Grading the Pac-12 Non-Conference Performances, Part II

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 28th, 2016

The non-conference portion of the schedule is now over for the entire group of Pac-12 teams and, aside from UCLA running roughshod over every team it faced, it was a relatively uneventful non-conference season. Some teams scored important wins and other teams showed their weaknesses, but none of the 12 at-large resumes really stand out at this point in the season. To prove it to ourselves, let’s run through where each team stands heading into the 18-game Pac-12 schedule.

Ed. Note: the other half of the league’s report cards published yesterday.

UCLA – A+

Lonzo Ball (USA Today Images)

Lonzo Ball Has Turned UCLA into a National Title Contender (USA Today Images)

  • Good wins: Kentucky, Texas A&M, Michigan, Ohio State
  • Bad losses: None
  • Synopsis: When you breeze through the non-conference portion of your schedule with several quality wins (including a road victory at Kentucky), you probably deserve a perfect grade. UCLA has perhaps the most efficient offense in the country, multiple All-America candidates and enviable depth and size at every position. The Bruins’ defense is a non-negligible concern but head coach Steve Alford has his team firing on all cylinders and headed toward a No. 1 seed in March.

Stanford – C+

  • Good wins: Seton Hall
  • Bad losses: None
  • Synopsis: The Cardinal’s performance to this point won’t blow anyone away but they have quietly been a solid team under first-year head coach Jerod Haase. A win over Seton Hall in Florida was a nice starting point while losses to the likes of Kansas, St. Mary’s, Miami and SMU were to be expected. Plus, there is something to be said for taking care of business against lesser opponents. Stanford probably won’t force its way on to the right side of the bubble with this schedule, but Haase has at least served notice that the program is on solid footing.

USC – A

  • Good wins: Texas A&M, SMU, BYU
  • Bad losses: None
  • Synopsis: Like their crosstown rivals, the Trojans finished the non-conference portion of their schedule unblemished. The only reason they didn’t earn a matching grade is because their schedule was significantly easier and their quality wins are slightly less impressive. Many expect USC to fall back to Earth once conference play begins, but there is no denying that head coach Andy Enfield has put the team squarely in contention for an NCAA Tournament berth even without the services of Bennie Boatwright. The Trojans are a balanced group with talent and depth at every position — they probably aren’t ready to contend for a Pac-12 crown quite yet, but they certainly used the non-conference portion of the schedule to turn some heads nationally.

Washington – C-

Markelle Has Done What He Can to Make Washington Great Again (USA Today Images)

Markelle Fultz Has Done What He Can to Make Washington Great Again (USA Today Images)

  • Good wins: None
  • Bad losses: Yale
  • Synopsis: Losing to Yale at home was not a good way to tip off the season and it is difficult to envision a scenario that results in the Huskies earning an NCAA Tournament berth. But they haven’t been awful since opening night and it is also easy to forget that this is one of the least experienced and thinnest rotations in the entire country. Washington’s best win came in November against Long Beach State, which won’t impress anybody, but the rest of their losses have come against worthy opponents. Flip that loss to Nevada into a win and that C- would be closer to a C+; for now, however, the Huskies are barely treading water.

Utah – D+

  • Good wins: None
  • Bad losses: San Francisco
  • Synopsis: It may seem unfair to give struggling Arizona State a better grade than Utah, but frankly, the Utes are being punished as much for its schedule as for its results. The margin for error was already razor-thin thanks to playing one of the 10 easiest non-conference schedules in college basketball, but losing to San Francisco in Hawaii put Utah squarely on the wrong side of the bubble. The team’s best win came against Utah Valley, and we can only hope that Larry Krystkowiak has learned his scheduling lesson and will stop ducking competitive opponents in the future.

Washington State – D

  • Good wins: None
  • Bad losses: Loyola-Chicago, San Jose State, New Orleans
  • Synopsis: Not much was expected of the Cougars this season and they have responded to those low expectations by meeting them head-on! Wazzu’s best win was in late November against Montana, while losses to San Jose State and New Orleans have made it another ugly non-conference run for Ernie Kent’s team. They don’t get an F because we honestly expected them to lose more games than they have thus far.  At this point, it will certainly be a holiday miracle if Kent keeps his job in Pullman at the end of the season.
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