The Pac-12 is far from the best league in college basketball, but it will certainly be one of the most competitive. The difference in teams ranked between No. 2 and No. 12 isn’t all that huge, which should definitely make for some entertaining games over the next few months. Here’s a look at the Pac-12 power rankings entering conference play.
1. Arizona. The Wildcats are one of the country’s most talented teams, and also one of the toughest. Ten days after coming from behind to defeat Florida in the waning seconds, Sean Miller’s squad won a 68-67 thriller over No. 17 San Diego State that wasn’t decided until the game’s final shot. Arizona opens Pac-12 play against Colorado on Jan. 3 in Tucson.
2. Colorado. The Buffaloes host Hartford on Saturday before hitting the road to face Arizona and Arizona State next week. Andre Roberson ranks fourth in the country in rebounds with 11.9 points per game. Freshmen Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson have played well but need to continue to do so to improve.
3. Oregon. The well-balanced Ducks have six players averaging between nine and 12 points. That includes senior forward Tony Woods, whose scoring average (10.8) is the highest of his career. Oregon hosts Nevada on New Year’s Eve.
4. UCLA. The Bruins have won four in a row and now have a chance to make a huge statement against No. 7 Missouri on Friday night in Westwood. UCLA is 9-3, but its best victory is against Texas. Shabazz Muhammad is averaging 24.3 points in his past three games.
5. Oregon State. The Beavers will finish 7-0 in December if they defeat Towson (Saturday) and Texas-Pan American (Monday). Even though they haven’t been against top-tier opponents, the wins should give Craig Robinson’s squad tons of confidence as it enters Pac-12 play.
6. Cal. Allen Crabbe (20.4) and Justin Cobbs (16.5) are averaging more than half of the Golden Bears’ 72.4 points per game. Cal failed to pick up a quality win against nonconference competition and will likely be an NCAA tournament bubble team if it finishes in the top four or five in Pac-12 play.
7. Stanford. Even though it didn’t come against an NCAA tournament-caliber team, Stanford’s victory at Northwestern last week could help the Cardinal down the road. Johnny Dawkins’ squad needs to capitalize on that momentum in winnable Pac-12 road games at USC (Thursday) and UCLA (Jan. 5).
8. Arizona State. Freshman Jahii Carson is blossoming into one of the top point guards in the country, regardless of age. He’s averaging a team-high 17.9 points and 5.3 assists for a team that has a legitimate chance to finish in the upper half of the Pac-12 standings.
9. Washington. The Huskies have won four in a row and six of their past seven, but nothing would create momentum like a victory at Connecticut on Saturday. The contest will mark the beginning of a four-game road swing for Lorenzo Romar’s squad, which opens Pac-12 play at Washington State, Cal and Stanford.
10. Washington State. Three of the Cougars’ four losses have come by a combined five points. They’d be on a seven-game win streak if not for a two-point setback against Gonzaga. Brock Motum averages 19.9 points.
11. Utah. The Utes enter Friday’s game against Idaho toting losses in two of their past three contests. Things will only get tougher in the Pac-12, as Utah’s first two games (against Arizona and Arizona State) are on the road.
12. USC. The Trojans are in a world of hurt. One of the nation’s most difficult nonconference schedules has squelched USC’s energy and put coach Kevin O’Neill squarely on the hot seat. Talent-wise, this is the fourth- or fifth-best team in the league. There’s no excuse for the Trojans to be this bad.