Let’s start with some famous last words from last week: “The Huskies will clinch the outright regular-season title Thursday night in Berkeley. Golden Bear resistance is futile.”
The Conference of (real NCAA) Champions is always full of surprises, and the last-place team—riding a 23-game conference losing streak—proved it with a 76-73 win over the new league champions last week. How did Cal beat Washington? By shooting 55.6 percent from the floor and out-rebounding the opponent, 29-26. That’s how.
This is why we don’t “predict” basketball games like we did during football season: In the end, the kids still need to make their shots and hold on to the ball, and predicting that is an inexact science, for sure.
Get your tickets now, while you can, by the way: The conference championship tournament is in Las Vegas, and you can get your tickets here. It might sell out soon.
Weekly Pac-12 Rankings
Just one surprising change to our rankings this week, as things are pretty solidified sabermetrically as the season winds down to its final week of conference play before the league tourney in Vegas. Again, the Pac-12 may be looking at just one NCAA bid, and that’s ugly as advertised.
Here are the updated rankings, with last week’s position noted after the current record.
1. Washington Huskies (23-6, 1): Miracles happen. The Huskies need to focus on a few things here now. First, there’s no guarantee Washington will make March Madness if it doesn’t win the Pac-12 Tournament. The Huskies did not have any bad losses until last week, and now they do. Even a 25-7 record might not get Washington into the Dance, although it would be improbably to leave a power conference team out with that mark.
2. Oregon Ducks (17-12, 3): Sitting at 8-8 in conference play, the Ducks have done an amazing job hanging around despite losing their best player in December. Credit goes to Head Coach Dana Altman for that. But what Oregon just did to the Arizona schools, beating them at home by a combined 54 points, defies logic. If the Ducks can beat the Huskies one the road in the regular-season finale …
3. Arizona State Sun Devils (20-9, 2): Losing by 28 points in Eugene was ridiculous. How many times can we say it? This Sun Devils team can beat anyone, and it can lose to anyone. ASU would be better off beating Arizona on the road this weekend, however, if it wants to solidify a shot at an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament.
4. Colorado Buffaloes (17-11, 4): Beating the Utes at home was a nice way to recover from the road woes suffered in the Evergreen State the week before. We are really not sure how the Buffs rank so high statistically, but the five-game win streak in league play last month surely helped. Take that away, and this team is barely average, if that.
5. Oregon State Beavers (17-11, 5): What else can be said of the Beavers? They choke in close games. Losing twice, at home, by a combined five points just adds to the season-long woes for this team in close games. Oregon State has eight losses by a combined 25 points right now. Imagine if all those games went the other way? Or even half of them.
6. Arizona Wildcats (17-13, 6): Scoring just 47 points in Eugene on Saturday set a new low for the Wildcats. Now, the defending league champs—both regular season and postseason—need to win at home on Saturday against the Sun Devils to finish at .500 in conference play. Is this the end of Head Coach Sean Miller in Tucson?
7. USC Trojans (15-14, 7): The Trojans are 8-8 in league action, with the road trip to the Mountain schools looming. USC will be expected to lose both, and barring a miracle run in the conference tourney, the Trojans won’t be playing any interesting games in March. Is this what Head Coach Andy Enfield promised when he was hired? Doubtful.
8. UCLA Bruins (16-13, 8): An overtime win over the Trojans could mean the difference for the Bruins when it comes to a postseason tourney bid, even if it is just the NIT. UCLA was 10-9 when it fired Steve Alford; the team has gone just 6-4 since then, and a new coach for 2019-2020 will have a lot of expectations on his shoulders.
9. Stanford Cardinal (15-14, 9): Want some fun stats? The Cardinal shot 62.5 percent from two-point range against the Cougars on Thursday night at home. They also shot 54.2 percent from three-point land in a 98-50 victory. Yet Stanford could manage just a 52.9-percent mark from the free-throw line. Go figure.
10. Utah Utes (15-13, 10): Sweeping the L.A. schools this week would take the bad taste of the last few weeks out of the Utes’ collective mouths. After winning seven of nine to shoot to the top tier of the conference standings, Utah has now lost three of four to become a postseason-“maybe” squad.
11. Washington State Cougars (11-18, 11): Losing to Stanford by 48 points was one thing, but then losing to Cal? The Cougars lost the brief mojo they had from their road sweep in Arizona last month pretty quickly. WSU has now lost three in a row, and with the Oregon schools coming to town this week, it isn’t getting any better.
12. California Golden Bears (7-22, 12): The team of the week pulled off the home sweep against the Washington schools, and what a relief for the Golden Bears! No one wants t go through conference play with an oh-fer effort, and now Cal can cruise into Palo Alto with some confidence for its league finale on Saturday. Cardinal, beware!
What to Watch For Next
The Huskies need to win out, as do the Sun Devils, the Beavers, and the Ducks. Since the the Oregon schools play the Washington schools, something’s gotta give here. In a best-case scenario, all four teams make the NCAA Tournament, but the cookie would have to crumble in some very specific ways to make that happen. Don’t bet on it.
Fearless Prediction(s) of the Week
Oregon State will lose a close game to the Huskies (see what we did there?).
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