Before we go any further, let's just all admit that this premise -- ranking the top seven or eight teams in the Pac-12 -- is inherently futile. The distinctions between these teams are minor, if they even exist. Until these standings begin to shake out in the next few weeks, we can't definitively say any one team is significantly better than the three or four teams ranked above or below it. The entire league is either mediocre or downright bad. It's harsh to say, but it's true. The difficulty we have ranking these teams 1-12 only demonstrates as much.
Alas, I can't not turn in my rankings for the week. The show must go on, as they say. So, with all the enthusiasm of a root canal, here are this week's Pac-12 rankings:
I'm keeping these two as a tie at the top of the rankings this week, because, well, that's where they were last Monday, and their results were nearly identical in the seven days since. California lost at Oregon State but won convincingly at Oregon; Stanford lost at Oregon but gutted out a 103-101 four-overtime victory at Oregon State. These rankings are based on both results and observations, and if I had to take a guess, I would still say Cal is the favorite to win this league. They're still the best from a tempo-free, points-per-possession perspective, which is certainly worth noting. So, yeah, they're still at the top. Stanford is right there, too. But neither team is going to run away with this league. Far from it, it seems.
3. Colorado: I have serious doubts about whether Colorado is really this good, but at some point you have to acknowledge the only team still undefeated in conference play. That's Colorado. To be fair, the Buffaloes were impressive last week, particularly in their 87-69 thrashing of a Washington squad that appeared to be finally putting its considerable talent together (and was itself ranked No. 3 last time we tried to make sense of this league). Tad Boyle's team is clearly improved from its early-season struggles, and the 3-0 start has to count for something.
4. UCLA: As Doug Gottlieb wrote this weekend, the Bruins' 65-58 win over Arizona at the Honda Center in Anaheim on Thursday was sneakily impressive, if only because, thanks to the high number of Arizona grads in the Anaheim area, the Bruins could barely call this a home game. The Bruins handled business against Arizona State on Saturday, their only Pac-12 losses came at Cal and at Stanford, and with Josh Smith rounding into shape (no pun intended), this team could emerge as a viable contender in the next few weeks. We'll see.
5. Arizona: The Wildcats' loss to UCLA proved two things: A) For all its struggles this season, UCLA is not going to roll over in Pac-12 play, and B) Arizona is merely another decent but unspectacular Pac-12 team. Barring a sudden uptick in performance from disappointing freshman Josiah Turner, the Wildcats' ceiling appears relatively low.
6. Oregon: The Ducks had the chance to post a pair of positive results in their most recent two-game homestand with Stanford and Cal, two very winnable games. They got the win over Stanford, but laid an absolute egg in a 77-60 blowout to Cal on Sunday night. Like the Dec. 18 home loss to Virginia, this was another missed chance to impress at home. Instead, the Ducks disappointed. Major improvement in the next few weeks seems unlikely. They are what they are. And yeah, we could probably say that for just about every team in this league, but it feels especially appropriate for the very so-so Ducks.
7. Washington: U-Dub fell from No. 3 to No. 7 in this space this week, and you could argue for an even more pronounced slip. The Huskies looked utterly uninspired in their double-digit loss at Colorado, and they barely -- barely! -- got past Utah (57-53 in Salt Lake City). The story on this team is simple: Washington has more talent than any other team in the Pac-12. What it doesn't have is defensive consistency or offensive chemistry, and without either, the Huskies will perform far below the sum of their considerable parts. This might be the nation's most frustrating team. It's certainly one of its most inconsistent.
8. Oregon State: Like their rivals in Eugene, the Beavers had a fantastic opportunity to impress this week, getting a crack at both Stanford and Cal in their own building. And like their rivals in Eugene, Oregon State let one -- in this case Saturday's 103-101 four-OT loss to the Cardinal -- slip away. The Beavers are obviously improved, and they can make some noise in this league going forward, but if they're going to struggle on the road (as they did at Washington State and Washington), they'll have to take care of business against decent teams at home.
9. Washington State: This is where things start to get really ugly. How ugly? Consider this: I have Wazzu ranked No. 9 today despite its loss to Utah. Oh, did you miss that? Because it happened: Washington State lost to Utah. That's a little bit like losing to Tennessee Martin or Houston Baptist, two teams currently ranked higher than the Utes in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings. The Cougars followed that loss with a 71-60 defeat at Colorado, in which their offense -- the strength of this team to date -- scored just 60 points in 63 possessions. Ick.
10. Arizona State: The Sun Devils' season went from bad to worse this weekend, as leading scorer Kaela King -- one of three contributors suspended for ASU's trip to Southern Cal -- was then dismissed from the team. And yet Herb Sendek's team is not ranked No. 11 in these rankings for the first time all season. Wait ... how's that? Because ASU went to USC and got a win -- yes, a win -- in the Galen Center on Thursday night, topping the offensively bereft Trojans 62-53. It's going to be a long few months in Tempe. Cherish the small victories, and all that. Oh, and speaking of USC ...
11. USC: If Utah wasn't a potentially historic brand of awful this season, I would have put USC in the cellar this week. A home loss to Arizona State is bad enough, but the Trojans lost to a fractured, half-suspended Arizona State team on their own floor. USC's sheer inability to score -- it ranks No. 275 in adjusted offensive efficiency right now -- is absolutely killing this team. I thought SC's tough defense and grind-it-out style would serve it well against some of the lesser Pac-12 foes, but the Trojans, now the only winless team in Pac-12 play, are finding new and ever more depressing ways to lose.
12. Utah: I really, really wanted to move Utah up a spot this week, if only to say it happened at least once this season. Alas, a win over Washington State and a tight game with Washington -- encouraging though they may be -- isn't enough to erase the putrid results of the first two months, which put the Utes on track to be one of the worst high-major teams in the past decade. Maybe that isn't the case. Maybe Larry Krystkowiak can get this team moving in a positive direction. Let's hope so. It's only Jan. 8, and haven't Utah fans already suffered enough?