Pac-12 Whiparound 4

Pac-12 Whiparound 4: The Rise of the Unmentionables

Ken Pom Rank
Previous Week Ken Pom
Best Win
Worst Loss
Arizona 8-2
Gonzaga (4)
UNLV (111)
Utah 8-2
Wichita State (15)
UCLA (49)
Stanford 7-4
Texas (21)
Washington State (198)
Oregon State 7-4
Arizona (3)
Quinnipiac (153)
Oregon 7-4
Arizona State (44) 2X
Washington State (198)
UCLA 6-5
Stanford (32)
Colorado (86)
Cal 5-6
UCLA (49)
Cal-State Bakersfield (273)
Arizona State 4-6
Arizona (3)
Lehigh (191)
Colorado 4-6
UCLA (49)
Hawaii (147)
Washington State 4-7
Stanford (32)
Idaho (230)
Washington 3-8
Oklahoma (9)
Stony Brook (154)
New Mexico (101)
Portland State (275)

    If there was one theme this week in the conference, it was the rise of the bottom dwellers.  Arizona State showed no pity for the Kitties, beating Arizona in Tempe and finally playing up to its Ken Pom ranking. Would many have guessed before Saturday that Arizona State had a higher Ken Pomeroy ranking than UCLA  ?  That seems to make sense now, as the Sun Devils put a dent in the Wildcats' One-Seed resume and gifted Utah the loss they needed to make the Feb. 26 Showdown in Salt Lake the game that determines the regular season conference title.  California has won four straight games, and just when UCLA was looking up at a potential ascent to third place, the Golden Bears snatched victory away from their UC brethren.  The Oregons enjoyed some home cooking in dispatching the Washingtons, who now occupy the spots previously held by the Sun Devils and Golden Bears.  USC, despite continued lack of wins, is playing better.  They easily could have had a Bay Area sweep with a bit more luck.  Don't expect the Trojans to turn the corner on this season, but they are going to get somebody before it's all said and done.  Credit Andy Enfield with keeping his team together and playing hard despite a long, frustrating season.

Now let's crack that whip!!

1) Arizona:  Coach Sean Miller's crew lost to Arizona State, which as we just discussed wasn't quite the stain many may have thought.  That being said, it's still a loss to a non-Tournament team, and with Gonzaga in the midst of its WCC Fun Run, the 'Cats are going to need a pretty strong finish to hold off both the 'Zags and the 'Utes in the season's final month.  How'd they lose to ASU?  The Wildcats' defense made Wilbur Cringe.  The Sun Devils shot 57% on eFG, overcoming an effective day from Arizona's offense.  The 111 ORtg they hung on Arizona was a far cry from the Kitties' conference best 88.4 DRtg.  ASU got the game at a far faster pace then the Wildcats normally prefer, and it led to a party on Mill Ave. 
Next Up: @The Washingtons, so aside from the travel, just what the doctor ordered for getting healthy. 

2) Utah:  Handled its "rival" Colorado on the road on the strength of its strength:  the three-point shot.  Utah's top-ranked (Pac-12) offense blitzed the Buffaloes, bringing sorrow to Ralphie's day thanks to 13-22 shooting from beyond the arc.  The Utes are the most three-ball dependent team in the league, getting 41% of its points from that shot while shooting a conference-best 43.4%.  Utah also assists on more of its baskets (64%) than any other Pac-12 team.  They now stand as the de facto 2nd place team in the league because of their head-to-head loss to U of A, which they will have a chance to avenge Feb. 26
Next Up:  Hosting the Bay Area schools.  Could be a challenging week, if sliding Stanford finds its own quality three-point shooting and if California remains on a roll.

3) Stanford:  The Cardinal's defense has become an albatross that has kept it playing .500 ball for the better part of a month.  Both its standout players, Anthony Brown and Chasson Randle, seem to be paying the toll for the heavy minutes they've been logging all season.  The Giving Trees continue to hand over the most free throw points per FGA than any team in the conference.  On the plus side, Reid Travis is back, and the team is working him back into the line-up.  Stanford becomes an entirely different team if he becomes a regular contributor.  
Next Up:  A daunting Rocky Mountain Road Trip.  On one hand, it's a huge opportunity for the Cardinal.  A road win at Utah would all but cement its standing as an NCAA Tournament team, and a sweep would bring Stanford to 18 wins.  On the other hand, Stanford faces two of the better defenses in the conference, and elevation is not a good variable for a team with depth issues.  This weekend is going to reveal an awful lot about Stanford's character.

