Discover more from Bald Faced Truth by John Canzano
Canzano: Dogfight forming in the basketball standings
Plus, Pac-12 gets a reprieve from FS1
The Pac-12 Conference got some relief this week. Its frustration with FOX’s remote broadcasts has been met with a change.
FS1 is shifting its stance.
For the remainder of the Pac-12 basketball season, the network will feature on-site broadcast crews. I wrote in depth about the FS1 broadcast issue last week. Also, Jamie Zaninovich, the Pac-12’s deputy commissioner, has been in ongoing conversations with FOX executives.
“They get it,” he said on Friday. “The rest of the games will have on-site broadcasters.”
Now, let’s talk some basketball. Because on Thursday night USC beat UCLA. The Bruins (17-4) have lost two straight conference games. The men’s basketball standings are an interesting study. Utah, Arizona and USC are all within one game of the lead. Arizona State and Oregon are two games behind.
The next month is going to be a dogfight.
Look for yourself:
In the coming weeks, as part of an ongoing series, I’ll take a deep dive on the state of basketball in the Pac-12. I’ll examine finances, explore fiscal data, and talk with program insiders. Beyond that, I’ll look at what the conference itself must do to help promote its basketball programs.
Zaninovich is the supervisor of basketball for the Pac-12. In 2016 and 2018, he launched the strategic plans that helped the conference eventually get four teams in the men’s Sweet 16. March of 2021 was particularly fruitful. The deep tournament runs by USC, UCLA, Oregon State and Oregon brought the Pac-12 a financial windfall.
The value of each March Madness game to the conference: $2 million.
The Bruins made the Final Four in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Oregon State and USC both made the Elite Eight.
“It was our biggest haul ever,” Zaninovich said.
Arizona and UCLA will undoubtedly make the NCAA Tournament. Beyond that, USC and Utah are busy constructing a tournament resume. Programs such as ASU and Oregon have looked alternately decent and suspect. Getting three or more teams in the tournament field may require an outlier winning the Pac-12’s automatic bid at the conference tournament in Las Vegas.
Here’s a fun fact this season: 44 percent of the Pac-12 Conference’s scholarship basketball players have either sat out or left a game due to injury.
That hurts. Also, the Pac-12 as a whole had a rough performance in early-season games. The Pac-12 is just 81-41 (.667) in non-conference games this season. That ranks last among the Power Five conferences. Troubling non-conference losses have dragged down the NET rankings of the teams in the middle of the conference standings.
“We hammer the 75 percent figure into coaches heads,” Zaninovich told me on Friday. “Conferences across the board that win 75 percent of non-conference games in any given year get 50 percent of their teams in the tournament.”
The Pac-12 fell about 10 non-conference wins shy of that target win percentage. It’s why Cal losing to Eastern Washington, UC Davis and Texas State eventually hurts the whole conference. Same goes for Oregon’s losses to UC Irvine and Utah Valley. And Oregon State lost to Portland State — twice. That can’t happen if you want to boost the overall NET ranking and get half your conference in the NCAA Tournament.
The Pac-12 is due for a refresh on the strategic front. It has been five years since the last one in basketball. In the past, the Pac-12 hired scheduling consultants, studied the markers of successful programs, and urged members to invest more heavily in basketball.
“The top brands have been investing consistently over a long period of time,” Zaninovich said. “Some of the other programs have more recently risen to the investment levels.”
Pac-12 fans hope a couple of NCAA Tournament teams will emerge in the group that includes USC, Utah, ASU and Oregon. I’ve seen USC up close. The Trojans look like a tournament team, especially now that they’re healthy.
I talked to USC coach Andy Enfield in Arizona last week after his team throttled ASU. I asked him about the top-six teams in the conference. What does Enfield see when he looks at the standings?
He said: “We have our hands full every night.”
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