If only life were more like HBO programming—we’ve all thought it—then we could live out our existence with killer plot lines, semi-super powers and unlimited expletives. We could party with The Rock, revel in medieval realism and have several built-in groups of life-long girlfriends. But alas, we cannot make it rain with Kenny Powers or spend our time solving severely twisted murder mysteries with Marty Hart. In the end we get the world we deserve.
However, there are some instances where life does imitate art, if only in the eye of the beholder. Occasionally, we see similarities in the things that we love. Take this year's men’s college basketball field for example—specific conferences correlate with specific HBO television shows. The Big 12 is clearly Ballers, while the Big Ten feels a lot like Game of Thrones at the moment. This would make the ACC kind of like The Sopranos. But where does that leave the best coast?
In the HBO show universe, Pac-12 men’s basketball is without a doubt Westworld: Alluring and riveting with episodes that make you want to accost characters for their lack of vision and wherewithal—and then berate yourself for not anticipating the same twist. But in the end you watch because you need to know what happens next, to find out where you were wrong and where you were right.
The show is both beautiful and frustrating, exactly like the Conference of Champions. Westworld reveals your deepest self, lets you choose to see the beauty in things, or not. College basketball is the same—we don’t necessarily see the game as good or bad, black or white but rather tangentially and categorically. Yes, the Pac-12 is the wild, wild West. It is organized chaos, and just like Westworld, it gives you the idea that you are in control.
Here’s how it breaks down.
The Arizona Wildcats (25-3, 14-1) as Robert Ford
You have to put Sean Miller’s squad in control of the conference, for now. The WIldcats are the ones, like Ford, that make the conference great, but they also have a target on their back. Ford is the founder, but he is not always running the show. Arizona doesn’t lead the country in any statistical categories, but the Wildcats do top the Pac-12 in free throw percentage (76.3%) and rebounding defense (29.5 avg per game). Are they primed to win the Pac-12? Only if the conference allows it—they share the same fate as Ford.
The Oregon Ducks (25-4, 14-2) as Teddy Flood
Poor Teddy. His badass-ness is eclipsed by the fact that he is his own worst enemy. He's the sharpest shooter in Westworld but can’t get out of his own way—much like the Ducks. In all four of Oregon’s losses, you will find mental errors from Dana Altman’s players—turnovers, poor shot choices etc. When the Ducks are focused, they are unstoppable, but when they let things get in the way, like Teddy often does with Dolores, the breakdown is very real. Oregon’s losses to Baylor, UCLA and even Georgetown were admirable ones, but the loss to Colorado on the road was a mental lapse. The Ducks do lead the nation in blocks (196), thanks in large part to Chris Boucher, who ranks 13th in the nation and first in the conference with 2.7 blocks per game. Oregon’s clutchness, particularly that of Dillon Brooks, is a major key, especially heading into March. And mental breakdowns, like the 16 points in the first half of the Cal game Wednesday night, cannot happen.
The UCLA Bruins (24-3, 11-3) as the Man In Black
The Man In Black is the most infamous villain in Westworld and the most confusing, complicated storyline. Not to intimate that the Bruins are villains per say but Lonzo Ball does have a way of annihilating opponents in his quest to find the game within the game. He enters Thursday’s contest against Arizona State as the nation’s only player to have averaged at least 10 points, four rebounds and seven assists per game. He continues to lead the nation in assists per game (7.6) and total assists (206). He’s a utility guy, just like the Man In Black and the Bruins as a whole, who lead the Pac-12 in scoring offense, field goal percentage, assists and defensive rebounds. It takes that kind of utility to compete in the chaotic Conference of Champions, but UCLA will have to dig deep into the dark depths of its character to find a way to win it all.
The California Golden Bears (18-9, 9-6) as William
William represents what you can become if you give yourself over fully to the experience. The Cal Bears bought in when Head Coach Cuonzo Martin arrived on campus in 2014. And since then, it has been an internal battle for the Bears to succeed and to continue to surpass expectations. This season, Cal has lost some games it really shouldn’t have but not without a glimpse of what the team is truly capable of, particularly on the defensive end. Cal leads the conference in scoring defense (62.7 average points per game) and field goal percentage defense (39%). Can Cal become a last minute tournament team? Only if the Bears start playing a complete game. But this year’s weak bubble does not favor Cal. And the last second-loss to Oregon didn’t help them make their case.
The USC Trojans (21-6, 8-6) as Dolores Abernathy
This comparison is a little bit harder to see. Dolores is an integral character to the show; she is the first character we really get to know and our main example of how Westworld truly works. Dolores is believed to be one thing by the visitors, but we come to find she is something very different, and her transition is one of the best things about the show. USC’s transition is different. The Trojans started out highly regarded and ranked but slowly slipped out of relevance until a surprising upset of their crosstown rival UCLA sparked interest once again, if not a Top-25 ranking. They lead the conference with 7.1 steals on average per game but rank middle of the Pac-12 in most other statistical categories. With a decent final stretch of games, the Trojans need to win out and then stand up, grab the gun and take down their opponents in the conference tournament.
The Utah Utes (17-10, 8-7) as Bernard Lowe
Without spoiling anything for those of you who have yet to watch Westworld, Bernard means different things to different people, and the values he is assigned by the people in his life keep him from truly understanding himself. Utah basketball feels a lot like this—lacking a true identity this year. In years past, the Utes have fielded a strong squad, but this season they look a bit lost. For example, the game against Oregon last week marked the ninth different starting lineup Utah has utilized. And the Utes' most recent loss to Oregon State snapped a 14-game losing streak for the Beavers, the same team Utah beat by eight points just three weeks ago. At one point, Utah was the fourth-best shooting team in the country, but a trip to the Bay Area yielding no wins for the second year in a row showcased a team that has lost its way. For their existence to mean something, the Utes need to once again find a purpose in the Pac-12.
Sports writer. Avid fan, former player, once-upon-a-time coach, reluctant referee. I do digital media things with my friends. I also jinx kickers. Bay Area born & raised.