Pac-10 Projections

You'd think the Pac-10 race would be getting clearer, but after last weekend it's getting murkier. There are a couple of teams with an edge, but the Pac-10 title and the Pac-10 tournament seeding could come down to a number of tiebreakers...

Oregon took a major hit this weekend when it lost two overtime games on the road to Stanford and Cal. If they eked out just one of those wins they would have almost completely guaranteed themselves at least a piece of the Pac-10 crown.

Arizona, on the other hand, lifted themselves into the pole position as they held serve at home against the Washington schools.

Again, the best way to approach an analysis of the Pac-10 race is to use the final record of 13-5 in the Pac-10 as the reference point. If a team finishes 13-5, they more than likely get a tie for the Pac-10 title, and at worst second in the conference. If they do better than 13-5, they're almost completely assured of at least a piece of the Pac-10 title.

Best Chances in the Pac-10, as of February 11th:

1. Arizona

Current Pac-10 Record: 10-3 (1st)

Remaining Schedule:

2/14 at UCLA
2/16 at USC
2/20 ASU
2/28 Stanford
3/2 Cal

If Arizona wins the conference, it will be because they did what Oregon couldn't do this last weekend: sweep the Bay Area schools in the Bay Area. They accomplished that feat a week ago and it has put them in the #1 position for the rest of the Pac-10 race. Even if they lose both games on the road in L.A., they finish off the season with three games at home. Arizona's one less loss, of course, makes all the difference for the Wildcats, this late in the Pac-10 season. Currently at 10-3, you'd have to predict wins at home against ASU and Cal. That leaves the two games on the road in L.A. and the home game against Stanford as the big difference-makers. If Arizona wins just one of those games, they finish 13-5, and it would take an incredible run by another school in the conference to beat them outright for the Pac-10 title and go 14-4. Arizona is the school with the best chance at 14-4, having to win two games among those three. In other words, one win in L.A. If Arizona wins one game in Los Angeles this weekend, they'll be extremely hard to beat for the Pac-10 championship.

Games Remaining Against Conference Top Tier: 4
Top Tier Games on the Road: 2

2. Oregon

Current Pac-10 Record: 9-4 (2nd)

Remaining Schedule:

2/16 OSU
2/21 Washington St.
2/23 Washington
2/28 at USC
3/2 at UCLA

Oregon, even with its devastating overtime losses to Stanford and Cal this weekend, still isn't too far behind conference leader Arizona when it comes to odds of winning the conference. The one extra loss they have is, yes, significant, but Oregon still has to go to L.A. just like Arizona does. Arizona then has to face Stanford and Cal at home, while Oregon has the Washington schools at home. So, Oregon's schedule is definitely favorable. If you give them wins at home against OSU, Washington and WSU, that makes them 12-4. If they get one win on the road in L.A. they reach that watermark of 13-5. If they tied Arizona at 13-5 for the conference crown, Oregon wins the conference since they swept Arizona this year. So, it's close and Oregon, from many angles, still has a very good chance to beat out Arizona for the conference title. Both teams will have most of their fate decided when they take their trips to Los Angeles.

A possible scenario: The Pac-10 race could come down to the last weekend of the season between Arizona and Oregon. Arizona might have to sweep at home against Stanford and Cal, or Oregon might have to just get one win in L.A. to get them into the tie-breaker they would win with Arizona.

Games Remaining Against Conference Top Tier: 2
Top Tier Games on the Road: 2

3. Stanford

Current Pac-10 Record: 8-4 (3rd -- tied)

Remaining Schedule:

2/14 at Washington
2/16 at Washington State
2/21 USC
2/23 UCLA
2/28 at Arizona
3/2 at ASU

Stanford has a slight edge over the L.A. schools in their chances to finish better in the Pac-10. Currently at 8-4, Stanford needs to hold serve in the games they'll be favored in on the road – at Washington, at WSU and at Arizona State. If they do that, they're 11-4. Their big advantage is that they then get the L.A. schools at home. Those two games and the game at Arizona are then Stanford's remaining games against the conference's top tier. With two of them at home, Stanford has a good shot of winning two of three, which would get them 13-5. If they end up 13-5 and tied for the Pac-10 title, they have a disadvantage in a tiebreaker with Arizona, since Arizona beat them at Stanford, with their game in Arizona still on the horizon. Since they split against Oregon, in a tie-breaker with the Ducks, it would then be decided by how each team did against the team that finished below them in the standings. If that team is Arizona, once again, Stanford would lose the tiebreaker against Oregon since Oregon swept Arizona. So, really, Stanford's only chance to win the Pac-10 is if they win it outright, which probably means they have to go 14-4 and not lose another conference game. That means sweeping the L.A. schools at home and beating Arizona at Arizona.

