As first-round play begins tonight with two games, there are seven teams that enter with legitimate hopes of taking home the title. “I think a minimum of seven teams could win it,” USC coach Tim Floyd said. “I really believe that. I just think it’s a great league, the best league in the country.” In some regions, conference tournaments are a formality with one or two teams that win every year. The Pac-10 Tournament breaks the mold. In its five years since being reinvented at Staples Center, the tournament has produced five different champions. A lot of national pundits were echoing that last statement from Floyd early in the season. The tide has since changed, which could have an effect on this tournament. The way Pac-10 programs beat up on each other lessened the opinion of once highly ranked teams in Arizona, Oregon and Washington. That combined with a couple midseason nonconference losses – such as UCLA at West Virginia – damaged the overall reputation of the conference. Never mind that the Bruins were playing without point guard Darren Collison. “Starting the year, all I heard out here was the Pac-10 is the best conference in the country,” Oregon coach Ernie Kent said. “Then, it seemed as we got closer to March, they said the Pac-10 was slipping.” Most coaches still think the conference will get six teams in the NCAA Tournament, with UCLA coach Ben Howland going as far as to say he thought it was a lock. But with the national reputation of the Pac-10 in doubt, there are questions as to what impact tournament results will have on the NCAA selection committee. Does UCLA need a victory to get a No. 1 seed? Will Stanford get in even with a loss to USC? Does Washington need to win the whole thing and get the tournament’s automatic NCAA berth? Floyd defends Stanford. “They’ve beaten a team that’s a No. 1 seed in UCLA,” Floyd said. “They go to Virginia and beat a Virginia team that was leading the ACC. People say the ACC is getting seven teams in, though I can’t believe they have a seventh-place team that is better than Stanford. … And if these other leagues are getting seven, I believe Washington is the best (seventh place) team in the country.” Even with USC, there is some uncertainty if the Trojans would be a lock with a loss to Stanford that would have them heading into Selection Sunday with a low RPI, three consecutive losses and a split of their final 10 games. “We kind of feel like we’re in and playing for seeding but anything can happen,” USC guard Gabe Pruitt said. “It’s not set. We’re looking to do our best to win a lot of games and, if we do go to the tournament, try to go with momentum.” Then again, perhaps the committee isn’t even paying attention this week. “I think last year, when the pairings were announced, they indicated that the league tournaments weren’t considered really strongly in any of the decisions,” Arizona coach Lute Olson said. In conference RPI, the Pac-10 ranks third behind the ACC and the SEC. The streak of having a different Pac-10 Tournament champion each year bodes well for second-seeded Washington State and third-seeded USC, both of which have their highest seeds in the tournament’s 10-year history. The other schools that have a shot at winning – Arizona, Oregon, Stanford, Washington and UCLA – took the title in that order beginning in 2002. “It’s as tough a conference as it’s been since I’ve been in it,” Kent said. “If we don’t get six or seven teams in the tournament, I don’t know.” [email protected] (818) 713-3607 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!