With the first round of conference games over, here’s a look at where all the teams stand. This will be a continuous post-weekend feature leading up the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas.
1. Arizona (14-0, 2-0) — This team is still the Pac-12’s best shot at a Final Four berth, but a narrow home win over Utah makes the Wildcats look shakier. (The victory over Colorado also featured a controversial finish, but Arizona still fought back from a 16-point deficit before dominating overtime.) Guards Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson have struggled to find their shots in the past three games — 18 of 72 over that span — but both are still getting to the line and converting. Solomon Hill is playing his best ball of the year, averaging 18.3 points and 6.7 rebounds since Christmas. Small forward Kevin Parrom might also be the best sixth man in the country.
2. UCLA (12-3, 2-0) — The Bruins had the benefit of a six-game homestand in pulling off their best winning streak since 2008-09. Seven straight wins is still impressive, but UCLA needs to prove it can finish well on the road too if it wants a shot at conference championship. Knocking off Utah shouldn’t be too difficult, but facing an angry Colorado team will be a good primer for the visit to Arizona on Jan. 24. The good news is that UCLA’s offense can get even better with even some modest defensive improvements. The Bruins rank 245th in the country in forced turnovers.
3. Oregon (12-2, 1-0) — The spots after Arizona are still fluid, and the Ducks do have a slight chance at beating the Wildcats at home on Thursday. Oregon isn’t particularly bad at anything, balancing arguably the conference’s best defense with a diverse offense. The Ducks’ leading scorer, freshman Damyeon Dotson, averages just 11.1 points per game.
4. Colorado (10-4, 0-2) — It’s a little too easy to just give the Buffs a de facto win over Arizona for Sabatino Chen’s waved-off buzzer three; plenty of earlier calls could have turned the game one way or another. That said, Colorado’s performance at the McKale Center was a big statement, and the Buffs are legitimate despite losing to the Sun Devils three days later. Colorado shot just 2 of 19 from the 3-point line in a loss against ASU, easily the worst showing of the year for a team that averages 37.7 percent from downtown.
5. Arizona State (13-2, 2-0) — Getting killed by DePaul at home was embarrassing, but the Sun Devils deserve credit for fending off Colorado after the Buffs choked away a 20-7 start. Jahii Carson, one of the best freshman in the country, didn’t even score until the last six minutes of the game. Carrick Felix struggled as a top option last year after the dismissal of Keala King, but he’s been outstanding so far — averaging 15.1 points and 7.9 rebounds. Jordan Bachynski, who had nine blocks Sunday, could be the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. I’m still worried that: a) Carson will burn out from leading the conference in minutes, or b) the Sun Devils’ poor offensive rebounding will catch up to them. Sunday’s visit to Oregon will be a good litmus test.
6. Cal (9-5, 1-1) — The Bears have a strong backcourt and little else. If either Allen Crabbe or Justin Cobbs have an off-night, Cal will struggle. True freshman Tyrone Wallace is developing well, but another good combo guard doesn’t exactly fill any holes. Cal isn’t very deep, so it could start to tail off hard at the end of the season if Crabbe and Cobbs keep playing 35 minutes a night.
7. Washington (9-5, 1-0) — What happened to Hec Ed? Washington used to be one of the toughest stops in the country, but the Huskies have already dropped four games at home this season. Lorenzo Romar’s team can’t rebound (10th in Pac-12), can’t shoot (10th in FG%) and can’t steal the ball (tied at 11th). Abdul Gaddy leads the team with 3.8 assists per game, but is also averaging 3.4 turnovers.
8. Oregon State (10-4, 0-1) — The Beavers played Kansas close in an 84-78 loss five weeks ago, but any optimism generated then was extinguished with the overtime loss to Towson in late December. Oregon State’s loss to Oregon on Sunday showed the Beavers at their worst — a stagnant offense that rarely screens and a defense that offers little resistance. Forward Devon Collier is probably the team’s best player, but doesn’t touch the ball as often as he should. OSU also has three players shooting over 40 percent on 3-pointers, a number that will normalize.
9. Washington State (9-5, 0-1) — If DaVonte Lacy emerges as a stronger backcourt option, the Cougars will be in better shape. As it stands, Brock Motum is still an All-Pac-12 player, but won’t be able to carry the team on his own. Before WSU’s loss to Washington, the Cougars won seven of their past eight. Those seven opponents have a combined record of 30-66.
10. Stanford (9-6, 0-2) — Johnny Dawkins was so upset at his players that he kept them in the locker room for nearly an hour after their loss to UCLA. The Cardinal look lost on offense, averaging a 0.8 assist-to-turnover ratio over their past three games. Aaron Bright, who shined in the NIT last year (16.8 points, 4.2 assists), has struggled with his 3-point shot — down to 22.2 percent from 43.6 in 2011-12.
11. Utah (8-6, 0-2) — The Utes suffered bad losses in a weak non-conference schedule — Cal State Northridge, Sacramento State, SMU — but they fell to ASU and Arizona by a combined four points this past weekend. Freshman Jordan Loveridge, an undersized power forward with 3-point range, has averaged 16.5 points and 8.0 rebounds over his past four games.
12. USC (6-9, 1-1) — The Trojans might be 5-10 if not for Dwight Powell’s missed dunk at the buzzer of a two-point win over Stanford. That USC avoids turnovers is probably the only good thing about its offense. The team has already eclipsed its win total from last year, but it could very well finish winless on the road.