Nonetheless, if it can happen, this is the year, as the Pac-12 is as weak as it ever has been. Outside of Arizona State, Utah and USC, any team can get hot and win it.
Seeds No. 5 through 12 play on the opening day of the tournament (March 7). It would enhance WSU's chances of a tourney run if it could land the No. 5, 6 or 7 seeds, as that means an opening-round game against very beatable USC, Utah or Arizona State.
The Cougars (13-12, 5-8) aren't going to get the No. 5 seed, as the current fifth-place team has four losses, which is four fewer than WSU with five game remaining. Even No. 6 or 7 is going to take some doing, as Stanford and UCLA are currently tied for sixth at 7-6, two games ahead of Washington State.
If Washington State remains where it currently stands -- tied for eighth with Oregon State at 5-8 -- I don't like the Cougars' chances of going far. For starters, it means an opening-round game against Oregon State. While it's true WSU has beaten the Beavers twice in one season, a third win over their Northwest rivals is no gimme. OSU has some nice wins on its schedule, and is probably better than it looks.
But even if WSU were to survive the first round, the No. 8-9 winner gets the Pac-12's No. 1 seed, and I think it's going to be California. Of all the teams in the Pac-12, I believe the Bears would be the most difficult to beat. They're seasoned, well-coached and rarely play a bad game.
Of course, it goes without saying that the best thing for Washington State is to go into the tournament hot. Then it doesn't really matter where the Cougars are seeded. Win four of five down the stretch, and the confidence from a hot streak could take WSU places.
COMING THIS WEEK: Washington State starts a three-game home stand at 6 p.m. Thursday when it entertains Arizona (18-8, 9-4), followed by a 5 p.m. Saturday game against Arizona State (8-17, 4-9). Both games will be televised by Root Sports.
As pointed out above, a sweep this week is almost mandatory if the Cougars want a better position in the Pac-12 tournament. WSU must reverse the results of its road trip to Arizona in late January, when it lost to Arizona 85-61 and Arizona State 71-67.
The game against Arizona got away from the Cougars after Faisal Aden went down with a season-ending knee injury late in the first half. Aden was coming off a Pac-12 player of the week performance the previous week. In that game, Kyle Fogg hit four 3-pointers and led Arizona with 20 points.
Arizona clearly has motivation coming into this game, as the Wildcats are just a game out of first place. UA rides into Pullman on a four-game winning streak, which includes perhaps the Pac-12's most impressive win of the season, a 78-74 decision over Cal in Berkeley.
Arizona is one of the better defensive units the Cougars will face this season. The Wildcats are No. 1 in the country in 3-point field goal defense, and among the top 30 in overall field goal defense. What they lack is a dominant, NBA-type player, unusual for an Arizona team. The Wildcats have three double-digit scorers in Fogg (12.8 ppg), Solomon Hill (12.5) and Jesse Perry 11.9). =
Washington State should beat Arizona State. The Sun Devils have lost five consecutive Pac-12 road games by double digits, and are coming off a 63-49 loss to Colorado in Tempe. Hard to know what to make of ASU's win over the Cougars on Jan. 28. WSU was reeling from the Aden news, but the Sun Devils were without Trent Lockett, their leading scorer. Lockett returned to action last week after missing six consecutive games.
Read Nick Daschel's occasional Pac-10 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel