Just two years ago, the Pac-10 Conference was seemingly at the top of the college basketball world.

Despite not winning a national championship, the teams in the Pac-10 dominated in recruiting, getting teams into the NCAA tournament, and sending players to the NBA.

The 2007-2008 season marked the second consecutive year the Pac-10 sent six teams to the NCAA tournament. That year, UCLA had an All-American in freshman center Kevin Love and made a third consecutive Final Four appearance. Under the direction of coach Tony Bennett, Washington State experienced a revival, making it all the way to the Sweet 16. Stanford made the Sweet 16 as well with the Lopez twins leading the way.

Add in a solid Oregon team under the steady direction of Ernie Kent, an NCAA tournament mainstay in Arizona, and a rising Arizona State program, and the Pac-10 looked poised to remain a college basketball powerhouse for years to come.

Flash-forward to this season and the Pac-10 has come a long way ““ in the other direction.

A vast number of players leaving early for the NBA has left the Pac-10 with a wealth of young and relatively inexperienced players. In the last two NBA drafts, the Pac-10 has had 13 players drafted in the first round alone, more than any other conference.

That exodus of talent and stability has left the Pac-10 in somewhat of a down year this year, where the parity in the conference is at a level not seen in recent seasons.

Two weeks into conference play, the Pac-10 does not have a single team ranked in the top 25, five teams are tied for third place with a record of 2-2, and one of the conference’s top teams heading into the year, Washington, has a record of 2-3.

Kent, entering his 13th season as Oregon’s coach, is not surprised by the events that have taken place in the conference since the 2007-2008 season.

“What happens with young players is that some nights they have it figured out and other nights they don’t,” Kent said. “When talking about freshmen and sophomores, it’s hard to get consistency. Therefore you are going to get a conference that is up and down a lot.”

Speaking to the up-and-down nature of the conference this year, USC went to the Bay Area this weekend after a sweep of the Arizona schools, and subsequently lost to both Stanford and Cal.

“The thing is if you look at conference right now is it’s really clear that anybody can beat anybody on a given day,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said. “It’s just as hard to predict who’s going to be the bottom two teams as who will be the top two teams. There’s that much parity in the league this year. It’s going to be a long, hard-fought conference here as the next six weeks come around.”

UCLA is going through its fair share of struggles so far this season. Opening the regular season with a double overtime to Cal State Fullerton on national television, the Bruins have not resembled the Howland teams of the past, posting a league-worst 7-9 overall record.

“Obviously we would like to be in the top 25,” Howland said. “It has been a tough year for us, and then you look at our league and it’s a little surprising because our league is tough.”

Freshman forward Tyler Honeycutt was asked at UCLA’s weekly press conference on Tuesday how he responds to boosters, alumni or fans who ask him why the Bruins have struggled as much as they have so far this season.

“Just tell them you can’t expect to a have great year every year,” Honeycutt said. “You’re going to have your off-years and you’re going to have your rebuilding years. We have a young team, but definitely we’re going to finish this year strong. Then next year, I know we’re going to be a lot better.”

First-year USC coach Kevin O’Neill believes that a weak showing by Pac-10 teams in non-conference play put the conference in an early hole that it is trying to dig its way out of. In the non-conference schedule, UCLA failed to win against ranked opponents in Kansas and Butler, Cal lost to Syracuse and Ohio State in the 2K Sports Classic, and Washington fell to Georgetown in the John R. Wooden Classic.

“What happened to us was we didn’t get enough non-conference wins early,” O’Neill said. “When you get behind the eight-ball a little bit and you don’t have those big non-conference wins, it’s hard to climb your way in back into the top 25 and if you lose at all you’re out of it. Overall as a league, we didn’t have what you would call any key signature non-conference wins.”

One result of a down year for the Pac-10 could be a drop in recruiting the top talent in the country.

It’s possible that the Pac-10 could get only one team into the NCAA tournament should the conference winner also win the conference tournament, which could cause potential recruits to look to other conferences.

Yet Howland does not believe that will happen. Rather than focusing on the Pac-10′s recent struggles, Howland said a look at the conference’s track record with sending players to the NBA is enough.

“You just have to point out that we just lost 13 guys to the first round of the NBA the last two years, the most draft picks than anybody in the country,” Howland said. “The Pac-10 is doing something right.”