4) Oregon State:  Benny was beaming after a weekend sweep of the Washingtons.  Beaver Nation continues Coach Wayne Tinkle's Pac-12 Coach of the Year Tour and if they can find success in Los Angeles this weekend, they could find themselves squarely on the bubble, buoyed by that win over Arizona and a top third spot in the conference standings.  The Beavs continue to play at the slowest pace in the conference, and their offense is still a struggle.  Their defense remains impressive though and they have the highest defensive TO% in the conference.  
Next Up:  Some California Dreamin'.  Oregon State had a rough go on the road two weeks ago, so we'll see if their game travels this time.  The rematch at Pauley is a big one, but USC is playing better ball, making this a deceivingly difficult trip for both Oregon schools.

5) Oregon:  Puddles was able to get Duck Football Coach Mark Helfrich's extension signed and watch a home sweep of the Washington schools.  Coach Dana Altman's squad has won five of six games, with the only loss being to Arizona at McKale.  On the other hand, four of those five wins came in Eugene.  The Ducks continue to play Blur ball, winning with the fourth-most efficient offense providing a margin for their 10th-rated defense.  Oregon plays at the third-fastest pace in the conference, and they are the second best eFG% team in the Pac-12 as well as the best free throw shooting team.  Defensively, the Ducks struggle to play without fouling.  Oregon's defensive free throw rate of 38% puts them among the three most generous teams in the league.  That's a key factor as they head out on the road. 
Next Up:  The L.A. Swing.  After a track meet with the young Trojans, the Ducks get the chance to sweep UCLA.  It remains to be seen whether the Ducks will defend well enough to win on the road.  Put the two Oregon schools together and you'd have a juggernaut. Both can take big steps towards the Bubble this weekend.

6) UCLA:  The sweep of Stanford had Joe and Josephine Bruin rebuilding the bandwagon for Steve Alford's crew, but the slip-up in Strawberry Canyon marred what would have been a significant weekend for the Baby Bears.  Like Stanford, UCLA has been treading water at 3-3 over the past three weeks.  Unlike Stanford, they don't have the Tournament equity for such a stretch.  At only 14 wins, UCLA needs to get healthy this weekend.  Arizona is their only remaining surefire Tournament opponent, so it's going to have to be quantity, not quality, that gets the Bruins to the Dance.  Poor shooting (46% eFG, 11th in the Pac-12) continues to hurt the Sons of Westwood, while the league's cleanest (lowest FT Rate) and 3rd-most larcenous defense keeps them in games. 
Next Up:  A separation weekend hosting the Oregon schools.  Pretty much a must-sweep lest the Bruins be forced to turn their attention to the NIT.

7) California: "Cuon-zie's" Crew has endured some heart-stopping finishes but emerged unscathed each time.  The four-game winning streak comes right on the heels of a six-game losing streak.  Oski's got some bounce in his step after the home sweep of the L.A. schools.  What's changed for the Golden Bears?  Overall, the needle hasn't really moved too much on either offense or defense.  The Bears ORtg of 95 is 10th in the Pac-12, and their DRtg of 106.4 is 9th.  The four-game win streak can be explained in two parts.  In Washington, Cal's offense went nuclear.  They shot 65% on eFG against UW and 56% against the Cougars.  They came home and were out-shot by both USC and UCLA.  They won both games by winning the turnover battle.  Against the Bruins, the Bears turned the ball over on only 6.9% of their possessions, compared to UCLA's 16.4%.  USC was extraordinarily charitable, turning it over on 22% of its possessions.  Without a consistent thread to this recent uptick, it's hard to see the Bears' good fortune continuing, especially since three of the four wins have come down to the final possession.  Nevertheless, the Bears find themselves far closer to first place than to last, and that's noteworthy when you factor in a six-game losing streak.
Next Up:  The Bears face a stingy Colorado defense before heading to Salt Lake.  Neither the Buffs nor the Utes seem likely to have the defensive meltdowns or the turnover-paloozas that vanquished Cal's previous four opponents, but the Rocky Mountain schools had better not look past The "Cuonz."While a shark-jumping is the most likely result, it's no longer a given.

