Craig Robinson's best-case scenario for the beleaguered Pac-12 goes something like this: One team wins the regular-season conference title, a different one takes the league tournament crown, and a third plays well in Los Angeles, perhaps losing in the title game.
All three teams would advance to the NCAA tournament, the Oregon State coach believes.
And the Pac-12 - without a team even receiving votes in this week's Associated Press men's basketball poll - would save face.
"I think what would help all of us the most is if you have this scenario," he said.
The best way to become one of those three teams is to finish the regular season in the Pac-12's top four.
Conference expansion has changed the shape of the Pac-12 tournament, which tips March 7 at the Staples Center.
The tournament's first day features four games between the leagues fifth- through 12th-best teams. The top four teams earn a bye to the second day.
To win the league title, the top four teams would have to take three straight games. Everyone else would need to win four.
The race for the top four spots, then, will be the most interesting story line of the Pac-12's final month.
"The difference between winning three games in three days and four games in four days is dramatic," Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. "I definitely think a top-four seed is something we want to shoot for year-in and year-out. It's a huge advantage."
Washington leads the league at 9-2, followed by Cal and Colorado at 8-3.
Oregon and Arizona are behind, at 7-4, though the Ducks own the tiebreaker against the Wildcats.
Stanford and UCLA are a game back. The Beavers are a game behind them, though they have five home games left.
"I think there's seven teams that are really skilled, very much in the running for the top four spots, and for that matter the top spot," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said.
Reaching the top four is "life or death from the perspective of being able to win the (Pac-12) tournament," Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller said.
Like Cal and Stanford, the UA and Arizona State play the final Sunday of the regular season. That leaves a "pretty quick turnaround" time for any team that would have to play Wednesday in Los Angeles, Montgomery said.
The Golden Bears coach said the Wildcats have an easier road than most the rest of the season, "given their schedule." The UA will not play either the Oregon or Bay Area schools the rest of the way.
UCLA coach Ben Howland repeated a statement he made before the conference season started - the only way the Bruins are sure to make the NCAA tournament, given their non-conference losses, is to run the table at Staples Center.
"We, obviously, have to win the tournament," Howland said.
Both Robinson and Miller said there might be some advantage to playing one day earlier than your Pac-12 tournament opponent, for the sake of comfort with the arena.
Still, playing three games instead of four is far more important.
Montgomery said he "would think the regular-season conference winner would get strong consideration" for the NCAA tournament.
Beyond that, nothing is certain.
"I don't know - I've been following this conference for a long, long time," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. "You'd have to go back when it was the Coast League (actually the Pacific Coast Conference), or whatever it was. … Since the field has been expanded, this conference has always had more than one team.
"I don't know. This is going to be very hard for me to predict this year."