Pac-10 doesn't get much of a look from television

ESPN is more oriented toward ACC, Big East

21-2 Pacific is on a roll


College Basketball

February 18, 2005|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Need to keep a low profile?

Do you:

(A) Enter a witness protection program.

(B) Play in the Pac-10.

Courtesy of the UCLA dynasty of the 1960s and early 1970s, the Pacific-10 Conference is the leader in NCAA titles, but that foundation has crumbled, because of television in general, and ESPN in particular.

Four decades ago, Lew Alcindor was a high school senior in New York, about to become the centerpiece in the Bruins' run of 10 titles in 12 years. If the man you know as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was coming up today, would he have gone to Los Angeles?

The West Coast kid is fed Atlantic Coast Conference and Big East highlights on SportsCenter, while the Pac-10 isn't on the East Coast kid's radar.

Maryland gets Ekene Ibekwe out of Los Angeles. Roy Williams moves from Kansas to North Carolina but keeps mining the West Coast for his freshman class of Marvin Williams and Quentin Thomas. Boston College's breakout season is fueled by three Californians.

Nate Robinson, the dynamic 5-foot-9 guard for No. 15 Washington, grew up in Seattle and is the son of a one-time Rose Bowl MVP, but he fantasized about going east.

"Allen Iverson was my favorite basketball player, so I wanted to play at Georgetown," Robinson said. "Deion Sanders and Peter Warrick made me want to play football for Florida State. When I watch SportsCenter, all I see is the East Coast, but the guys on this side can play with anyone. How come Dick Vitale doesn't pay us any attention?"

The Pac-10 grew tired of holding up its games for a late-night slot on ESPN and took a TV contract with Fox, where its games are seen haphazardly in a market like Baltimore. Ben Howland's years at Pittsburgh might help him re-establish UCLA's broad recruiting profile, but for now, Arizona is the Pac-10's only program with a national profile.

The Pac-10 is still paying for being absent from last season's Sweet 16. The ACC has nine of the 30 midseason candidates for a national player of the year awards, and North Carolina's three match the total of Pac-10 players on the list.

"Just like Fox is going to pump up our conference, it's only natural that ESPN is going to do the same for the ACC, Big East, Big Ten and Big 12, because they've got to get the [ratings] numbers," Arizona coach Lute Olson said. "Still, something's not right. Duke has earned everything it gets in terms of national recognition, but you're talking about [J.J.] Redick having to make something like 55 straight threes to match [Salim] Stoudamire."

Duke's Redick is a remarkable shooter, but Arizona's Stoudamire has made 46.0 percent of his career threes, near the NCAA record. Robinson and Arizona State's Ike Diogu are similarly great college players who get lost in the time-zone shuffle.

That aforementioned player of the year award is named for John Wooden, who might not have become a UCLA legend had he come along in the era of Big Monday and GameDay, which will ignore the Arizona at Washington game Feb. 26 to pump up Louisville at Memphis.

Pacific for real

This is the time of year when bubble teams like UCLA and Georgia Tech improve their strength of schedule, and thus their RPI. That is not a luxury for Pacific, a Northern California school that deserves an at-large bid even if it doesn't win its conference tournament.

The Tigers (21-2) tower over the Big West, which last got an at-large bid in 1993. Pacific upset Providence in the NCAAs last season, and gave Kansas fits in Lawrence this season. Coach Bob Thomason objects to the notion that a team can go under .500 in its league and still get an invitation to the NCAAs.

"I hear analysts say that `this ACC team could get in with nine losses,' but you should have to have a good year to go to the NCAAs," Thomason said. "Purdue went with a 6-8 record one year. Did Purdue think it had a good year? That doesn't mean the last team in the ACC couldn't beat Vermont, but you should have to win games."

With Kansas, Kentucky and Vermont losing in the last week, Pacific is one of the five teams still perfect in conference play, as Davidson, Penn and Utah also join unbeaten Illinois. Center Guillaume Yango is from France, and forwards Christian Maraker and Jasko Korajkic were discovered on a 2001 summer tour of Sweden.

"I don't know how to curse in Swedish, but I should learn," Thomason said. "They speak in their native language in practice, when they're mad at me."

Planting seeds Paul McMullen's weekly prediction for the top four seeds in each regional of the NCAA tournament:

Syracuse Austin

Wake Forest Kansas

Kentucky Duke

Boston College Arizona

Michigan State Connecticut

Chicago Albuquerque

Illinois North Carolina

Oklahoma State Washington

Syracuse Alabama

Gonzaga Utah

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