Pac-12 Whiparound 5

A look around the Pac-12 hoops conference as we head into the stretch run

Ken Pom Rank
Previous Week Ken Pom
Best Win
Worst Loss
Arizona 10-2
Gonzaga (5)
UNLV (106)
Utah 10-2
Wichita State (13)
UCLA (45)
UCLA 8-5
Utah (6)
California (126)
Oregon 8-5
UCLA (45) Washington State (198)
Texas (19)
Washington State (198)
Oregon State
Arizona (3) Quinnipiac (156)
Cal 6-7
145 UCLA (45) Cal-State Bakersfield (266)
Arizona State 5-7
Arizona (3) Lehigh (193)
Colorado 5-7
86 Stanford (37) Hawaii (128)
Washington State 5-8
Stanford (37) Idaho (217)
Washington 3-10
93 Oklahoma (9)
Stony Brook (149)
Oregon State (89)
Army (270)

    The Conference of Champions (Last MBB NCAA Champion: 1997) emerged this week with three very clearly defined tiers, and with Sunday Night's SNL 40th Anniversary Show still fresh in my mind (and possibly still going on), we're going to theme each team's whiparound shout-out this week.

1.  "I'm Chevy Chase, and you're not."  There may not have been a more obviously self-assured performer in show history than Chevy.  Coach Sean Miller's crew has earned the right to be arrogant, though he'd vehemently dispute that.  Arizona spent the past weekend going Genghis Khan all over the state of Washington.  After blasting Washington by 24 in Seattle, the Wildcats went to Pullman and just eviscerated the Cougars, opening up a lead that grew larger than 30 before ennui took over and forced them to settle for a 27-point throttling.  These results are not at all unexpected, but they allowed the 'Cats to pace their pursuers from Salt Lake.  We are running out of superlatives to describe this team, but consider this:  Arizona's lowest ranked player in terms of offensive efficiency is Brandon Ashley at 107.  The D-1 average for teams is 102. 
Next Up: The L.A. Schools come to Tucson.  After dismantling USC on Thursday night, Sean Miller's crew will face its toughest test since losing to the Sun Devils.  UCLA should get Arizona's attention for the full 40, but after watching them this week, the question is, do the Bruins really want their attention for 40 minutes?

2. "Not gunna do it."  Lose at home? Lose ground to Arizona? Dana Carvey's President Bush the Elder could have spoken for the Utes this week.  Larry Krystkowiak's Krew spent the week dissecting the Bay Area schools, charitably playing a competitive half against each before returning in the second half to dismember and disembowel the Bears and Cardinal with the cold, savage precision of a samurai warrior.  Hey wait, is it too late to change my SNL-motif for the Utes?  Yeah, probably.  Bottom line is that Utah held serve at Huntsman Center mainly by remaining the conference's most efficient offense.  What's scary for future Ute opponents?  They didn't even need their league-best three-point shooting game to sweep their opponents.  Utah got only 24% of its points from that shot, when on the season they get 39% of their points from the Land of Plenty.  Despite that drop-off, they managed to post ORtg's of 114 and 119, respectively, against Stanford and Cal. 
Next Up: 
A road trip to the Oregons.  We're getting closer and closer to the Showdown in Salt Lake with Arizona, and at this point the only real threat to either team is a one-day loss of focus.  This road trip hasn't been easy for anybody, though, so the Utes will need to continue their excellence if they are going to get a road sweep.

3.  "We're good enough, we're smart enough, and doggone it, people like us." The Bruins may have needed a series of Stuart Smalley pep talks, first when they were absolutely scorched by Kentucky and then after being swept on the road against the Rocky Mountain Schools and the Oregon Schools.  One can only assume Smalley's trademark powder-blue sweater comforted the Bruins, who since that sweep in Oregon have won five of their last six and along with the Ducks are now tied for second in the conference.  These two teams are at the top of the bloated Pac-12 middle. UCLA remains the conference's best offensive rebounding team, and now have crept up to the top third of the defenses in the conference.  Bolstering the Bruin defensive effort is the cleanest defense in the conference.  UCLA allows the fewest free throws per field goal attempt in the league. 
Next Up: 
The Bruins head to the desert, first for a deceptively difficult game against the Sun Devils, and then a house-money game against Arizona.  If the Bruins somehow can sweep, they will have transformed remarkably from non-participant to playing for NCAA Tournament seeding over the final two weeks of the season.

