It is rarely too early to start projecting, and right now in Pacific-12 Conference men’s basketball, we see some trends forming that will help determine which school wins the 2019 regular-season league championship.
The Conference of (real NCAA) Champions may be getting bad reviews from the sport’s pundits across the nation, but watching the teams in action reveals a different story. Seven teams in the Pac-12 already have double-digit win totals, and there is a lot of basketball left to be played.
But we have it narrowed down to the following four teams as both title contenders and NCAA Tournament teams: Arizona, Oregon State, UCLA, and Washington.
Weekly Pac-12 Rankings
The Wildcats, the Beavers, and the Huskies all have unblemished conference records right, although that may change soon. Either way, those three schools have the early jump on the Bruins.
Here are the updated rankings, with last week’s position noted after the current record.
1. Washington Huskies (12-4, 2): With a five-game winning streak now, the Huskies should be able to extend that to seven games this week with home dates against the Bay Area schools. Anything less will be considered a disappointment. However, we do acknowledge that Washington has yet to beat a truly “good” team this year.
2. Oregon Ducks (10-6, 1): We expect the Ducks to slowly drop as the season progresses, and then perhaps they can recover late once they adjust to the absence of Bol Bol. Dropping the home-court game to UCLA in overtime was crushing, but Oregon rebounded to beat USC handily. This team can be good, but it will take time.
3. Arizona Wildcats (13-4, 4): Six wins in a row now for the Wildcats, although comparable to Washington, we still want Arizona to register a win over a truly good team. Yes, the Wildcats did beat Iowa State earlier, but the consistency has to show itself. Hosting the Oregon schools this week will reveal a lot about Arizona’s upside.
4. Arizona State Sun Devils (11-5, 3): How do the Sun Devils lose by double digits on the road to Stanford? Good Question. But it seems typical for ASU under Head Coach Bobby Hurley to look like world beaters one week and NIT fodder the next. Since the 7-0 start to the season, the Sun Devils are just 4-5 with losses to Princeton and Stanford. Ouch.
5. Oregon State Beavers (11-4, 5): Here’s the deal. The Beavers have all the tools to be good, and as they head to Arizona this week, the truth is that Oregon State needs to get at least a split. If the Beavers drop both games, the bubble bursts. The way things are going, it’s easy to see OSU beating ASU on Thursday and then losing to Arizona on Saturday.
6. UCLA Bruins (10-7, 6): The Bruins clearly shot their wad in overtime at Oregon, as they dropped a double-digit decision to Oregon State three nights later. But getting a split is better than not getting a split. UCLA absolutely must get the road win this week at USC if it wants to keep its chances for the league title within grasp.
7. Colorado Buffaloes (10-6, 8): Beating Washington State and losing to Washington should not be something to celebrate, but for the Buffs right now, wins are hard to come by. That 8-1 start seems like a mirage right now, after all. If Colorado can beat Utah on the road this week, it would do wonders for the team’s confidence and outlook forward.
8. USC Trojans (9-8, 7): Getting swept on the road in Oregon definitely puts a dent in the Trojans’ season plans. But even when you lose in overtime, you can’t throw in the towel the next time out. That is what USC did against the Ducks, basically. Head Coach Andy Enfield is a long way removed from his moment in the sun at Florida Gulf Coast.
9. Stanford Cardinal (8-8, 10): Just how did the Cardinal beat the Sun Devils at home? They shot 62.2 percent from two-point range, that’s how. It also helped that ASU made just six of 17 free-throw attempts. Now if Stanford can do that against the Huskies on the road this week, then maybe we will be impressed. If not, then this was just a fluke.
10. Utah Utes (8-8, 9): The Utes face a must-win situation already this week with their home game against the Buffaloes. First, if this is the league’s tenth team, it’s still a pretty good team. Second, Utah goes on the road to the Bay Area the following week, and it needs a sweep there in order to keep its slim hopes of postseason play alive.
11. Washington State Cougars (7-9, 11): Losers of six in a row now, the light at the end of the tunnel for the Cougs is coming up for Thursday’s home game against the Golden Bears. It literally could be the only league game WSU wins all season. How did the Cougars start the season 7-3? By scheduling cupcakes and losing to Montana State!
12. California Golden Bears (5-11, 12): The only conference game Cal might win this year is the home game against Washington State on March 2. Until then, it could get ugly for the Golden Bears, who have already lost five straight. Just losing by single digits to WSU on the road this week would be an accomplishment for Cal right now.
What to Watch For Next
The Wildcats can start to put a stranglehold on the league standings with a weekend sweep of the Oregon schools on their home court, but the Huskies can keep pace with their own home sweep of the Bay Area teams. Keep an eye on those two pack leaders.
Fearless Prediction(s) of the Week
None this week. Everything looks pretty predictable, unlike that NFL stuff going on in the background.
Kidding! Not about the NFL stuff, though. Look for both Oregon and Oregon State to take down Arizona State on the road this week. The Sun Devils just are not playing well right now.
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