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.
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.
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.
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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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