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Sports >  NCAA

Pac-12 basketball power ratings: UCLA on top, Oregon lurking as conference play ramps up

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 30, 2020

Washington State guard Noah Williams (24) attempts to shoot as Montana State guard Nick Gazelas (2) and forward Finn Fleute (3) look on in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Pullman, Wash.  (Associated Press)
Washington State guard Noah Williams (24) attempts to shoot as Montana State guard Nick Gazelas (2) and forward Finn Fleute (3) look on in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Pullman, Wash. (Associated Press)
By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

The Pac-12 occupied a precarious perch on the college basketball landscape as it transitions to conference-only play this week — and that was before news came late Tuesday morning that Arizona had self-imposed a postseason ban for “serious lapses in judgment” by staff members.

The results to date have been just a tad underwhelming:

— Winless against AP top-25 opponents (in six games).

— Just four victories in 12 games against the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC.

— An 0-3 mark against the Mountain West.

(Okay, so maybe underwhelming wasn’t the best description. Mostly, the results have been awful.)

But the most telling data comes from Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency ratings, which are part of the formula used by the NCAA tournament selection committee.

And guess what: The KenPom ratings aren’t all doom-and-gloom for the conference.

They do, however, suggest vulnerability.

Only one team, No. 17 Oregon, is currently ranked in the top-25, but there are five teams in the No. 26-40 range:

No. 28 UCLA

No. 31 Colorado

No. 34 USC

No. 35 Stanford

Those rankings translate to bubble territory, folks.

(We should add that No. 56 Arizona State and No. 61 Utah are on the outskirts.)

In other words, there is both good and bad in the KenPom numbers:

At least five teams have a realistic chance to make the NCAAs, but four possess little margin for error as the Pac-12 enters the eat-your-own phase of the season.

Frankly, the conference would be better off without parity for the next two months.

It would be better off with a handful of teams absorbing the majority of losses.

That would tip the zero-sum game in favor of the bubble teams.

You want parity and three or four NCAA bids, or competitive imbalance and five or six NCAA bids?

The former is very Pac-12, the latter qualifies as anathema within the footprint.

From here, the answer’s clear.

Forget parity. Bids matter.

1. UCLA (5-2/1-0)

Result: Lost to Ohio State 77-70

Next up: vs. Utah (Thursday)

Comment: Sticking with our preseason pick, but not because the Bruins have looked dominant. They are, it seems, the one-eyed team in the kingdom of the blind.

2. Oregon (6-1/1-0)

Result: Beat Portland 80-41

Next up: vs. Cal (Thursday)

Comment: Season-opening loss to Missouri is the only blemish. Had the duel with UCLA last week not been postponed because of COVID issues with the officials, we would have a much better feel for both teams.

3. Arizona State (4-3/1-0)

Result: Lost to UTEP 76-63

Next up: at Washington State (Thursday)

Comment: We haven’t lost complete faith in the Sun Devils, despite the early missteps. But their defense (No. 79 in KenPom adjusted efficiency) must improve, quickly.

4. Utah (4-1/1-0)

Result: Beat Idaho 79-41

Next up: at UCLA (Thursday)

Comment: Expectations for Larry Krystkowiak’s gang are higher here than elsewhere, but we’ll admit the blowout loss to BYU — sandwiched between wins over cupcakes — is reason for skepticism.

5. Colorado (6-2/0-1)

Result: Lost at Arizona 88-74

Next up: at USC (Thursday)

Comment: Tough stretch for the Buffaloes with the trip to Tucson and then two games in Los Angeles, followed by a home date with Oregon. Better win one of the next three, at least.

6. Stanford (5-2/1-0)

Result: Beat Cal State-Bakersfield 63-50

Next up: at Oregon State (Thursday)

Comment: We expected a first-rate season from Oscar da Silva, but goodness, gracious. If he keeps this up, the Cardinal will contend.

7. Washington State (8-0/1-0)

Result: Beat Northwestern State 62-52

Next up: vs. Arizona State (Thursday)

Comment: Best start in more than a decade, but context is required: WSU’s non-conference strength of schedule is No. 313 in the Pomeroy rankings.

8. Arizona (7-1/1-1)

Result: Beat Colorado 88-74

Next up: at Washington (Thursday)

Comment: Important weekend upcoming for the Wildcats. If they plan to contend, a sweep in Washington — by far the easiest trip — is essential.

9. USC (4-1/0-0)

Results: Beat UC Irvine 91-56

Next up: vs. Santa Clara (Tuesday)

Comment: It cannot be the Mobley Show if the Trojans hope to be relevant. They need consistent contributions from guards Tahj Eaddy and Drew Peterson, as well.

10. Cal (5-4/0-2)

Result: Beat Seattle 70-65

Next up: at Oregon (Thursday)

Comment: The Bears are who we thought they were until proven otherwise. And that proof might be another year or two from announcing itself.

11. Oregon State (4-3/0-1)

Result: Beat Portland State 67-62

Next up: vs. Stanford (Thursday)

Comment: Narrow victories against second-rate non-conference opponents doesn’t bode well for OSU’s ability to compete against first-and-a-half rate conference opponents.

12. Washington (1-6/0-2)

Result: Lost to Colorado 92-69

Next up: vs. Arizona (Thursday)

Comment: Only reason we slotted the Huskies in 12th place is because 13th doesn’t exist.

You can reach Jon Wilner via email at pac12hotline@bayareanewsgroup.com.

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