UCLA's Lazeric Jones, center, drives between USC's Byron Wesley,… (Chris Carlson / Associated…)
A mid-major conference this week will scrounge for precious NCAA bids at a half-empty Southland arena — and yes, we're talking about the Pac-12.
The Pacific Life Pac-12 tournament starts Wednesday at Staples Center and the Big West opens Thursday at Honda Center. It's not often the Big West can say "come see us instead," but this could be the year to make that case.
The Pac-12, as lousy as it's been, may still garner two or three bids. But that would be based on reputation.
The conference has stumbled to the finish line, with Washington backing into the regular-season title because California lost last weekend to Stanford.
UCLA, the conference's cornerstone, has been in the news for all the wrong reasons.
This week's matchups don't bode well, either, for attendance. The local teams could be out of the tournament by 5 p.m. Thursday. USC and UCLA play a matinee (with intermission) Wednesday at 2:30 p.m., with the winner facing Arizona on Thursday at the same time.
A Washington-Oregon final would be wonderfully fitting for wine tasters and fans of "Portlandia."
There is nothing visually worse for a "power" league than televising empty seats in the 19,000-capacity Staples Center, one reason the Pac-12 is strongly considering a move to Las Vegas' MGM Grand Garden Arena in 2013.
"It is under discussion," Pac-12 spokesman Kirk Reynolds confirmed Tuesday.
League presidents have not voted on the matter but could make a decision in the next week.
Bottom line: it makes a lot of sense: The West Coast Conference just put on a fine Las Vegas show in the cozy confines of the Orleans Arena.
The Big West, in this year's turf war with the Pac-12, boasts the far greater likelihood of producing the Southland's lone NCAA participant.
In 1978, it was big news when Cal State Fullerton made an NCAA tournament regional final and UCLA was knocked out in the second round. The headline writers freaked out: "Fullerton in, UCLA out!"
That outcome this year would produce a shoulder shrug.
The Big West is not the Pac-12, so let's not get crazy here. The Pac-12 recently signed a $3-billion network deal, while the Big West still looks for change in the couch.
Last week, Honda Center advanced the Big West tournament with a radio promotion touting that Long Beach would be taking an undefeated conference record into the tournament.
Problem: Long Beach still had one league game remaining — which it lost Saturday at Fullerton.
The radio spots, though, continued to run Monday before the Big West finally intervened.
"It is my understanding that Honda Center supplied three different versions of the tournament ad to various stations and the wrong one was run," Big West spokesman Mike Villamor explained in an email Monday night. "The ad in question was pulled today at 5 p.m. and a new ad will be run tomorrow."
The Pac-12 is still the conference of Lew Alcindor, while the Big West's history is tied to former Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. commissioner Lew Cryer.
The Pac-12 can also claim 16 NCAA basketball titles now with the addition of Utah, which won the 1942 crown.
The Big West's only title team, Nevada Las Vegas in 1990, has since ditched the league for the Mountain West.
The Big West, founded in 1969 as the PCAA, has had a sprawling, nomadic existence, with 25 different schools counting themselves as members.
The league champion, for years, should have been presented "The Johnny Appleseed Trophy."
Today, though, the Big West has herded all its basketball members into the same state — isn't that homogeneous?
This week's Big West tournament at the Honda Center won't exactly be packed like a Tokyo subway. Last year's event, the first at Honda Center, drew 15,396 fans.
Unless UCLA makes a surprising run to the Pac-12 tournament title, though, Anaheim could own the weekend.
Long Beach State, the regular season champion and clear-cut favorite, limps into the Big West without senior guard Larry Anderson, who sustained sprained knee ligaments in the loss Saturday to Fullerton.
Long Beach, 22-8 overall, 15-1 in Big West play, had started the same lineup in every game this season.
The Fullerton loss coupled with Anderson's injury seemingly kills Long Beach's chances for earning an NCAA at-large bid.
"I think Saturday hurt us in that regard," 49ers Coach Dan Monson said. "I don't think it's out of the realm. Our job this week is not to be positioned for an at-large bid. Our job is to go win this tournament."
The NCAA selection committee does consider injuries in making their at-large decisions. Monson said Anderson would be available next week if Long Beach makes the NCAA tournament. Short of an NCAA detective catching Anderson in a body cast, that was the smart position for Long Beach to take.
"We just need to get him there," Monson said.
Anderson's injury puts the Big West's automatic NCAA bid in play, with schools such as Fullerton and UC Santa Barbara ready to take advantage.
Bob Burton's Titans (21-8, 12-4) have won eight of their last nine games and boast one of the league's hottest players in guard D.J. Seeley, who scored 27 points Saturday in the win over Long Beach.
Fullerton, at 41.2%, ranks fourth nationally in three-point field-goal percentage.
"Why we're dangerous is the fact we've got a lot of kids who can score," Burton said.
Burton still thinks Long Beach is the team to beat, but Long Beach is beat up.
As far as this week's hoops drama, well, the Pac-12 might not be able to beat that.