4. "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?" Ok, this is a bit of a cheat, but the line is spoken by my all-time favorite SNL alum and it was ostensibly uttered in Eugene, Oregon.  The Ducks went to Tucson and were obliterated (are we sensing a theme here re:  McKale Center and Huntsman Center?) by Arizona by 34 points.  Coach Dana Altman's team rebounded nicely and has won four of its last five.  Oregon's only loss came on Valentine's to UCLA. The Ducks' 10th-rated defense betrayed them, allowing the Bruins to post an ORtg of 120 for the game.  Oregon lacks an elite win, which may currently be hamstringing its Tournament hopes, but with a chance to go well above 20 wins, it'd be hard to exclude them if they can avoid any bad losses (Colorado, Cal, Oregon State). 
Next Up: 
The Ducks host the Rocky Mountain Schools.  Oregon faces a legit trap game Wednesday with the Buffaloes coming to town.  Colorado will test Oregon's offense now that the Buffs are at the healthiest they've been all season.  Survive that, and the Ducks get a shot at a resume-defining win at Matt Arena against Utah.

5.  "You're gonna be living in a VAN down by the RIVER!!!!!!!"- No team needs a Matt Foley motivational speech like slumping Stanford.  The Cardinal has had some crucial injuries and with fatigue setting in on their stellar backcourt of Chasson and Randle and Anthony Brown (13-47 FG over the weekend), a 3-5 month has knocked it out of the NCAA Tournament at the moment.  The Cardinal couldn't guard against Utah, and it couldn't rebound against Colorado.  Those have been problems all season, but they have been mitigated by excellent offense.  That offense never made the Rocky Mountain road trip, and as a result, Stanford now faces four consecutive elimination games before its season-finale against Arizona. 
Next Up: 
A desperately needed week respite before a Come to Jesus Meeting with Cal at Maples Pavilion.  Drop that or any of the next three, and the Cardinal will be forced to do some serious extra credit work in Las Vegas to play its way back to The Big Dance.

6.  "I've got a fever!  And the only prescription is more Cowbell."  Or, more Cow Valley, in the case of Beaver Nation.  Coach Wayne Tinkle's crew continues to dominate at home (14-0 at Gill Colisuem) but after enduring its second consecutive winless road weekend, the Beavs now stand at 1-6 in Pac-12 play away from home.  That will surely be what undoes OSU's Tournament dreams, but it shouldn't detract from what inevitable Coach of the Year winner Tinkle has done in just one year on the job in Corvallis.  Yes, Oregon State did suffer the indignity of losing to USC, and in that game they could muster a cringe-inducing, children-hiding ORtg of 74.3  That continues to be the story/formula for the Beavs:  hard defense, a grinding pace, and pray for some offense.  It's been enough at home, but not anywhere else so far. 
Next Up: 
The Beavs look to slay another giant  when the Utah Monolith comes to town, followed by Colorado.  Given the home slate, it'd be a great feather in Benny's cap (Headband?) if the Beavs run the table at Gill.

7.  "Superstar!!"  Not since Mary Katherine Gallagher has their been an ascent as unexpected as the one the Golden Bears are currently enjoying.  "Cuonzie" has his gang on a legit roll, with a loss at Utah the only besmirching of a five-game winning streak.  The Bears still haven't really crafted a sustainable formula, as they remain close to the bottom in both offense and defense.  Somehow I don't think anybody in Strawberry Canyon is protesting (at least not about that).  Jabari Bird has become more of a contributor for the Bears, though he is still fighting through inconsistency over the Bears' last six games.  In Cal's last victory, they posted a 105 ORtg on their way to building a 21-point lead against a stingy Colorado defense.  That lead became a seven-point victory for the Bears, who while still a very long shot, have some resume building opportunities on the horizon. 
Next Up:
A visit to Maples to face their reeling rivals on the Peninsula.  This would be Cal's best win of the year based on the KenPom ratings. and it would also be a huge shovel-full of dirt into the grave of what had been a very promising season for the Cardinal.

8.  "Remember that time you beat Arizona?  That was AWESOME." Arizona State earned its signature victory of the year by beating hated rival Arizona.  However, that seems to be the Sun Devils' one moment in time for this season.  That victory sits squarely in the center of a 3-3 stretch for the Sun Devils, who followed up that big win in Tempe by proceeding to lose to the lowly Cougars.  This phase of mediocrity actually represents an overall up-turn in the Sun Devils' Pac-12 season.  After starting conference play 0-4, they are 5-3 since.  At this point, they are playing to avoid Play-In Wednesday at the MGM Grand.
Next Up: 
Hosting the L.A. Schools.  As the non-Arizona half of the Desert Swing, the Sun Devils are pretty much constantly in a position to ambush opponents.  That may be the case as UCLA comes to town tonight in advance of its weekend in Tucson.  Despite shooting a very respectable 51% eFG, ASU has been undone by being the team with the highest turnover percentage (21%) in conference play.

