior guard Carl Krauser could ever learn to temper his shot selection – he tends to launch from deep too often after just one or two passes into a possession – they won’t be dislodged from the list of eight to 10 squads with the ability to knock off the most talented team in the country.

 

That team I’m referring to is, if you haven’t been paying much attention of late, Connecticut.

 

Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame last April, Frank Burlison is Scout.com’s national basketball expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison’s pieces at www.FrankHoops.com



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