Games Remaining Against Conference Top Tier: 3
Top Tier Games on the Road: 1

4. USC & UCLA (tie)

Current Pac-10 Records: 8-4 (3rd -- tied)

Remaining Schedule:

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

USC and UCLA's Pac-10 records are identical and, of course, so are their remaining conference schedules. Each of their chances to win the Pac-10 championship are not as good as Arizona, Oregon or Stanford, but each still has a chance. Each has four games remaining against the conference's upper tier, and two of them on the road. Oregon and Stanford both have easier remaining schedules. Only Arizona has a comparable schedule, but they also have that one less notch in the loss column. If UCLA and USC hold serve against ASU and Oregon State at home, that's 10-4. Each would then have to at least win three among Arizona and Oregon at home, and at Stanford and at Cal to really have a shot at even a share of the Pac-10 title. It's not that long of a longshot actually. It would take either one of them, or both, to win one game in the Bay Area and beat both Arizona and Oregon at home, which is doable.

With identical records and identical remaining schedules, they're in a dead heat to see who ends the season better. Between the two of them, it's very difficult to say which will finish stronger. USC has played better against common opponents in the conference. But UCLA has beaten tougher non-conference teams. They've both been vulnerable on the road. UCLA's last-second win against USC last week might have taken some of the fight out of USC, though. In fact, USC has had a few deflating last-second losses this season, which could take its toll. But, with their records and remaining schedules identical, it's a toss-up to determine which will finish better. If they do, indeed, tie, their Pac-10 finish and higher Pac-10 tournament seed would come down to how each team fared against the team directly below it in the standings. If that's Cal, UCLA more than likely gets the nod since USC lost to Cal at home in one of those deflating last-minute losses.

Games Remaining Against Conference Top Tier: 4
Top Tier Games on the Road: 2

6. Cal

Current Pac-10 Record: 8-4 (3rd -- tied)

Remaining Schedule:

2/14 at WSU
2/16 at Washington
2/21 UCLA
2/23 USC
2/28 at ASU
3/2 at Arizona

Cal's schedule is an easier road than either UCLA or USC, but the only reason they get sixth in this projection is that they're probably not quite as good as the rest of the Pac-10's upper tier. But that could just be an old assumption dying hard about Cal. From a record standpoint, though, they have a good argument against that theory. They have the same amount of conference losses as Oregon, USC, and UCLA and Stanford and they've beaten Oregon, USC and Stanford. That's one more win against the teams with four losses in the conference than either UCLA or USC. If you go soley by their record, who they've beaten and their remaining schedule, Cal probably deserves to be projected higher than both UCLA and USC. Cal actually has a better non-conference record, too. But, Cal gets sixth in this projection because the feeling is that their young team will be vulnerable down the stretch. While you would automatically give any other team in the upper tier of the conference wins at Washington State, at Washington, and at Arizona State, there's a feeling that those might not be automatic with Cal. Again, I have to admit, it could be the old assumption dying hard. Throwing out the assumption, say they get wins in those games, which gets them 11-4. They have three games against the top tier left, and two of them are home, against UCLA and USC. Cal has been plenty tough at home this season, posting a 15-1 record, including home wins against Stanford and Oregon. If Cal can get both those wins at home against UCLA and USC, but loses to Arizona on the road, they're 13-5. They could then actually get into a tiebreaker for the championship. If so, they would only clearly lose a tiebreaker against Arizona. If Cal beats Washington State and Washington I won't be able to punish them next with that assumption and will probably have a better shot at finishing higher than UCLA or USC in the conference.

If Cal goes 12-6 and ties for third, they could still get a good seed for the Pac-10 tourney since they could prevail in many tiebreakers.

Games Remaining Against Conference Top Tier: 3
Top Tier Games on the Road: 1

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