Recapping the news of the week across the Pac-12, on the court and off …
1. That’s a wrap
UCLA’s cursed postseason ended Thursday night in yet another thriller against its greatest March foil, Gonzaga.
At full health, the Bruins were a national title contender. But the absences of guard Jaylen Clark and big man Adem Bona, their two most impactful defensive players, left a depleted rotation that couldn’t survive the Sweet 16.
The loss leaves the Pac-12 without a team in the Elite Eight for the fourth time in the past five years and caps what was another disappointing season for the conference.
Meanwhile, the West Coast Conference and Mountain West remain alive in the NCAAs with Gonzaga and San Diego State, respectively.
The Hotline aims to call ’em like we see ’em, and the Pac-12’s on-court product is subpar (at least on the men’s side). But unlike so many afflictions in recent years, this is not the result of poor policy or execution at the conference level.
The schools must do better with one of the two profitable sports in college athletics. They must hire better coaches, recruit better players, invest more resources into basketball and refuse to tolerate poor performance.
2. Pattern emerges
UCLA’s loss to Gonzaga had a familiar feel — and not because the Bruins dropped the epic Final Four game just two years earlier.
The Bruins went six minutes without scoring midway through the second half, allowing Gonzaga to turn a seven-point deficit into a four-point advantage.
Days earlier, Arizona State went scoreless for three minutes down the stretch as TCU turned a five-point deficit into a three-point lead with 24 seconds left.
A similar fate walloped USC, which went five minutes without scoring deep in the second half as Michigan State pushed a narrow lead to double digits.
The topper, of course, was Arizona’s collapse against Princeton. The Wildcats led by 12 points with 12 minutes left, only to be outscored 24-8 the rest of the way in what could reasonably be deemed the worst loss in school history.
3. Counting cash
The Pac-12 finished March Madness with seven units (or games played), an unexpectedly low total given that it sent four teams into the field and had two No. 2 seeds (Arizona and UCLA).
Each unit is carried forward for six years and worth about $2.2 million in revenue to the conference over the duration of the payout cycle. (USC and UCLA do not receive their shares once they join the Big Ten.)
NCAA units are an important source of cash for the campuses. The Pac-12’s woeful postseason performance over the past five years (with one exception) will impact budgets.
Units earned by year:
2020: No tournament
Most power conferences generate 10 or 12 units per year, at minimum. But as we mentioned above: The Pac-12 basketball product is subpar.
4. Hurley returns
The only significant coaching news of the week unfolded in Tempe, where Arizona State signed Bobby Hurley to a contract extension through the 2025-26 season.
It was the only reasonable move available for the school after Hurley led the Sun Devils into the NCAAs for the third time in the past five years (excluding 2020, when the tournament was canceled).
Plenty of ASU fans and some media members have called for a coaching change. But the peanut gallery doesn’t realize ASU:
— Is trending above its historical standard under Hurley.
— Doesn’t have a better option.
You don’t dismiss a coach who wins 20 games more often than not despite a second-rate facility — and with no scandals to his name — without having a first-rate replacement lined up, a proven winner at multiple levels.
The Sun Devils were smart enough to realize that.
5. ‘Forever’ game
Utah announced Wednesday that it would rename its annual spring game the 22 Forever Game in honor of former Utes Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe.
Both players, who were killed by gunshot wounds within nine months of each other, wore No. 22.
The event will help raise funds for the school’s 22 Forever Memorial Scholarship. It’s another example of the university expertly honoring Jordan and Lowe — the helmets were phenomenal — and turning their loss into a source of inspiration for their families and friends, the football program and Utah fans everywhere.
The game is April 22 at 11 a.m. (Pacific) and will be televised by the Pac-12 Networks.
6. Black hole expansion
Cal has opened an investigation into athletic director Jim Knowlton’s handling of allegations of abuse made by former swimmers against coach Teri McKeever, according to a report by the Southern California News Group.
Meanwhile, Knowlton is trying to hire a basketball coach.
It’s not often that an AD is under formal investigation while conducting a major coaching search, but Cal has stumbled and bumbled its way to unprecedented depths.
The football program is struggling, men’s basketball is a mess, and the McKeever situation is an embarrassment to the university.
Meanwhile, across the Bay, the situation isn’t much better.
Stanford’s football program is in the gutter, men’s basketball is irrelevant, and the athletic department has a lingering stench from the Varsity Blues scandal and the school’s plans (ultimately reversed) to cut varsity sports.
The Bay Area black hole — a situation created by both institutional challenges and administrative mismanagement — is severely undermining the Pac-12’s collective competitive success.
7. ‘Tis that season
Two high-level players, Utah big man Branden Carlson and Colorado forward Tristan da Silva, declared for the 2023 NBA Draft this week.
Both retained the option to return to school if the feedback from scouts and draft projections are suboptimal.
More players will follow before the April 23 deadline to submit paperwork, but the dearth of high-end talent that adversely impacted the Pac-12 on the court could limit the exodus.
Prospects who enter the draft process have until the end of May to withdraw and retain their college eligibility for the 2023-24 season.
Remember, the free season of eligibility created by COVID is still working its way through the system — and will be for two more years.
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