Pac-10 Projections

It's an annual tradition for this site to keep a running, weekly tab in the second half of the Pac-10 season on the prospects of the Pac-10 race. We started last week, and we're now in to week two of the analysis of the conference race....

A good way to approach it is to use the final record of 13-5 in the Pac-10 as the reference point for analyzing how the conference will finish. If a team finishes 13-5, they could most likely tie for the Pac-10 title, but would also have a very good chance to come in second. If they do better than 13-5, they're almost completely assured of at least a piece of the Pac-10 title. Quite a few teams could finish 13-5, in fact, and the final Pac-10 conference standings could be decided by tie-breakers.

Record reference:

14-4 –- Assured of at least tie for Pac-10 title. Probably win the title outright.

13-5 – Could be good for second place in the conference, and it could get you only a tie for second place. There's a possibility that a team could win the conference with this record, but it would also probably depend on tie-breakers.

12-6 –Probably no better than second in the conference, probably third and maybe even fourth. If the entire conference starts beating up on each other in the next month, though, this could be the Pac-10 conference champion's record.

Predicted Order of Finish, as of February 4th:

1. Oregon

Current Pac-10 Record: 9-2 (1st)

Remaining Schedule:

2/7 at Stanford
2/9 at Cal
2/16 OSU
2/21 Washington St.
2/23 Washington
2/28 at USC
3/2 at UCLA

Oregon would really have to flop the rest of the Pac-10 season to not finish among the top two teams in the conference.

They easily put themselves on the inside track to win the Pac-10 by sweeping UCLA and USC at home this past weekend. With only games against the conference's easy teams remaining at home, Oregon has to try to get it done on the road to clinch the Pac-10 championship. But the road has proven a big challenge for the Ducks. Among the four road games – at Stanford, at Cal, at USC and at UCLA – if they split them, win two of them, they probably finish 14-4 and win the Pac-10. If they only get one win against those four, they finish probably 13-5, which still might be good enough for a share of the Pac-10 title, and at least second.

The conference's biggest game this week is easily Oregon at Stanford. If Oregon wins it, they'd only have to really win one more road game against Cal, USC or UCLA to almost guarantee a Pac-10 crown. Even if they didn't win any of those three remaining road games, a win at Stanford for the Ducks could still get them the Pac-10 title, or at least a share of it, at 13-5. The game is huge.

We'll see if Oregon can put it together on the road for the remainder of their schedule. If they beat Stanford, or even play them tough on the road this week and lose, it could be a good indication that Oregon might do well enough on the road for the remainder of its schedule to win the conference. They'll have to take care of business better on the road than they did in the first half of the Pac-10. They lost at Washington and at ASU. It's mind-blowing to think if they had actually won those games like they were expected to, or even just one of those games. It's another testament to what holding serve at home can do for you.

Record likelihood:

14-4 – Very good chance
13-5 – Excellent Chance
12-6 – Would have to let down quite a bit

2. Arizona

Current Pac-10 Record: 8-3 (2nd -- tied)

Remaining Schedule:

2/7 Washington
2/9 WSU
2/14 at UCLA
2/16 at USC
2/20 ASU
2/28 Stanford
3/2 Cal

Arizona unexpectedly stepped up big-time by sweeping the Bay Area schools in the Bay Area. It was huge. Their schedule, in light of that, now looks quite a bit more favorable. They have three of the conference's easier teams at home – so that should mean three wins there. Among their tough remaining games – at UCLA, at USC, and Stanford and Cal at home, if they split them they reach 13-5. They're almost guaranteed a split if they get one win on their L.A. road trip since that would mean they'd only have to win one game against Stanford or Cal at home. Reasonable best case scenario: They split on the road in L.A. and beat Stanford and Cal at home. That gives them an amazing 14-4 Pac-10 record and probably, again, an amazing grab on first place in the conference. Why is it amazing? Arizona has only 9 scholarship players, no seniors, and five of them are freshmen. Just a week ago, they looked like they were on their way to sixth place in the conference. Reasonable worst case scenario: They drop both games on the road in L.A., and split at home against Stanford and Cal, that's 12-6 and probably third place in the Pac-10. So, Arizona, with the wins on the road against Stanford and Cal, probably now is a shoe-in to finish in the top four in the conference.

