There are some positive aspects of a season-ending conference basketball tournament, such as:
--It sustains interest throughout the regular season and provides national visibility for a conference.
--It provides losing teams with a chance for redemption, or a second chance for respectability.
--It prepares teams for the rigors of National Collegiate Athletic Assn. tournament competition.
--And in the case of the Pacific 10, perhaps, it can place two or more teams into the NCAA tournament.
The winner of the first Pac-10 tournament, which starts tonight at Pauley Pavilion, will get an automatic bid into the NCAA playoffs. The regular-season champion will just have to take its chances, which are very good.
Since UCLA won the regular-season title and had an overall record of 21-6, it most likely will get a bid regardless of how it fares.
Therefore, conference officials are hoping that a team other than UCLA wins the conference tournament, thus enabling the Pac-10 to place at least two teams in the NCAA tournament.
However, if UCLA wins the tournament on its home court--and it is heavily favored to do so--the Pac-10 probably will be overlooked when the NCAA extends its bids Sunday.
There is precedent for slighting the Pac-10, as it placed only two teams into last season's NCAA tournament. Since the 1979-80 season, when UCLA advanced to the championship game, the conference has won only 5 of 20 NCAA tournament games.
Moreover, the Pac-10 has been embarrassed the previous two seasons with an 0-6 record.
Even so, the overview is that the Pac-10 should have established a tournament years ago. The Big Ten and the Ivy League are the only recognized major conferences without a season-ending tournament.
The Big Ten doesn't need one because, for one reason, it is almost certain of getting five or six teams into the NCAA playoffs without a conference tournament.
Among other things, a conference tournament sustains some hope for the hopeless.
Pac-10 teams were going all out during the final weekend of the regular season in an effort to be seeded one through six in the tournament and avoid first-round games.
Even the teams playing tonight have flickering aspirations of making a move through the bracket that concludes with a championship game Sunday.
The tailenders are Arizona State and Washington State, who will play in a 7 p.m. game, and USC and Oregon, who meet at about 9 p.m.
USC, 9-18 overall and 4-14 in the Pac-10, split its regular-season series with Oregon (14-13, 8-10). The Trojans won, 60-56, at the Sports Arena, and then led the Ducks for 37 1/2 minutes before losing, 57-55, Feb. 19 at Eugene, Ore.
Neither team is coming into the tournament on a roll. USC has lost eight of its last nine games (four by seven or fewer points), and Oregon has dropped five of seven.
USC Coach George Raveling says his team has improved, record nonwithstanding, and has played as close to its ability as it could.
The Trojans, as usual, will be led by senior forward Derrick Dowell, who is among the conference leaders in scoring (fourth, 20.9 points), rebounding (fifth, 8.7) and steals (first, 2.1).
Oregon Coach Don Monson isn't as upbeat as Raveling.
"We're not playing very well right now," he said. "We're not sharp. We're not shooting the ball well (39.6% in a three-game losing streak). And we don't pass the ball crisply, or catch it."
The Ducks have an explosive backcourt, however. Anthony Taylor is averaging 19.5 points a game, and David Girley has made 48% of his 3-point shots this season.
The winner of the USC-Oregon game will play second-seeded Arizona in the second round Friday night.
Arizona State (10-16, 6-12) swept Washington State (10-17, 6-12) during the regular season.
"Our front line has been playing well, and the development of our guards has been a major factor for us," WSU Coach Len Stevens said.
He was referring to his backcourt of sophomore Anthony Kidd and freshman Reco Rowe. His front-line players--Joe Wallace, Brian Quinnett and Dwanye Scholten--supply most of the offense.
The Sun Devils are a guard-oriented team--starters Bobby Thompson and 3-point specialist Steve Beck, plus 5-9 Arthur Thomas, a previous starter, coming off the bench.
"When Arthur comes in, he really takes the offensive game to another level," ASU Coach Steve Patterson said. "It's holy cow, he's slashing and scoring. He was resistant to that role (nonstarter) earlier, but he has seen that it's best for the team and has responded gladly."
Arizona State had won four straight games before losing to California and Stanford in the Bay Area last week.
The ASU-WSU winner draws top-seeded UCLA in the second round Friday night.
A look at Friday's pairings, excluding UCLA:
California (17-13, 10-8) vs. Oregon State (18-9, 10-8) at 1 p.m.--Neither coach, Cal's Lou Campanelli nor Ralph Miller, is satisfied with the way his team is playing. Miller, the veteran coach in the conference, is the most apprehensive because the Beavers have lost five straight games.