Ten Pac-12 men’s basketball teams got through their nonconference schedules with winning records.
Seven teams last year made either the NCAA (four) or NIT (three) tournaments. That seems well within reach, though some early season back steps could keep the conference from getting more than four to March Madness.
Arizona State, picked sixth in the preseason media poll, has caught the media spotlight with a 12-0 start that’s included wins against Kansas and Xavier.
Stanford, voted fifth, is at the other end of the spectrum. The Cardinal is off to a 6-7 start along with rival California. Both have some bad losses.
Oregon State remains a question mark without a quality power conference win. The next two games will provide a clearer picture.
Here are my power rankings as conference play opens this week.
1. Arizona State (12-0)
Best win: 95-85 at Kansas
Worst loss: none
It’s hard to pick a best win for the third-ranked Sun Devils, who also beat Xavier 102-86 in Las Vegas in November. They’re scoring 91.8 points per game (with senior Tra Holder leading the way at 21.3) and shooting 50.8 percent from the field in equaling the best national ranking in program history. Saturday’s game in Tucson is must-see TV.
2. Arizona (10-3)
Best win: 67-64 vs. Texas A&M in Phoenix
Worst loss: 90-84 to North Carolina State in Bahamas
The 17th-ranked Wildcats have bounced back from three straight losses over Thanksgiving to win seven in a row, including a 15-point home victory against UConn last week. Freshman big man Deandre Ayton (19.5 points, league-best 11.4 rebounds) is looking hard to stop. Junior guard Alonzo Trier (21.2 points) is no slouch.
3. UCLA (9-3)
Best win: 83-75 vs. Kentucky in New Orleans
Worst loss: 77-63 vs. No. 21 Cincinnati
The Bruins really have no bad losses. Two are to current AP Top 25 teams. Junior guard Aaron Holiday (17.6 points, 5.6 assists) leads a reloaded squad.
4. Oregon (10-3)
Best win: 95-84 vs. Portland State
Worst loss: 71-63 to Connecticut in Portland
The Ducks, leading the league in field goal percentage defense (38.5), are still a work in progress. Freshman forward Kenny Wooten has played a big part early. He leads the Pac-12 in field goal percentage (75.0) and blocks (3.2).
5. Utah (8-3)
Best win: 77-59 vs. Missouri
Worst loss: 85-58 at UNLV
The Utes are a sleeper team. They lost a big-time talent in Kyle Kuzma to the NBA but are certain to pull off some upsets. Utah leads the conference in free-throw percentage (77.7) and scoring defense (67.9 ppg).
6. USC (9-4)
Best win: 98-87 vs. UC Santa Barbara
Worst loss: 103-93 OT vs. Princeton
The Trojans aren’t off to the hot start that some expected considering their load of experience. But there’s still time for a team looking for a third-straight NCAA trip.
7. Washington (10-3)
Best win: 74-65 vs. Kansas at Kansas City
Worst loss: 103-79 vs. Virginia Tech in New York City
The Huskies pulled the upset against the Jayhawks under new coach Mike Hopkins, but they also have blowout losses to Virginia Tech and Gonzaga. A trip to Los Angeles this weekend is a big hill to climb.
8. Colorado (8-4)
Best win: 112-103 2 OT vs. South Dakota State
Worst loss: 80-73 vs. Iowa in Sioux Falls, Iowa
The Buffaloes played a challenging nonconference schedule, which included dates with Xavier, South Dakota State and Iowa. Friday’s game in Corvallis will be a good test for both.
9. Washington State (8-4)
Best win: 84-79 at St. Mary’s
Worst loss: 76-69 at UTEP
The Cougars have cooled off after a 6-0 start. Losses to Idaho and UTEP don’t help postseason chances.
10. Oregon State (8-4)
Best win: 99-82 home vs. Southern Utah
Worst loss: 79-78 at Kent State
Sophomore forward Tres Tinkle (18.2 points, 7.2 rebounds) is a big reason the Beavers have won some games. He’ll need some consistent help if they want a few more. Better 3-point shooting would be a plus.
11. Stanford (6-7)
Best win: 73-59 vs. Northeastern
Worst loss: 67-61 vs. Eastern Washington
The Cardinal returned its top three scorers and a ton of experience. But junior Reid Travis (league-leading 21.4 points) can only do so much. Senior wings Dorian Pickens and Marcus Sheffield, significant contributors last season, have played two and zero games, respectively, this year due to foot injuries.
12. California 6-7
Best win: 63-62 at San Diego State
Worst loss: 74-66 vs. UC Riverside
The Bears lost their top five scorers off last year’s NIT team and didn’t do much to replace them. Junior guard Don Coleman (20.5 points) is carrying a big load after averaging 4.6 in a reserve role last season. Cal has arguably the Pac-12’s three worst losses in Riverside, NCAA Division II Chaminade (by 24) and Central Arkansas (by 27).