So far, the Pac-12 has looked surprisingly good. By which, I mean the conference has basically avoided any bad losses (USC's loss to Portland State is probably the only one so far) and as a whole, looked better than expected in doing it, albeit against generally weak competition.
Starting today, however, virtually the entire conference will be playing in one of the various early-season tournaments, which means plenty of nationally-televised, neutral-court games against power conference opponents where the Pac-12 will have ample opportunities not just to avoid bad losses, but to pick up attention-grabbing quality wins.
1. California will be playing in the 2K Classic at MSG in New York. Tonight they play a top-25 Syracuse team in a pseudo-road game and then will play either Texas or Iowa on Friday, ensuring another top-25 opponent. Cal has looked surprisingly good so far. Tyrone Wallace seems like he's blossoming into a complete package player, while Jordan Matthews and Jabari Bird are both terrific shooters. Even one win and it will be time to take Cal seriously.
2. USC will be playing in one of the lower level tournaments in Charleston, South Carolina, starting right now with three games over four days. It's a pretty poor field, playing in relative obscurity, which could help USC since they've looked very shaky so far. Jordan McLaughlin seems like the real deal, but he's surrounded by little talent and little basketball IQ. Katin Reinhardt looks and plays like some bizarre cross between Taylor King and Marshall Henderson. It makes perfect sense now why BRO's Greg Hicks was so dismissive of the idea of Reinhardt ever playing for UCLA.
3. On Friday, Stanford has a real chance to have a strong showing at the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in Brooklyn. They play a UNLV team that so far makes it very believable that UCLA beat them by 40 points in a secret, pre-season scrimmage, and then would presumably play Duke on Saturday. I doubt Stanford can beat Duke, but the game might not end up as the blow-out some might imagine. Stanford has a good mixture of youth and experience, athleticism and size. The only thing really holding the Cardinal back is the head coach, Johnny Dawkins, but that's a pretty critical, negative factor when you have such an ineffectual coach. They haven't looked particularly good so far this year, however, and it might not even be a given they make the NCAAs. These two games should give a real indication of what direction they might go.
4. On Monday, Arizona starts play in the Maui Classic for three games in three days. This is one of the worst, if not the worst, Maui Invitational fields I've ever seen. It's very possible as few as two or three teams from the field make the NCAAs -- which means Arizona should pretty much have a victory lap over their three games. Their first game is against a Missouri team that has already lost at home to Missouri-Kansas City. Then it's likely a semi-decent Kansas State team that Arizona will be expected to handle. Their final is lined up to be a rematch against an over-rated San Diego State (the only other ranked team in the field), but it's possible BYU sneaks in there instead. Arizona has looked (surprisingly to me at least) similar to last year with seemingly the same offensive issues you would have presumed they might have improved from with their new personnel and the return of Brandon Ashley. Yet their defense and cohesiveness are not on a level to where they were last year. I don’t think these games will really test them even with that being the case, but it could be interesting if they aren’t focused.
5. Meanwhile Arizona State starts the CBE Classic in Kansas City on Monday against Maryland, and then either Alabama or a good Iowa State on Tuesday. Without going into more detail, so far ASU looks like a team that's going to have some trouble this year. A win against any of those opponents would be an accomplishment for them. More likely, however, that tournament gives us a better glimpse into how tough UCLA's game at Alabama next month will be.
6. Oregon starts the Legends Classic in Brooklyn on Monday as well as against Michigan. Oregon looked like a team with some cobbled-together talent and athleticism (seemingly a typical Altman team at Oregon), but also one that is holding on by a thread and could fold against stiffer competition and won't hold up over the entire season. They would play Villanova or VCU on Tuesday and those all look like tough match-ups. If Oregon can get one win from their trip, it'll be an accomplishment, but don't write them off completely even if they lose both games.
7. Oregon State also starts on Monday in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. They would play Oklahoma State and then either Tulsa or Auburn on Wednesday. Like Arizona State's tournament, these are not great teams, but Oregon State is a dramatically depleted team right now, so not much can be expected. (The good news for this program is a new coaching staff and a terrific recruiting class on its way.)
8. UCLA will, of course, play in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas starting Wednesday against Oklahoma. This is a ridiculously stacked field, so much so that it's debatable whether it would be better -- from an NCAA resume standpoint -- for UCLA to lose to Oklahoma and then try and win two games in the losers bracket against some of the (relatively) lesser teams.
9. Washington will be playing in the Wooden Legacy down in Anaheim, with an opening game against San Jose State on Thanksgiving Day. Washington, on paper, doesn't look to be much better than a year ago. However, this is a truly dreadful field, so Washington should have a legit chance to win the tournament. They would play the winner of Long Beach State (and hopefully UCLA has beaten Long Beach State by then, so no jinx) and Western Michigan on Friday, with Xavier perhaps the only NCAA team (maybe) in the field waiting in the final on Sunday if they can get past UTEP.
10. Lastly, Washington State will be playing in the Great Alaska Shootout (remember when this was a premiere pre-season tournament?) starting on Thanksgiving night against UCSB. Like Oregon State, WSU has a severely depleted roster left behind by a failed head coach who stayed on too long. This is another dreadful field, but even that being the case, Washington State might be hard-pressed to win more than a game.
Interesting Week for Pac-12 Hoops
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