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Rankings the greatest teams since the UCLA dynasty

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Rankings the greatest teams since the UCLA dynasty

To honor the end of Pac-12 basketball, the Hotline plowed through decades of data to identify the greatest teams in conference history.

Well, not the entirety of conference history.

We went back four-and-a-half decades, to the 1978-79 season and the dawn of the 10-team conference.

Limiting our timeframe to the arrival of the Arizona schools carried another benefit: It eliminated the UCLA dynasty from consideration.

After all, only UCLA fans would want to read a list dominated completely and utterly by the John Wooden teams.

The selections below were based on a combination of regular-season performance and NCAA Tournament success — all with the goal of seeding the best 16 teams over 45 years for a hypothetical Pac-10/Pac-12 single-elimination  tournament.

Fortunately, recency bias was not a concern. The quality of play across the conference has deteriorated substantially in the past 10-15 years.

We have included each team’s seed in the NCAA Tournament in order to illustrate the quality of its regular season.

The top-two picks were fairly easy, then it got complicated.

1. UCLA ’95

Record: 31-2 overall/16-2 conference
NCAAs: No. 1 seed/won NCAA championship
Top players: F Ed O’Bannon, G Tyus Edney, C George Zidek
Comment: The clear pick for the top spot as the Pac-12’s only national champion from the post-Wooden era that also dominated the regular season. (The two losses were to Oregon and Cal.) The Bruins had size, depth, elite athleticism, a playmaker supreme (O’Bannon) and could play any style. They needed Edney’s heroics to escape Missouri in the second round, took out Ray Allen and Connecticut in the Elite Eight and were good enough to beat Arkansas, the defending champs, in the title game without the injured Edney.

2. Arizona ’88

Record: 35-3 overall/17-1 conference
NCAAs: No. 1 seed/lost in semifinals
Top players: F Sean Elliott, G Steve Kerr, F Tom Tolbert
Comment: The best team of Lute Olson’s legendary run in Tucson did not claim the national title — the Wildcats shot poorly in an eight-point loss to Oklahoma in the Final Four. But they did everything else while Elliott collected national Player of the Year honors. The regular season included wins over Duke, Michigan and Syracuse, the single conference loss (at Stanford) and four blowout victories in the NCAAs.

3. Arizona ’98

Record: 30-5 overall/17-1 conference
NCAAs: No. 1 seed/lost in Elite Eight
Top players: G Mike Bibby, G Miles Simon, G Michael Dickerson
Comment: The Wildcats entered the 1997-98 season as the defending NCAA champs and possessed one of the best backcourts in Pac-12 history. They rolled through conference play, with the lone loss coming at USC in overtime on the final weekend. A pre-tournament favorite, they steamrolled into Anaheim for the regionals and were blown out in the Elite Eight as Utah mastermind Rick Majerus deployed a triangle-and-two the Wildcats were unable to solve.

4. UCLA ’08

Record: 35-4 overall/16-2 conference
NCAAs: No. 1 seed/lost in semifinals
Top players: F Kevin Love, G Darren Collison, G Russell Westbrook
Comment: The last of the back-to-back-to-back Final Four teams under coach Ben Howland was the most talented and produced the best regular season of the three editions. How loaded were the Bruins? Their fifth-leading scorer, forward Luc Mbah a Moute, spent a decade in the NBA. The end was ugly, however: a 15-point loss to Memphis and Derrick Rose.

5. Arizona ’97

Record: 25-9 overall/11-7 conference
NCAAs: No. 4 seed/won NCAA championship
Top players: PG Mike Bibby, SG Miles Simon, SG Michael Dickerson
Comment: The only national champion of Olson’s career — and the last Pac-12 team to claim the title — finished fifth in the conference race and was swept in the Bay Area on the final weekend. Shipped to Memphis, the Wildcats got hot at the right time and beat three No. 1 seeds (Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky) on their unlikely run to the title. This team best illustrates the nuance involved in our rankings: For three weeks, the Wildcats were as good as any team of the past 45 years; but during the prior four months, they were decidedly mediocre.

6. Oregon State ’82

Record: 25-5 overall/16-2 conference
NCAAs: No. 2 seed/lost in Elite Eight
Top players: F A.C. Green, F Charlie Sitton, G Lester Connor
Comment: There was a time when the No. 1 program in the West resided in Corvallis. In fact, the Beavers produced a three-year run under coach Ralph Miller in which they went 77-11. In our view, this edition was the best of the bunch, although there’s a case for the 1981 team (with star forward Steve Johnson). OSU ran into Georgetown and Patrick Ewing in the Elite Eight, and the program hasn’t been the same since.

7. Oregon ’17

Record: 33-6 overall/16-2 conference
NCAAs: No. 3 seed/lost in semifinals
Top players: G Tyler Dorsey, F Dillon Brooks, F Jordan Bell
Comment: The best team of the Dana Altman era in Eugene was so deep that the list of top players doesn’t even include guard Payton Pritchard, who was a freshman that season and averaged 7.4 points per game. Highly athletic and superb defensively, the Ducks thumped Kansas to reach the Final Four and lost by one point to North Carolina with a berth in the title game at stake.

