SAN FRANCISCO — Long ago, back in, say, 1992, Pittsburgh point guard Sean Miller rooted against conference opponents in nonconference games.
“I didn’t want them to do as well as us,” Miller said.
Now? Not so much. The Arizona coach was one of a handful at Thursday’s Pac-12 men’s basketball media day to speak of the need for Pac-12 teams to win their nonconference games, something that didn’t happen last season when the conference sent just two teams to the NCAA tournament.
“It is hard sometimes to root for other teams, but in the big picture you need to,” Washington State coach Ken Bone said. “Down deep, we need our conference to be strong.”
“This year in particular,” Miller said, “every time a team plays a nonconference opponent, we want them to win. The most success we can have as a conference only helps each other.”
So begins what Miller and his peers hope will be a rebuilding year for a conference that took its share of criticism from pundits and fans last year. Those jabs were compounded when Washington, the regular-season Pac-12 champion, wasn’t selected to play in the NCAA tournament.
But it’s a new year and optimism abounds, most fervently from USC coach Kevin O’Neill who said he thinks “five or six” conference teams could qualify for the tournament this season.
“There’s a ton of new talent,” O’Neill said, another theme heard throughout the day. “There’s a lot of returning players. There’s great coaches in this league.”
And if the media are correct, there will be a return to normalcy atop the league. Arizona was chosen by voters to win the conference, earning 402 total points to UCLA’s 401. Washington was picked to finish fifth.
For the second consecutive season, the Cougars were picked to finish 10th in the conference, ahead of Arizona State and Utah.
Bone also announced that freshman guard Brett Kingma, who was arrested on alcohol and marijuana charges two weeks ago, has been suspended indefinitely.
Kingma, a former Jackson High star, hasn’t practiced since the arrest and Bone is “not sure if (Kingma) has a future at Washington State at this point or not.”
Bone acknowledged that Kingma’s punishment is harsher than some have received for similar incidents in the past. But things are about to change.
“We’ve had some policies in place that obviously have been good for the university and the athletic department I’m sure,” Bone said. “But the policies for men’s basketball are about to change.”