ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi, whom I have known for years and respect for the accuracy of his NCAA tournament projections, published his latest “bracketology” rundown today. And, as of now, he has four Pac-10 teams in the field.
Arizona is a No. 5 seed, Washington a No. 7, UCLA a No. 9 and Washington State shares a No. 12 slot with Missouri State. The Cougars are listed among “the last four in.”
Which makes me wonder: Can Cal be anywhere close to that, depending on what it does this week in Washington?
Obviously, Thursday night’s game at Washington is more than a minor obstacle. The Huskies, despite losing three in a row (all on the road), are ridiculously difficult at home — 11-0.
For our purposes here, we’re going to fast-forward beyond Seattle to Pullman on Saturday and the Bears’ game against Washington State (which you won’t see because it’s not being televised).
How do the Bears and Cougs compare?
— Cal and WSU have met once — the Bears won 88-81 in overtime at Berkeley.
— The two are tied for fourth in the Pac-10 standings at 6-5.
— Cal’s ranking in RealTimeRPI.com is No. 66.WSU is No. 69.
— The Bears’ RPI strength of schedule is rated No. 12. WSU’s is No. 104.
— The Cougars are 16-7 overall, the Bears 13-10.
— Outside the Pac-10, the Cougs beat Baylor and Gonzaga and lost by five points to Kansas State.
— Outside the Pac-10, the Bears beat New Mexico, Temple and Iowa State, but lost decisively to Notre Dame Boston College, San Diego State and Kansas.
— WSU beat Washington by seven points at home. Cal lost to the Huskies by 21 at home.
— Both teams lost to Pac-10 leader Arizona by two points — Cal twice, including in triple-overtime.
Seems to me the difference between the resumes of the two comes down to this: Cal played a tough non-conference schedule, but the Cougars performed better against theirs. (Plus they beat UW). As a result of that pre-conference showing, the Bears simply don’t have enough victories to warrant consideration.
That equation could change a bit if Cal can complete the season sweep (for a third straight year) of the Cougars.
Here’s the problem: Unless Cal somehow also wins at UW — the Bears need a “grabber” and they need numbers — a victory at WSU is more likely to bump the Cougars off the bubble than boost the Bears into the conversation.