8. Arizona State ’81

Record: 24-4 overall/16-2 conference
NCAAs: No. 2 seed/lost in second round
Top players: G Fat Lever, G Byron Scott, C Alton Lister
Comment: Meet the best overlooked team in conference history — a team with three longtime NBA players at its core. ASU was a three-point loss to UCLA and a four-point loss to Oregon State away from a perfect conference season. But everything fell apart when, after an opening-round bye, the Sun Devils lost to Kansas — in Wichita. Back then, there was no early-round protection for high seeds against hostile environments.

9. Arizona ’89

Record: 29-4 overall/17-1 conference
NCAAs: No. 1 seed/lost in Sweet 16
Top players: F Sean Elliott, F Anthony Cook, G Kenny Lofton
Comment: One year removed from their Final Four run, the Wildcats suffered a single loss in conference play (by five points at Stanford), beat Duke on a neutral court in late February and charged into the NCAAs as a top seed. Although nobody realized it at the time, Arizona was eliminated (narrowly) in the Sweet 16 by what would become one of the greatest teams in history: the 1990-91 Runnin’ Rebels.

10. Stanford ’98

Record: 30-5 overall/15-3 conference
NCAAs: No. 3/lost in semifinals
Top players: G Art Lee, F Mark Madsen, C Tim Young
Comment: The Cardinal won 18 in a row before a mid-season slump, then gathered itself for a run through the NCAAs that ended in a fabulous Final Four overtime loss to Kentucky. Two of the other losses that season came courtesy of Arizona’s defending NCAA champs (No. 3 on this list). Other Stanford teams of the Mike Montgomery era had better regular seasons. This was the most balanced and deepest of the bunch, with Jason and Jarron Collins coming off the bench.

11. Arizona ’01

Record: 28-8 overall/15-3 conference
NCAAs: No. 2/lost in championship
Top players: G Gilbert Arenas, G Jason Gardner, F Richard Jefferson
Comment: One of the most gifted rosters of the past 50 years — we didn’t even mention Luke Walton — stumbled early on and was just 8-5 in early January. But the Wildcats found their groove and ripped off 20 wins in their next 22 games. They shredded Michigan State in the Final Four, then lost in the championship to a loaded Duke team.

12. UCLA ’79

Record: 25-5 overall/15-3 conference
NCAAs: No. 1 seed/lost in Elite Eight
Top players: F David Greenwood, F Kiki Vandeweghe, G Brad Holland
Comment: The post-dynasty years in Westwood are often lost to history but produced a slew of terrific teams, none better than this version, coached by Gary Cunningham and led by Greenwood, the No. 2 pick in the subsequent NBA Draft. These Bruins had poor timing: Note the year they played — the year of Magic, Bird and a DePaul team with Mark Aguirre that eliminated UCLA one game short of an epic Final Four.

13. Stanford ’04

Record: 30-2 overall/17-1 conference
NCAAs: No. 1 seed/lost in second round
Top players: F Josh Childress, F Justin Davis, G Chris Hernandez,
Comment: The first defeat of the season came in the last game of the Pac-12 season — yep, Stanford was 26-0 overall and 17-0 in league play before losing at Washington on March 6. It regrouped to win the Pac-12 tournament but was stunned by eighth-seeded Alabama in the second round when Montgomery’s precision offense malfunctioned.

14. Washington ’05

Record: 29-6 overall/14-4 conference
NCAAs: No. 1 seed/lost in Sweet 16
Top players: G Nate Robinson, G Tre Simmons, G Brandon Roy
Comment: Our research for this project examined all the top teams on Montlake, including the mid-1980s editions with Detlef Schrempf and Christian Welp. Our conclusion: Lorenzo Roman’s group wasn’t merely the best of the bunch but worthy of inclusion here. UW’s talent was such that Roy, who averaged 19 points per game during his NBA career, was the Huskies’ third-leading scorer behind Simmons and Robinson, the future three-time NBA slam dunk champ.

15. Oregon ’02

Record: 26-9 overall/14-4 conference
NCAAs: No. 2 seed/lost in Elite Eight
Top players: G Luke Ridnour, G Freddie Jones, G Luke Jackson
Comment: The players listed above combined for 51 points per game and formed one of the most productive trios in recent Pac-12 history. Yes, the Ducks lost four games in conference play, but it was a rugged league that season with six NCAA Tournament teams. Oregon edged Texas to move one step from the Final Four but was outclassed by Kansas.

16. USC ’92

Record: 24-6 overall/15-3 conference
NCAAs: No. 2 seed/lost in second round
Top players: G Harold Miner, G Duane Cooper, C Yamen Sanders
Comment: Another case of a team’s loss total reflecting the quality of play at the top of the conference. (It was a different era back then, folks.) Coached by George Raveling, the ’92 Trojans were dueling with a powerhouse UCLA team that became a No. 1 seed and an Arizona team that earned a No. 3 seed. If the conference had selected an all-decade team for the 1990s, Miner would have been on it.

Also considered: UCLA ’80, Oregon State ’81, UCLA ’92, Arizona ’94, Arizona ’00, Stanford ’01, Arizona ’05, UCLA ’07 and Arizona ’14


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