Record Likelihood:

14-4: Between Arizona and USC, Wildcats have better chance to reach 14-4.
13-5: Good chance
12-6: Would have to tank in big games

3. USC

Current Pac-10 Record: 8-3 (2nd -- tied)

Remaining Schedule:

2/6 at UCLA
2/14 ASU
2/16 Arizona
2/21 at Stanford
2/23 at Cal
2/28 Oregon
3/2 Oregon State

If USC holds serve against ASU and Oregon State at home, they then have to win three games among five crucial games -- at UCLA, Arizona at home, at Stanford, at Cal, and Oregon at home – to get to that watermark 13-5. Two of those games are at home, so you'd figure if they held serve at home, they need only one win from among games at UCLA, at Stanford and at Cal to reach 13-5. If they get two wins from those three games, they're 14-4 and probably at least tie for the Pac-10 championship.

So, for USC, beating UCLA on Thursday is huge. If the do, their road is quite a bit easier. They'd only have to hold serve at home and they'd finish 13-5. So, if they beat UCLA, they're almost assured of 13-5. If they then also beat either Stanford or Cal on the road, they're 14-4. Also, if they beat UCLA, it's key when it comes to a tie-breaker situation. That would mean they had beaten UCLA twice and would win any tie-breaker with the Bruins.

If they beat UCLA this Thursday, they then only have to win two more against Arizona and Oregon at home and Stanford and Cal on the road to get to 13-5.

14-4: Real possibility
13-5: Good chance
12-6: Would have to let down

4. Stanford

Current Pac-10 Record: 6-4 (Sixth)

Remaining Schedule:

2/7 Oregon
2/9 Oregon St.
2/14 at Washington
2/16 at Washington State
2/21 USC
2/23 UCLA
2/28 at Arizona
3/2 at ASU

All Stanford had to do was hold serve at home for the second half of the Pac-10 season and it would have been looking great in the conference. But it stumbled last weekend, losing to Arizona at home, which changes its entire picture.

To win the Pac-10, it'd more than likely have to win out. To get to 13-5, it'd have to lose only one game among Oregon, USC and UCLA at home and Arizona and ASU on the road. Lose two of those, and the Cardinal is 12-6.

Playing UCLA at home is a big game for Stanford. If they can put that in their win column, they would win a tie-breaker with UCLA if they tie in the finals standings, since Stanford beat UCLA at Pauley.

The biggest game of the year for Stanford is this Thursday against Oregon at home. If they win that game, they most likely win the next three (against OSU, UDub and WSU) and are 10-4 when the L.A. schools come to town.

Record Likelihood:

14-4: Longshot
13-5: still a longshot
12-6: good chance
11-7: would have to tank at home

5. UCLA

Current Pac-10 Record: 7-4 (4th)

Remaining Schedule:

2/6 USC
2/9 at Villanova
2/14 Arizona
2/16 ASU
2/21 at Cal
2/23 at Stanford
2/28 OSU
3/2 Oregon

I know, fifth place. Not great. But analyzing it many times, it just continued to come up this way. The big stat that made Stanford edge UCLA in this week's projection is this: Stanford has four losses, four tough games remaining, and really only one on the road. In a comparison to UCLA, UCLA has four losses, five tough games remaining, and two on the road. Now, if UCLA had clearly proven that they were the better team that Stanford, I'd even give them the edge. But the fact is that Stanford beat UCLA at Pauley Pavilion, which makes it very difficult to assert UCLA would overcome a more difficult remaining schedule than Stanford because they're a superior team.

While the blowout loss to Oregon was embarrassing, when it comes to the Pac-10 race it only goes down as one loss. So, having split on the Oregon trip, UCLA pretty much just treaded water this last weekend.

