A lot of noise has been made this season about the Pacific-12 Conference and its lack of basketball prowess, and perhaps nothing emphasizes this more than UCLA’s home loss to Liberty (!) and the subsequent sacking of Bruins Head Coach Steve Alford. The league did not fare well at the end of last season, and that “momentum” has carried over to the 2018-2019 season.
Don’t be fooled: The Conference of (real NCAA) Champions will be fine come March Madness time.
Unlike football season, we won’t be picking every game of the season, but starting on Monday morning, we will be posting weekly updates on the league, including rankings and commentary. So buckle up, because the ride will be a blast.
Weekly Pac-12 Rankings
1. Oregon Ducks (9-4): Despite losing to Texas Southern at home, the Ducks sit atop the first rankings this season, thanks to a nice neutral site win over Syracuse. Freshman center Bol Bol looks like the real deal if he can stay healthy, while junior point guard Payton Pritchard leads the show for Oregon. Look for the Ducks to win between 12-15 conference games this season.
2. Arizona State Sun Devils (9-3): Losers of three in the last five, the Sun Devils suffer no shame for losing to Nevada on a neutral court and Vanderbilt on the road. But that loss at home to Princeton by one point was surprising. ASU should win 11-13 conference games in 2019, led by freshman guard Luguentz Dort and senior power forward Zylan Cheatham.
3. Arizona Wildcats (9-4): The defending conference champions will be right in the thick of things this season. The Wildcats have four quality losses (Alabama, Auburn, Baylor, Gonzaga), and we see Arizona winning 11-12 conference games this year. Sophomore small forward Brandon Randolph and freshman guard Brandon Williams lead the way in Tucson for the conference’s flagship program.
4. Washington Huskies (9-4): All four of the Huskies’ defeats are also of serious quality (Auburn, Gonzaga, Minnesota, Virginia Tech), and we put them on the same potential level as the Sun Devils for conference success this season. Washington’s best players are senior center Noah Dickerson and sophomore point guard Jaylen Nowell.
5. Colorado Buffaloes (9-3): This is where there is some drop off, as the Buffs have played a cream puff non-conference schedule, and the losses are not good ones. Colorado is 6-0 at home, but losing to Indiana State on a neutral court? Come on. The Buffs need sophomore point guard McKinley Wright to step up big time this year if the team wants to exceed its projection of 10-11 conference victories in 2019.
6. Oregon State Beavers (8-4): Despite talent, these Beavers really haven’t delivered at all since making the NCAA Tournament in 2016. They will need to win more than the projected ten games in conference play if they want to return to March Madness. Junior power forward Tres Tinkle, the coach’s son, and senior shooting guard Stephen Thompson have the dynamic ability and potential to lead, but will they?
7. UCLA Bruins (7-6): Losing to Michigan State and North Carolina early on did not hurt the Bruins. Losing the last four straight to the likes of Belmont and Liberty did hurt UCLA. We still like the team’s chances of winning ten league games this year, but only if sophomore small forward Kris Wilkes and sophomore point guard Jaylen Hands really step up their respective games.
8. USC Trojans (7-6): Five of the Trojans’ losses came against good teams, but losing to Santa Clara and giving up 102 points in the process is why many people are down on the league right now. USC has an outside shot at ten conference victories in 2019, but the team will have to get stellar production from the likes of junior center Nick Rakocevic to do so.
9. Stanford Cardinal (7-5): The Cardinal have not made the NCAAs since 2014, and that’s surprising, considering this used to be one of the better programs in the league. The good news is Stanford does not have a single bad loss this season (yet?), and perhaps a .500 conference mark and a deep run in the Pac-12 tournament can get the Cardinal back to March Madness. Sophomore forward KZ Okpala is the difference maker here.
10. Utah Utes (6-6): Hard times have hit the Utes, too. After making the tourney in 2015 and 2016, Utah has posted consecutive 20-win seasons without a ticket to the Big Dance. The Utes will not win 20 games this year, and they will be lucky to reach five wins in conference, in truth. This is not a good team right now at all. Head Coach Larry Krystkowiak could lose his job.
11. Washington State Cougars (7-6): Does it get any worse for the Cougars than losing to the likes of Montana State? No. Four wins in Pac-12 play would be a good season for this incarnation of WSU hoops, and while Head Coach Ernie Kent probably won’t lose his job, it’s tough to remember that Klay Thompson once rained down threes for the Cougars.
12. California Golden Bears (5-7): The schedule hasn’t been easy for the Bears, and generally, they don’t have any bad losses. But the team just isn’t that good. There is an outside chance that Cal could lose all 18 conference matchups. That would be very bad. Good thing the Bears get to play WSU at home, right?
What to Watch For Next
Tonight’s Colorado at Arizona matchup might tell us more about the Buffs’ legitimacy than any other game Colorado plays this season, while Saturday’s Civil War contest in Eugene also will give us some insight into the Beavers’ chances at having a solid season. It’s only January, but every game from here on out means the world to a Pac-12 team trying to make it to the NCAA Tournament.
Fearless Prediction(s) of the Week
The Ducks look like the better team on paper right now, but we think the Beavers may have what it takes to pull off the upset. Also, look for the Cougars to push the Huskies in Seattle on Saturday in the Apple Cup matchup. Those in-state rivalry wins never come easy.
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