The Pac-12 is asserting itself as one of the better basketball conferences in the country. After five years as a mid-majors in wolfs' clothing, the Conference of Champions has finally replenished the exodus of talent that left in the 2007 and 2008 NBA drafts. It's great that the Pac-12 is starting to once again get some national respect, but with conference play beginning tomorrow, it's no longer time for the fans to hold hands, sing Kumbaya and pretend to root for each other's school in the hopes of pleasing the RPI gods.
Starting tomorrow, all that matters is how the teams stack up in conference.
Here's where we're at so far.
- No. 1 Arizona (13-0) -- The Wildcats have the conference's best win, a 72-66 win over fresh-faced freshman phenom Jabari Parker and No. 7 Duke. They're easily the most athletic team in the conference and are an early favorite to contend for a national title. Looks like there's life After Lute, after all.
- No. 10 Oregon (12-0) -- I'll be honest, I don't think Arizona really is the best team in the conference. I don't think in a gloves-off, winner-take-all contest on a neutral court they could hang with Oregon. In fact, I bet the Ducks would beat them by 10. I gave the nod to Arizona because they've earned it thus far but until proven otherwise Oregon is the best-coached, most balanced team on the coast and it ain't close. Just wait until next year when coach Dana Altman gets presumptive No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins and reigning Big 12 Player of the Year Marcus Smart to transfer in. And don't quote your NCAA transfer rules at me, buddy. When have NCAA rules ever stopped the Ducks from doing anything?
- No. 20 Colorado (11-2) -- Wait, when did Colorado become cool? When they beat Kansas, that's when. Actually it dates back two seasons ago when the Buffaloes and a traveling student section won the Pac-12 tournament. But I digress. The Buffaloes beat the Jayhawks and had respectable performances against Baylor and Oklahoma State. They're pretty good, and we better get used to it.
- Arizona State (11-2) -- I may buy a knockoff Jahii Carson jersey while I'm in Tempe. And I'll be doing it unbiasedly. He's just that good. In all seriousness, he and Shaq McKissic and Jermaine Marshall make up arguably the best backcourt in the conference. Throw in double-double extraordinaire Jordan Bachynski and the Sun Devils will be hellish on opponents.
- UCLA (11-2) -- The Pac-12 can't truly return to national prominence without UCLA so get with it, Bruins. UCLA is back in the sense that it has a ton of future NBA players on its roster. Now the Bruins have to take the underrated step of actually beating good teams.
- Stanford (9-3) The Cardinal have the talent -- particularly in the post -- to beat anyone in the conference. But losing Aaron Bright for the season won't help Stanford, who are still a notch below the cream of the conference's crop.
- Cal (9-4) Oh, poor Cal. The Golden Bears were so looking forward to a respite from their dismal football season. Then All-American freshman Jabari Bird got hurt as did premiere perimeter-defender Ricky Kreklow. Here's hoping to a speedy recovery for both, lest Mike Montgomery call timeout on the season.
- USC (9-4) Meh. USC is the very definition of an "8" team in a major conference. A couple decent wins over Boston College and Xavier, a couple bad losses to Long Beach State and Utah State. The conference needs teams like USC. If it didn't have it, we'd have to call it the Pac-11.
- Oregon State (8-4) I'll be honest, I really like Craig Robinson. I had a great time talking to him at Pac-12 Media Day. So it pains me to say this but the Beavers should be better. Devon Collier and Roberto Nelson are players and Oregon State hasn't yet played anyone that it should have lost to based on talent.
- Washington (8-5) Things aren't right in Romarville. The Huskies have some interesting pieces, but losing the most interesting one -- Jernard Jarreau -- for the season was a bummer. C.J. Wilcox can catch fire and keep the Huskies in any game, and the team has enough raw talent to surge out to early leads over San Diego State and UCONN. But they lost both games, as well as a couple other ugly games, and seem destined for their worst season in years.
- Washington State (7-5) The Cougars would be one spot higher if not for the current malady afflicting DaVonte Lacy. But the Cougars will likely be without their leading scorer when they take No.'s 1 and 4 on this list. Gulp.
WALL OF SHAME Utah (11-1) OK. I grew up going to Evergreen State College basketball games. Occasionally, the NAIA school would schedule an NCAA Division-II team and it was a big deal. WHY is Utah playing them? WHY are they playing, ahem, "St. Katherine's"? Deadspin does a nice job explaining WHY. Don't let the Utes' shameful record fool you; they have not beaten anyone of note and their single loss was to Boise State. The Utes do not get to be a part of this list. Everyone in this conference is worse for them having played those teams. I award them no points and may God have mercy on their soul.