NCAA tournament hopefuls have work to do


The top-heavy nature of Pac-12 football this fall proved in the end to be not beneficial for the conference, as the best teams took turns knocking each other off and eliminated a chance to grab a spot in the College Football Playoff.

That same type of competitiveness and parity appears to be taking its toll in men’s basketball as well, with only two teams (UCLA and Arizona) destined to be sure-fire selections for the NCAA tournament in March. Any of the others — notably Utah, Arizona State and USC — would have to go on a big run over the next few months or play spoiler and steal the Pac-12’s automatic bid at the conference tournament.

Getting more than three spots in March Madness seems unlikely at this point.

Here are my weekly Pac-12 power rankings.

1. UCLA 14-2, 5-0 Pac-12 (Last week’s ranking: 2)

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Last week’s results: 60-58 home win against USC

This week’s games: home vs. Utah, Thursday; home vs. Colorado, Saturday

The seventh-ranked Bruins join USC in having the most-challenging three-week stretch in the conference ahead, with no games against teams in the bottom half of these rankings. With two of the past three wins decided by three points, UCLA appears vulnerable for an upset.

Desmond Cambridge Jr.

Coming off two home wins, Arizona State guard Desmond Cambridge Jr. (4) and the Sun Devils travel to the Beaver State this week looking to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive. ASU plays Thursday at Oregon and Saturday at Oregon State.

2. ARIZONA 14-2, 3-2 (1)

Last week’s results: 70-67 home win against Washington; 74-61 home loss to Washington State

This week’s games: At Oregon State, Thursday; at Oregon, Saturday

A double-digit home loss to the Cougars doesn’t help the ninth-ranked Wildcats’ bid for a top-four NCAA seed. They’ve largely taken care of business this season but could get a test or two on the road this week.

3. USC 11-5, 3-2 (4)

Last week’s results: 60-58 loss at UCLA

This week’s games: Home vs. Colorado, Thursday; home vs. Utah, Saturday

The Trojans (75th of 363 teams in NCAA NET as of Tuesday) have the most work to do of any Pac-12 squad striving for NCAA contention. Tournament teams win home games like USC has this week, then it’s on the road for the Arizona schools.

Tristan da Silva

Colorado forward Tristan da Silva (23) was named the Pac-12 player of the week after scoring a combined 47 points on 18-of-27 shooting in wins against Oregon and Oregon State. The Beavers were held to 42 points Saturday, their lowest total since 2009.

4. ARIZONA STATE 13-3, 4-1 (5)

Last week’s results: 77-71 home win vs. Washington State; 73-65 home win vs. Washington

This week’s games: At Oregon, Thursday; at Oregon State, Saturday

The Sun Devils (NET: 59) have good wins against Michigan, at Colorado and Creighton. But they can’t afford any more backsteps (like a loss to Texas Southern) if they want any shot at the NCAA tournament.

5. UTAH 12-5, 5-1 (3)

Last week’s results: 79-60 home win against Oregon State; 70-60 home loss to Oregon

This week’s games: At UCLA, Thursday; at USC, Saturday

At 45 in the NCAA NET, the Utes have the conference’s best ranking behind UCLA (7) and Arizona (9). They’ll try not to lose that as they head out on a difficult trip.

6. COLORADO 11-6, 3-3 (9)

Last week’s results: 68-41 home win vs. Oregon; 62-42 home win vs. Oregon State

This week’s games: At USC, Thursday; at UCLA, Saturday

The Buffaloes allowed a total of 83 (!!!) points as the Ducks and Beavers shot a combined 30.5%. Colorado, which has won seven of eight, is a road split from possibly sticking as a top-half conference team.

7. OREGON 9-7, 3-2 (6)

Last week’s results: 68-41 loss at Colorado; 70-60 win at Utah

This week’s games: Home vs. Arizona State, Thursday; home vs. Arizona, Saturday

The haves and have-nots in the conference are currently separated by rivalry pairs, with the Washington, Oregon and Bay Area schools in the bottom half. The Ducks, who have talent but not much chemistry, could change that this week by building on the Utah win.

8. WASHINGTON STATE 7-10, 2-4 (7)

Last week’s results: 77-71 loss at Arizona State; 74-61 win at Arizona

This week’s games: Home vs. California, Wednesday; home vs. Stanford, Saturday

The Jekyll-and-Hyde Cougars are a few stronger late-game finishes from being 5-1 in conference play (which would include wins against Utah, UCLA, USC and Arizona). Instead, they’ll be lucky to be included in any postseason play.

9. CALIFORNIA 3-13, 2-4 (11)

Last week’s results: 92-70 home win vs. Stanford

This week’s games: At Washington State, Wednesday; at Washington, Saturday

As the Golden Bears sat 0-12 the week before Christmas, no one pegged them for three wins in four games. Now, with five winnable games ahead, they have a shot at reaching a .500 conference record.

10. WASHINGTON 9-8, 1-5 (10)

Last week’s results: 70-67 loss at Arizona; 73-65 loss at Arizona State

This week’s games: Home vs. Stanford, Thursday; home vs. California, Saturday

The return of WSU transfer guard Noah Williams has helped the Huskies keep some games close. But they just don’t have the firepower or a late-game threat to finish off tough opponents.

11. OREGON STATE 7-9, 1-4 (8)

Last week’s results: 79-60 loss at Utah; 62-42 loss at Colorado

This week’s games: Home vs. Arizona, Thursday; home vs. Arizona State, Saturday

The Beavers have lost three straight in the return to Pac-12 play and are looking for any kind of momentum. They’ll try to do it starting with Arizona, which (incredibly) has the worst shooting percentage in conference play (37.8).

12. STANFORD 5-10, 0-5 (12)

Last week’s results: 92-70 loss at California

This week’s games: At Washington, Thursday; at Washington State, Saturday

It’s uncertain where Stanford, which has been competitive at times, looks for answers right now. The Cardinal’s best win (Pacific) is against a team that’s 214 in the NET.

Jesse Sowa is a sports reporter at the Corvallis Gazette-Times. You can connect with him on Twitter: @JesseSowaGT.

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