8) Arizona State: Just when things were looking desolate for Herb Sendek, he turns around and beats Arizona.  Little else matters more to Sparky, but the Devils have won four of their past six to dig themselves out of the conference basement.  ASU will be favored against both Washington schools, an unfamiliar position this season for the Sun Devils.  Savon Goodman was the big hero last Saturday, going for 15 points on 7-9 shooting and also grabbing nine rebounds.  ASU was able to score against Arizona's elite defense, despite getting only modest output from its three-point game. The Sun Devils scored only 26% of its points on three pointers against Wilbur's Warriors.  On the season that number is 33.3%, second highest in the Pac-12.  It will be interesting to see if that performance represents a true shift for ASU, or just a heartwarming desert mirage.  
Next Up:  A great chance to steal two from the Washingtons, who will definitely be amped for the Wildcats but may be tempted to lose focus on the Sun Devils.  A sweep would put ASU further and further away from play-in Wednesday of the Pac-12 Tournament.

9) Colorado:  It's never fun to have your "rival" walk onto your floor and boat race you.  Unfortunately, Colorado was Buffaloed by the Utes last Saturday night.  The Utes bombed Colorado out of the building, and they did so right from the start. The Buffs fell behind 17-7 in the game's first 10 minutes, and then a 23-10 run to start the second half left the outcome doubtless.  Colorado has lost six of eight, with one of the two victories being a triple-overtime win over lowly USC.  Josh Scott returned against Utah and posted a solid 103 rating, scoring 10 points and grabbing 7 rebounds in 23 minutes of burn.  Sadly, as one stalwart Buff returns, another exits, as Askia Booker sat out due to a hip injury.  It's not clear as to when he's coming back at the time of this post.  
Next Up: The Buffs will take turns hosting the Bay Area schools, and they draw the lesser accomplished but hotter of the two in Cal to start the weekend.  Without Booker, Colorado would seemingly have to win a defensive game.  Stanford then shows up for a Sunday matinee.

10) Washington:  Coach Romar's crew is in free fall.  Two weeks ago, I picked them as a team capable of rising up in the Pac-12 standings and making a run, especially with a prestigious win over Oklahoma already in its pocket.  Unfortunately, the loss of Robert Upshaw has brought the wheels off the Husky train.  They are on a five-game losing streak (four since the Upshaw dismissal) and now welcome Arizona to Seattle.  Hec Ed has always been a tough place to play for Arizona, but unless the Huskies are able to bring back vintage Brandon Roy, Nate Washington, and Quincey Pondexter, an upset seems unlikely.  
Next Up:  The Arizona schools at home.  If they don't get ASU on Sunday and fail to upset Arizona, it will be a month since their last win when they step on the court in Pullman to face the Cougars.

11) Washington State:  And speaking of those Cougars, they themselves are in the midst of what would be a seven-game losing streak had it not been for their offensive eruption against Stanford.  Ernie Kent has made them watchable, but it seems as if the glory of the Cougars' recent Bennet-led Renaissance is nowhere near returning in the foreseeable future.  At the heart of WSU's downward spiral is the conference's worst defense (115.9 DRtg).  There's just no way to sustain success in the Pac-12 without guarding.
Next Up:  Hosting the Arizonas.  Forget the Wildcats.  The Sun Devils might be beatable, but it's going to take an inspired offensive effort. 

12) USC:  As we said at the start, the Trojans are playing better. They need to take better care of the ball, but overall their performance in the Bay Area was not embarrassing at all.  
Next Up:  A battle with speedy Oregon who plays at a pace the Trojans enjoy, and a game against Oregon State who couldn't be more of a contrast in style.  Would be surprised, but not stunned, if the Trojans steal one at Galen Center this weekend.

What to Watch: 

Stanford at Utah, Thur. 6PM Pac-12 Networks:  The only match-up of presumed tournament teams this week.  Utah looked very good in Boulder, while the Cardinal has been shaky on the road in conference.  Hard to see Stanford taking this one without BIG games from Randle and Brown.

Oregon State at UCLA Wed. 7PM Pac-12 Networks:  The Beavers have three games left against teams rated higher than themselves.  This may be the most winnable.  A sweep here would be devastating to the Bruins and put a jolt to Oregon State's slim NCAA Tournament hopes.

The Bootleg Top Stories