UCLA has two easy games – ASU and OSU at home. Having seen UCLA play both on the road and beat them, it's easy to predict they'd beat them at home. They match up really well against Oregon State, and should be able to handle ASU in Pauley. So, to get to the 13-5 level, the Bruins would have to lose only one game among five crucial games – USC at home, Arizona at home, at Cal, at Stanford, and Oregon at home. That's an uphill battle. If they go 3-2 in those games, they're 12-6, which gets them probably 2nd or 3rd in the Pac-10.

The game against USC at home on Thursday is critical. If they lose to the Trojans, it would be very difficult to win the Pac-10. It would be their fifth conference loss and that would probably mean, at best, second place in the Pac-10. And that's if they would then win out the rest of the season -- beating Arizona at home, Cal and Stanford on the road and Oregon at home. If UCLA beats the Trojans on Thursday, they're still alive. But if they do that, and then lose just one game from those other critical games, they're 13-5 at best.

Also, UCLA has already lost to USC, Stanford and Arizona, so another loss to any of those teams hurts them in potential tie-breaker situations with those schools.

Here are the scenarios:

-- UCLA more than likely has to win out to win the Pac-10.

-- UCLA probably has to lose only one remaining conference game to finish second at best in the Pac-10.

-- If UCLA loses two more conference games, they're looking at probably third at best in the conference, and probably fourth.

Record Likelihood:

14-4: A chance, but would have to defy odds
13-5: Would have to lose only only one more game, meaning: would have to improve play considerably
12-6: Most likely
11-7: Would go 4-3 rest of the way, which is possibility.

6. Cal

Current Pac-10 Record: 6-4 (5th)

Remaining Schedule:

2/7 OSU
2/9 Oregon
2/14 at WSU
2/16 at Washington
2/21 UCLA
2/23 USC
2/28 at ASU
3/2 at Arizona

By suffering its first loss of the season at home against Arizona this last weekend, Cal falls to fifth place and has an uphill battle in the conference. Even their easy games, against Washington and Washington State, are on the road. Besides those games, their only relatively easy game is home against OSU (ASU they have on the road). Tough games remaining for Cal are Oregon, UCLA and USC at home, and Arizona and ASU on the road. If they can sweep at the Washingtons, they need to only lose one game among those five tough games to reach 13-5. That's looking unlikely. Even being optimistic you'd think Cal would probably only win two of those games, which would put them at 11-7 for the year. They'll have to go 3-2 in those games to get to 12-6. Let's give them a win against ASU on the road. So, that means they'd have to split the other four games – Oregon, UCLA and USC at home and Arizona on the road. It's doable, but tough.

Record Likelihood:

14-4: Longshot
13-5: Odds against them
12-6: Decent shot
11-7: Most likely

Critical Stats:

                        Losses            Tough Games          Tough Games on Road

Oregon               2                         4                                 4
Arizona               3                         4                                 2
USC                    3                         5                                 2
Stanford             4                         4                                 1
UCLA                  4                          5                                 2
Cal                     4                          4                                 1

Pac-10 Tournament Woes

This year for UCLA, it looks like the Pac-10 tournament looms more as an opportunity to redeem itself and help its seeding chances. But the Pac-10 tournament generally isn't good for the Pac-10 or Pac-10 basketball fans.

Once again, though, it's important to point out that, with the Pac-10 tournament this year, the significance of the race for the Pac-10 conference title has been diminished. Yes, where you finish in the Pac-10 could be a factor for the NCAA in determining seeding come Big Dance time. But, with the Pac-10 tournament, the impact of the conference finish will be diluted for the Tournament Committee. Plus, and it's a big plus, the Pac-10 tournament directly renders much of the Pac-10 conference race irrelevant. Or at least, very inconsequential. If you throw out potential seeding implications, the race for the Pac-10 right now is really only deciding who gets to play Arizona State and Oregon State in the first round of the Pac-10 tourney. After that, in the second round, everyone is pretty good and it's almost a crapshoot of who you end up playing. Is it any better to play Arizona in the second round as opposed to Stanford or USC?

Another element to consider when it comes to the Pac-10 tournament: It could tire out the Pac-10 teams and give them less of a chance of performing well in the NCAA tournament. If you go to the finals of the Pac-10 tourney, you're generally adding three more games to your schedule – right before the NCAA tournament. It also increases the odds of injury.


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