The Pac-10 is horrendous this year, right? Like, it isn't just bad in a conventional sense, as it relates to the Big-12 and Big-10 and Big East and ACC. It's historically bad. Or at least that's the common consensus early in the 2009-10 season. With the exception of USC and Washington and maybe (maybe) Cal, you're not going to find much to love out West this year.
That's a fair assessment, sort of. But maybe the Pac-10 isn't as historically bad as most people think. That's the verdict from Basketball Prospectus' Ken Pomeroy (warning: slightly overlong blockquote ahead):
But I’ll submit that to find a worse Pac-10 season, one need not go back too far. I nominate 2004, a season when only four teams in the league finished with a winning record overall. Three teams got bids, putting together a total of one NCAA tournament victory, which came at the expense of a 16-seed. I expect the reason that the ‘04 season gets lost is because Stanford and Arizona were ranked in the top ten for most of the season. Stanford, as you may remember, won the regular-season title and earned a one-seed in the tourney. That was the year that the Cardinal made it to the final game of the regular season before incurring their first loss. Stanford had a great year, but there’s a little bit of the chicken-or-egg situation here. Their undefeated run was partly fueled by a weak conference and that their second-toughest conference game was also the last one on the schedule. [...] Even though there will be no unbeaten in the Pac-10 this season, Cal and Washington may well be as good as the Cardinal were in ’04, and USC seems to have firmed up a nice portfolio in recent days, no? Yes, this season’s Pac-10 is below average by power conference standards, but the odds are in its favor to equal the number of bids from ’04 and certainly to exceed the number of tournament wins from that season.
Why does the Pac-10 feel so much worse in 2009-10 than it has in years past? After all, Pomeroy's argument is pretty airtight; 2004 was a much worse year for the conference overall, but no one seems to talk about it, at least not anymore. I submit that it has to do with UCLA's recent dominance and the conference's overall improvement in recent years. But without Arizona and UCLA near the top of the conference -- and with USC supposedly in post-Tim Floyd hell (though that hasn't really worked out as such thus far) -- the whole conference just feels deflated. But not as deflated as in years past.
Somewhere in here, there's a Klosterman-esque argument to be made about reality, perception, and the incessant, inaccurate merging of the two. For now, let's just be thankful stats exist. They tend to make things a little easier, don't they?