Pac-10 a hard sell this season
Conference's worst showing in recent memory generates little enthusiasm for tourney
LOS ANGELES -- The Pac-10 has become college basketball's version of the Los Angeles Clippers this week -- a group with seemingly loads of potential that has underachieved this season and is now playing in front of a mostly empty seats at Staples Center.
To the Clippers' credit, however, they draw more than twice as many fans as Wednesday night's announced crowd of 6,090 for the Pac-10 tournament play-in game between Oregon and Washington State, which was more like a crowd for a Sparks game. Also, the Clippers subject their subpar brand of basketball on fans only once a night.
This week the Pac-10 will do it eight times over four days. It would have been nine games had USC not taken itself out of the competition with its self-imposed postseason sanctions, making it the Pac-9 tournament. The dream of some at Staples Center of making it the No Pac Tournament went unanswered; even the security guard behind the Oregon bench pretended to shoot herself out of boredom in between timeouts.
It has been that kind of season for the Pac-10, which doesn't have a single team ranked in the top 40, hasn't had a team ranked in the top 25 since the first week of January and probably will get only one team into the NCAA tournament this season.
Despite having its worst season in recent memory, the Pac-10 went all out in marking up Staples Center and the newly opened JW Marriott across the street with more Pac-10 stickers and signs than logos on a NASCAR driver. The 54-story, $900-million hotel and condominium complex at L.A. Live is currently adorned with more than 200 Pac-10 tournament stickers and banners, and that's not including the Pac-10 T-shirts everyone from bartenders and bellhops are wearing. It's like walking into a five-star hotel taken over by the interior decorator for Hooters.
While the announced crowd of 6,090 was more like 3,075 -- see I can make up numbers too -- it was far more than the over/under of 500 some had projected. It makes sense when you consider most of the fans were from Washington State and just about anything, including watching your team lose the Pac-10 tournament play-in game, is enough of an excuse to hop on the first flight out of Pullman to Los Angeles.
Former Lakers great Mychal Thompson of 710 ESPN simply had to walk across the street to watch his son play, taking in the game not far from the perch he normally sits in for Lakers games. Klay Thompson scored 20 points for Washington State.
"It's nerve racking because when you're on the court you can control your own destiny, but when you're sitting up in the stands you're sitting in agony or ecstasy depending on how they're playing," Mychal Thompson said. "It's definitely tougher being up here watching than being down there and doing it yourself."
Despite the poor attendance and lack of media coverage -- there were only three questions asked during the three-minute postgame news conference -- Oregon's 82-80 win in overtime might end up being one of the better games of the tournament. Thanks to E.J. Singler's tip-in at the buzzer in regulation, Ernie Kent (insert lame duck joke here) has at least one more game as the head coach at Oregon.
Maybe he can take over as the Clippers coach next season. He already has experience winning at an empty Staples Center.
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.