9.  "You bet your b***s it's Neil Diamond." After slogging through an injury-filled season that had left it for dead, Colorado was at full strength last Sunday and the Buffs' defense and tenacity on the offensive boards was enough to outlast Stanford in a game that probably should never be re-watched by children.  The win vs. Stanford ended a three-game losing streak.  The Buffs have gone on a Pac-12 Tournament run before, and that appears to be their only hope of NCAA qualifying. That notwithstanding, they could be a tough out moving forward with their full complement of players. 
Next Up: 
Colorado visits the Oregon schools.  The game against OSU may very well end in the 40's, and feel like it was being played in that decade as well.  The game against the high-powered Oregon offense will be a test for Colorado's defense.

10. "And now, the Pullman Elks Club is proud to present....Nick the Lounge Singer." Like a crooner in the twilight of his career, Ernie Kent continues to press on in the conference's furthest most outpost.  WSU has been able to sporadically jump up and slay an unfocused visitor or three (Oregon, Stanford, Arizona State), and that should be more than enough as a first season resume for Cougar fans.  Further progress is going to have come by improving the Pac-12's worst defense, which allows the highest eFG in the league at 54% and forces the least amount of turnovers.
Next Up:  The Cougars get a week off to ready for the arrival of the hated Huskies.  A WSU sweep would give the citizens of Pullman bragging rights over all those Husky fans who come to Pullman to....umm....

11. "Jane, you ignorant mutt."  This is a family-friendly whiparound, so please allow the content editing.  Point:  Washington's season was undone when the team dismissed center Robert Upshaw from the team.  Without him, the team has lost six in a row.  The Husky defense has plummeted to 11th in the conference, and without Upshaw to clean up the glass, Washington allows the highest OReb rate (33.2%) in the conference.  Counterpoint:  With Upshaw, this team was only 3-3 in conference and lost to Stony Brook.  Verdict:  There's no way they'd be this far down in the standings with him, and the win against Oklahoma suggests there was potential to the Husky season, but this team probably wouldn't be challenging Arizona or Utah even at full strength.  Kudos to Coach Romar though for holding his ground and absorbing a very difficult season in the aftermath of the Upshaw deletion.
 Next Up:  A lovely trek across the state to face the Cougars.  If pride is enough motivation, this should be a high-scoring affair that the UW can steal.  If they've mailed it in, they may end up leaving the Cougars' Den and doing the walk of shame back home.

12.  "Well, isn't that special?"  USC had been playing better ball for a while, though the Trojans had no wins to show for it.  That changed in their last game, a 68-55 victory over the Beavers.  The Trojans continue to play at the league's most frenetic pace, even though that pace has produced the second-least efficient offense in the Pac-12. USC was able to follow this "formula" to victory on Sunday.  They produced a sad 91.9 ORtg, and turned the ball over on a whopping 26% of their possessions.  Oregon State's horrendous 37% eFG shooting is really what secured victory for Troy, though that's more a comment on the struggling offense of Beaver Nation than any newfound SC defensive prowess. 
Next Up: 
The Trojans reward for victory is a trip to Sean Miller's Basketball Camp.  Expect an extensive display of how to defend, pass, shoot, and score that should make for quite the learning experience in Tucson.  This would be an upset on an incomprehensible scale, so let's just focus on the back end:  a trip to Tempe to play the Sun Devils.  Can't quite call this one "winnable," but it's definitely "compete-ible."

Games of the Week:  Thursday, 2/19 Utah at Oregon State, 8:00 PM Pac-12 Networks:  This shouldn't be a game, except that the Beavers are perfect at Gill, and Arizona's already come through town, so that record can't be dismissed.  Utah should be a massive favorite, but this is the most likely chance for the Big Two to be upset, so it's at least worth checking Thursday night.

Saturday, 2/21 California at Stanford, 3:30 PM Pac-12 Networks:  "Cuonzie's" confidence meet Dawkins' desperation in a Saturday matinee.  Stanford has ridden a promising season almost completely off the rails, and Cal's improvement has left it little margin for error as the calendar turns towards march.  Former coach of both schools Mike Montgomery on the call should make for an interesting listen, and it's hard to imagine this game not going down to the wire.

Saturday, 2/21 UCLA at Arizona, 6:00 PM ESPN: Very recently the glamour game in the conference, this one now stands as UCLA's best shot at securing an NCAA bid prior to the Pac-12 Tournament.  The win over Utah and a roadie over Arizona would give the Bruins arguably the best combination of wins in the conference, with the only the 'Cats' pair over Utah and Gonzaga even comparable.

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