Pac-12 men’s basketball is as competitive as it’s ever been since the conference expanded to a dozen schools nine years ago.
The regular-season winner the past six seasons has had no more than four losses. That’s possible but unlikely this year. Only once since the expansion has the top team had more than four defeats.
Colorado is in first at 8-3 with four weeks still to play. The next three teams have four losses and the three after that have five.
Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and USC were all 6-3 at the midway point of their conference schedules with Arizona State, Stanford and UCLA close behind at 5-4.
Teams that appear out of reach of the conference title will almost certainly have a say in determining the regular-season champion.
Those that started last week in the bottom half of the conference standings went 4-1 against the top half, with the only loss being California’s 71-65 defeat at Colorado. Arizona State got two such victories, at home against the L.A. schools, which remain in the top half.
Here are my weekly power rankings.
1. COLORADO 19-5, 8-3 Pac-12 (Last week: 3)
Last week: 71-65 home win vs. California; 81-74 home win vs. Stanford
This week: At Oregon, Thursday; at Oregon State, Saturday
The 16th-ranked Buffaloes are chasing the program’s first Pac-12 regular-season title. They’ve never finished better than a tie for third. Thursday’s game in Eugene is the only one this week matching teams currently among the top six in the Pac-12 standings.
2. OREGON 18-6, 7-4 (1)
Last week: 63-53 loss at Oregon State
This week: Home vs. Colorado, Thursday; home vs. Utah, Sunday
The No. 17 Ducks are missing an inside presence in a big way, as displayed at Gill last Saturday. Oregon has been held to 40% shooting or worse in five conference games.
3. ARIZONA 16-7, 6-4 (2)
Last week: 85-80 home win vs. USC; 65-52 home loss to UCLA
This week: At California, Thursday; at Stanford, Saturday
The Wildcats slipped up in a big way against UCLA after wins in five of six games, including two on the road. But a second straight road sweep is well within reach.
4. ARIZONA STATE 15-8, 6-4 (7)
Last week: 84-66 home win vs. UCLA; 66-64 home win vs. USC
This week: At Stanford, Thursday; at California, Sunday
The Sun Devils are surging after a 1-3 conference start. Arizona State is 18-10 in the Pac-12 the past two seasons after going 20-34 in Bobby Hurley’s first three years in Tempe.
5. USC 17-7, 6-5 (4)
Last week: 85-80 loss at Arizona; 66-64 loss at Arizona State
This week: Home vs. Washington, Thursday; home vs. Washington State, Saturday
Two close road losses to fellow NCAA hopefuls are only minor speed bumps for the Trojans. A home sweep against opponents struggling on the road will have them right back on track.
6. UCLA 13-11, 6-5 (5)
Last week: 84-66 loss at Arizona State; 65-52 win at Arizona
This week: Home vs. Washington State, Thursday; home vs. Washington, Saturday
With the win at Tucson, the Bruins have as many Pac-12 road wins (three) as anybody else. Winning two this week will put them securely in the top half of the standings.
7. WASHINGTON STATE 14-10, 5-6 (9)
Last week: 79-67 home win vs. Washington
This week: At UCLA, Thursday; at USC, Saturday
If the Cougars are to contend for a top-half spot, they’ll have to win on the road. They’re 0-4 and three of the losses have come against teams in the bottom half.
8. OREGON STATE 14-9, 4-7 (10)
Last week: 63-53 home win vs. Oregon
This week: Home vs. Utah, Thursday; home vs. Colorado, Saturday
The Beavers have left no doubt that they can beat anybody in the conference. Outside of winning the Pac-12 tournament, OSU’s remaining chances of making the NCAA bracket must include a strong showing this week.
9. UTAH 14-9, 5-6 (11)
Last week: 64-56 OT home win vs. Stanford; 60-45 home win vs. California
This week: At Oregon State, Thursday; at Oregon, Sunday
The Utes are one of four Pac-12 teams without a conference road win (Cal and the Washington schools are the others). But they come to the Willamette Valley with some momentum after allowing just 101 points in 85 minutes last week.
10. STANFORD 16-7, 5-5 (6)
Last week: 64-56 OT loss at Utah; 81-74 loss at Colorado
This week: Home vs. Arizona State, Thursday; home vs. Arizona, Saturday
The Cardinal are in a free fall, dropping five of six since a 4-0 start. There’s no timeline yet on the return of Oscar da Silva, who suffered a frightening head injury early in the second half against Colorado.
11. CALIFORNIA 10-13, 4-6 (8)
Last week: 71-65 loss at Colorado; 60-45 loss at Utah
This week: Home vs. Arizona, Thursday; home vs. Arizona State, Sunday
Winless in seven road games, the Bears had maybe their best performance away from home in Boulder. They have four of the next six at home.
12. WASHINGTON 12-12, 2-9 (12)
Last week: 79-67 loss at Washington State
This week: At USC, Thursday; at UCLA, Saturday
Freshman big man Isaiah Stewart has been a bright spot for the fading Huskies. He’s averaging 17.7 points, while shooting 57% from the field, along with 8.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks.
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