SAN FRANCISCO -- Just two years ago, the Pac-12 was considered the weakest of the country's major conferences in men's basketball.
Only two Pac-12 teams were invited to the NCAA Tournament in 2012, and one of them -- Colorado -- only got there because it won the Pac-12 Tournament and received an automatic bid. Otherwise, the conference might have had just one entrant.
With the 2013-14 season about to start, the Pac-12 is now in the conversation as one of the country's best.
"Maybe we deserved to take a little bit of a beating a few years ago," Washington State coach Kent Bone said Thursday during the annual Pac-12 media day at the Pac-12 Studios. "But those years are gone. Those are definitely behind us."
The resurgence of the Pac-12 was one of the main topics of discussion during Thursday's media day.
Five Pac-12 teams made it to the dance last season and as many as seven have been projected as NCAA Tournament teams this upcoming season.
In the USA Today preseason coaches poll released on Thursday, Arizona (No. 5), Oregon (No. 18) and UCLA (No. 23) were ranked among the top 25, with Colorado (No. 27), California (No. 34) and Arizona State (tied-No. 42) also receiving votes.
"I think the league is going to be probably as good as it's been in the five years that I've been here," Oregon State coach Craig Robinson said. "And it's going to be exciting for everyone. I don't think you're going to have a night off this year."
It wasn't long ago that the Pac-10, as it was known then, was regarded as one of the most talented conferences in the country. Six of the 10 teams in the league made it to the NCAA Tournament every year from 2007-2009.
UCLA, led by Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook, reached the Final Four three years in a row from 2006-08.
It was after the 2009 season, however, that the conference began to take a dip. Two teams got in to the tournament in 2010, and four in 2011. Then, just two again in 2012 -- the first season of the Pac-12, after the additions of Colorado and Utah. The conference has not had a Final Four team since 2008.
"I think we have always been a good conference," said Arizona State coach Herb Sendek, in his seventh season with the Sun Devils. "And I don't know that we were as necessarily as down as we were made out to be at times. I think the teams that eventually got into the tournament proved that to be the case."
Nevertheless, the conference did take a hit for a few years after the tremendous success it had from 2007-09. That success may have contributed to the recent struggles.
"We went through a period of time when we had more NBA draft picks than any conference in the country," Sendek said. "We were spitting out lottery picks like nickels."
The Pac-10 had four first-round NBA picks in 2007, seven in 2008 (including six taken in the top 15) and six more in 2009. The conference had more top-10 draft picks in 2009 (three) than it has had in the four drafts since then combined (two).
"Recruiting couldn't keep pace with that, when you coupled that with the senior graduation we were experiencing," Sendek said. "So not unlike any sport or any level of sports, a lot of times things go in ebbs and flows."
The conference is clearly on the upswing now. The Pac-12 has not produced a lot of top draft picks in recent years, but that could change very soon.
"I think that in the last few years we have been in the process of replenishing (the talent) within our conference, and I think that time is here," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. "I think that's why we're starting to see conference play pick up. And I think our conference is definitely headed in the upward trend to becoming a better conference. I think it's here."
Coaches mentioned the good recruiting classes that have come in, the tougher non-conferences schedules -- and producing wins in those games -- and continuity at the top as reasons for the upswing. Nine of the 12 coaches are entering at least their fourth season in their current jobs, with Utah's Larry Krystkowiak heading into year No. 3. Only UCLA (Steve Alford) and Southern Cal (Andy Enfield) have new coaches.
It all adds up to the Pac-12 becoming, once again, one of the elite conferences in the country in men's basketball.
That should make the upcoming season an entertaining one for fans and a stressful one for coaches.
"You've got to stay hungry and humble in this league because you can get knocked off if you don't come to play," CU head coach Tad Boyle said.