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January 25, 2010

Monday with Mike: Just one for the Pac-10?

You know all that talk about the Pac-10 getting just one NCAA tournament bid? Well, maybe it's time to take that talk seriously.

The Pac-10 is not a good league this season. The conference is eighth in league RPI -- behind the other Big Six leagues, plus the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West -- and had just one team in the RPI top 50 when play began Sunday; that was league-leading California at 27th. The next-best team in terms of RPI was No. 59 USC, which already has a self-imposed postseason ban.

Washington had a chance to get back into the mix as a legit title contender over the weekend, but the Huskies got swept by UCLA and USC.

Arizona State, which looked to be a sleeper contender, was hammered at home by Arizona on Saturday.

Winning the regular-season title but losing in the league tournament likely wouldn't save Cal. The Golden Bears have played one of the toughest schedules in the nation -- but they have zero top-50 wins and aren't likely to get one, given the state of the rest of the league.

Illinois ailing
When talk turns to disappointing teams, don't forget Illinois.

The Illini lost at Northwestern on Saturday to fall to 12-8 overall and 4-3 in the Big Ten.

Illinois returned three starters from an NCAA tourney team, brought in a solid recruiting class and was considered a sleeper Big Ten contender. Instead, the Illini have been inconsistent, currently are mired in a three-game losing streak and have an RPI of 77th.

The good news -- other than there is a big-time recruiting class coming in next year -- is that each of the next three games (Penn State, Indiana and Iowa) is eminently winnable.

The bad news: After that relatively easy three-game stretch comes a monster four-game swing (vs. Michigan State, at Wisconsin, vs. Ohio State and at Purdue).

Anything less than a 4-3 record in those seven games and the Illini can start preparing for the NIT.

Bottom of the barrel
Everybody knows Kentucky is the nation's only unbeaten team and is sure to be atop the polls when they're released today. But what about Alcorn State and Bryant? They're at the other end of the spectrum: They're the nation's only winless teams.

Alcorn State (0-19) -- which has played just three home games -- is the worst team in the nation's worst league (Southwestern Athletic Conference). That's a sad fate for a program that has made six NCAA tournament appearances.

The Braves' coach is former longtime NBA player Larry "Mr. Mean" Smith, an Alcorn alum who is in his second season as coach. Alcorn took a body shot from which it hasn't recovered when its best player, guard Troy Jackson -- who led the SWAC in scoring last season -- decided during the summer to bypass his senior season to play overseas.

Bryant, meanwhile, is in its second season as a transitional Division I program (it is moving from Division II). The Bulldogs (0-20) -- who have played four home games -- are playing a full Northeast Conference schedule but aren't eligible for the league's postseason tournament.

Bryant, who is coached by former Ohio University head man Tim O'Shea, becomes a full-fledged Division I member in the 2012-13 academic year.

Speaking of the SWAC, one of the three teams tied atop the league standings is Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The Golden Lions are 5-12 overall but 5-1 in the league. What is somewhat unbelievable about their record is that UAPB has played just two home games all season. UAPB's first 14 games came on the road, and all were true road games -- there were no neutral-site affairs. UAPB is 2-0 at home, where it plays six of its next nine.

Surprising Coastal Carolina (18-3) has a two-game lead in the Big South Conference, thus providing the answer to those who have asked themselves, "Hey, whatever happened to former Clemson and Auburn coach Cliff Ellis?" Ellis is in his third season at the school, which has made two NCAA appearances but none since 1993. Coastal is in Conway, S.C., which is near Myrtle Beach. That's a good location for Ellis, who is a huge fan of Carolina "beach music" and has released a CD. Coastal's one league loss came at home to preseason league favorite Radford, but the Highlanders have stumbled three times in conference play. Coastal has no shot at an NCAA bid unless it wins the league tourney, so the Chanticleers' Feb. 13 trip to Radford bears watching.

Not too far from Conway is Charleston, S.C., and the Southern Conference leader is the College of Charleston -- which is coached by former Georgia Tech head man Bobby Cremins (Coastal beat C of C by 11 in the season opener for both). Charleston, which upset North Carolina earlier this month, has a two-game lead in the SoCon and plays second-place Western Carolina tonight. Neither of these teams has a prayer at an NCAA at-large bid, and the winner of tonight's game becomes the front-runner for the league title.

Watching Oklahoma fall to Texas Tech on Saturday night, I couldn't help but think what might have been. Remember that OU signed Scottie Reynolds and Damion James out of high school. But when Kelvin Sampson left for Indiana, OU let them out of their letters-of-intent.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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