SAN FRANCISCO -- A regular-season champion from a major conference is usually in the discussion for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
After winning the Pac-12 last year, Washington wasn't even invited to the Big Dance.
Cal was the only team from Colorado's new conference to receive an at-large bid, and the Bears were sent to Dayton, Ohio, to play in one of the "First Four" games, which they did not survive to advance to the traditional 64-team bracket.
CU crashed the party by winning the Pac-12 Tournament.
A poor non-conference performance was blamed for the lack of March Madness. The Pac-12 did not have a single victory over a ranked opponent from another conference.
So during the offseason, Pac-12
"Last year there I think there was a feeling that the dye was cast before conference play started," Scott said before watching the Buffs' 65-63 victory at Stanford last Wednesday. "The lack of great results, no matter how you did in conference, meant it was going to be tough to get a tournament bid. I think there was a sense that we needed to come out of the gate and get some quality wins this season."
Arizona led the way by beating SEC leader Florida, ACC contender Miami and then-No. 17 San Diego State in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic.
UCLA struggled early in the season with its freshman-dominated lineup before turning the corner with a victory over Missouri. The Bruins are now tied with Oregon for first place after beating Arizona on Saturday night.
Oregon got off to a 7-0 start in Pac-12 play and climbed into the rankings after handing then-No. 18 UNLV its only loss at the Thomas and Mack Center.
The improved strength at the top of the conference means Cal's seven-game winning streak will result in at least four Pac-12 teams participating in the NCAA Tournament this season.
"Collectively there's a shared interest in RPI," Scott said. "That's just the way it works."
And the Buffs?
Despite a 9-7 record in the conference, CU's strong RPI (No. 29 last week) and top-50 wins (Arizona, Colorado State, Cal, Oregon) should lead to a second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
"That's what you look for is having elite teams that can stack up with teams from any conference and also depth in your conference," Scott said. "There's a big improvement from last year, and I think that's headed in the right direction."
Scott and his staff communicate with members of the NCAA Tournament selection committee throughout the season to share information about Pac-12 programs.
Tad Boyle challenged his talented young team by scheduling the Charleston Classic and trips to Laramie, Wyo., and Lawrence, Kan.
Unlike the 2010-11 season, when the Buffs were snubbed by the NCAA Tournament based on a weak non-conference slate that included losses to San Francisco and Harvard, CU's early-season defeats shouldn't haunt them this time.
If CU, which hosts No. 24 Oregon on Thursday and Oregon State in the regular-season finale on Saturday, can get to 20 wins before the conference tournament there shouldn't be pressure on the Buffs to cut down the nets in Las Vegas.
"We're going to win our next two home games and then we'll see," freshman forward Josh Scott said after CU's frustrating 62-46 loss at Cal. "Then we're going to make a run at the Pac-12 (Tournament) championship again."
Larry Scott expects the semifinals and final of the Pac-12 Tournament at the MGM Grand to be sold out or very close to capacity, depending on which teams advance.
Athletic director Mike Bohn plans to send the most loyal members of the C-Unit to the conference tournament again.
If a team like Arizona State or Stanford wins, the conference could conceivably get six teams into the NCAA Tournament.
"Obviously having such a close, competitive season so far means there's a lot at stake in terms of who's going to make it, a lot of stake in terms of seeding," Larry Scott said. "It's a lot better than where we a year ago."
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