It can’t get worse and should get better

The coaches and select players are gathering in San Francisco today for the conference’s annual preseason media showcase.

With them, once again, are clouds of corruption. (And we’re not talking about football officiating!)

For the second consecutive year, the event will unfold against the backdrop of an FBI investigation into college basketball’s amoral underbelly.

The 2017 media gathering took place weeks after news broke that Arizona and USC had been implicated in the scandal, which rocked the conference and set an ominous tone for what transpired:

One of the worst seasons, on and off the court, in Pac-12 history.

The teams can’t do much about the trial unfolding this month in New York — the family of former Arizona star Deandre Ayton was implicated on Wednesday — but on-the-court matters are entirely within their control.

From this vantage point, it appears the Pac-12 has reason to be encouraged.

We say that not because the situation can’t get any worse than an international shoplifting incident, three measly NCAA Tournament bids and zero NCAA wins (the worst postseason showing by a major conference, ever).

Instead, we expect the product to improve because the rosters are better on three fronts:

* Returning talent: A handful of all-conference players and potential NBA Draft picks opted to return to school. (As we wrote months ago, developments in the spring set the framework for November.)

* Incoming talent: The 2017-18 recruiting cycle was one of the conference’s best, on a collective basis, in years.

* The distribution of said talent:

Programs that didn’t sign elite recruits have loads of production returning (Colorado, Washington, Oregon State), while the programs hit hardest by attrition (Oregon, UCLA, Arizona Stare, Arizona and USC) are reloading with top prospects.

Instead of clustering on a handful of rosters, the talent is well distributed. That should result in an uptick in quality depth.

Of course, the best conferences possess both depth and dominance — a deep pool of at-large teams and a few Final Four contenders.

By my count, the Pac-12 has eight or nine teams capable of making the tournament, which provides vital margin for error: Even if injuries or poor play derail a few teams — inevitable, right? — a respectable number will be in the mix for at-large berths.

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