Pac-12 Goes From Punchline to Powerhouse in NCAA Tournament

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When you think of Pac-12 sports, it’s not success in the NCAA Tournament that comes to mind first. You might think of #Pac12AfterDark, the highly entertaining, but defense casual-to-optional style of football that airs late on Saturday nights in the rest of the country.

Maybe you think of the high profile, brand name quarterbacks who put up gaudy numbers in this style of play and then parlay that into astronomically high NFL Draft stock. And although you might not freely admit it, you probably know the Pac-12 for highly recognizable spirit squads, and the clickbait content centered around them whenever they publicize one of their swim outings.

It brands itself as the “conference of champions,” and if you haven’t heard that expression before, watch any game called by UCLA alum Bill Walton, who will drop the phrase no less than 37,000 times per broadcast. The “conference of champions” slogan has become a bit of a joke, and deservedly so, given a.) the conference hasn’t been nationally relevant in football in well over a decade (USC won the league’s most recent title, in 2004) and b.) hasn’t won a title in men’s basketball since 1997 (Arizona).

The slogan more alludes to the non-revenue sports, some of which they have been known to dominate, but good luck bringing awarenes of that to the casual fan. The Pac-12 entered this tournament with not much expected of them, but here they are steamrolling through March Madness.

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The league is 12-2 in the 2021 tournament entering tonight’s elite 8 games, and one of those losses was cannibalization, as USC eliminated Oregon late last night. #6 seed USC, led by big man Evan Mobley, who is in contention to be the #1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, take on top seeded Gonzaga tomorrow night.

#11 seed UCLA, who needed to force overtime of a play-in game against Michigan State, just to even make it into the field, join their intracity rivals in the elite 8. Like the Trojans, the Bruins are heavy underdogs, when they take on top seeded Michigan on Tuesday night.

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The Bruins do have the most national titles all-time, of anyone, with 11, but their last one came back in 1995. They’re a program, kind of like Indiana, that doesn’t see themselves as where they are today, but where they were once were, a long time ago.

Then you have Oregon State, which is…well, this is the first time anyone has talked about Oregon State basketball since Craig Robinson, not the comedian, but Michelle Obama’s brother, was the head coach. He was the OSU head man from 2008-2014, his last coaching gig.

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He’s currently VP for Player Development with the New York Knicks. The current Beavers will tip off, as heavy underdogs, to the #2 seed Houston Cougars. Given that UH is led by Kelvin Sampson, a man whose past is so slimy, almost Bruce Pearl level dirty, most of America will be with the Beavers.

Oregon State, a month ago at this time, was not even on the tournament radar, but here they are, Pac-12 tournament champions, on a refuse to lose run right now. While the next 36 hours may or may not be the end of line for the Pac-12, what they’ve done so far is amazing, and you have to tip your cap to them.

Bet against the Pac-12 at your own peril.

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If you are betting on the rest of March Madness this season make sure to check out BetQL. They have NCAA Tournament picks, moneyline picks, over under picks, for every single game every day.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGNSports IllustratedChicago Tribune and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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