Cal, Stanford expected to be among the top Pac-12 contenders

Getty Images File PhotoMike Monty is the head coach of the Cal Golden Bears

Predictions are not something most coaches care about this time of year. They’re focused on players and practices, not what pundits and pollsters presume.

Except for Oregon State’s Craig Robinson. During the Pac-12 Conference men’s basketball media day at the conference’s new network studios in downtown San Francisco on Thursday, Robinson admitted he has been paying attention to polls for months — just not the league’s annual media poll, which picked Arizona over UCLA by a mere point.

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Robinson, the brother of First Lady Michelle Obama, has been following a much bigger campaign. He has spent his days practicing and his nights stumping for President Barack Obama ahead of Tuesday’s election against Republican nominee Mitt Romney in a race Robinson predicts is “probably going to be pretty close.”

No matter what else is on anybody’s agenda, coaches and players around the league are getting in all the last-minute work now. After all, the Pac-12 is expected to be an even tighter and tougher conference this season.

No. 12 Arizona received 403 points and 15 first-place votes to top the preseason poll by media who cover the league. That narrowly edged 13th-ranked UCLA, which received 402 points and 16 first-place votes.

Cal (325) was third, Stanford (296) fourth and defending regular-season champion Washington (278) fifth.

The media has correctly picked the conference winner 12 of 20 times. Arizona has correctly been selected in seven of the 11 times the Wildcats have been picked to capture the league title.

Stanford is looking to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time under fifth-year coach Johnny Dawkins, who led the Cardinal to the NIT title last season. Across San Francisco Bay, crafty Cal coach Mike Montgomery’s teams are never pushovers, either, and he’s more focused than ever after bladder cancer and surgery that left him cancer-free before last season. Well, sort of more focused.

“Unfortunately, it hasn’t changed me that much. I’m still the nut case I always was,” Montgomery joked.

The only real guarantee this season is exposure will be at an all-time high.

The league’s landmark 12-year television contract with Fox and ESPN worth about $3 billion, which created the Pac-12 Networks and Pac-12 Digital Network, started this fall. The swanky studios will help increase viewership after more than 90 games — including 23 conference matchups — weren’t televised last season, said Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott.

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