Ryan ZumMallen of LBPostSports is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Big West conferences.
It was another tough week for the PAC-10 Conference, as their sole remaining Top-25 squad may be unranked by this time next week and the conference won just five of its last twelve games.
It’s also a conference of classes, with Washington and California clearly the best teams (despite recent trouble), then a clear three-team middle class and a dreadful five-team bottom class. Most teams have scheduled cake opponents to build some confidence before heading into the Pac-10 schedule, but that may not be enough to fool voters into handing out at-large bids come March. Already, this is looking like a three (ok, maybe four) bid conference.
#21 Washington (6-2)
The PAC-10’s last remaining Top-25 team may lose that distinction after a convincing loss to #13 Georgetown at last weekend’s Wooden Classic in Anaheim. No shame in losing to a very impressive Georgetown team, but you expect a fellow ranked team to put up a fight (I’m getting tired of saying this about the PAC-10 this season). It’s clear now that there are no offensive weapons besides Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas, and the Hoyas forced 25 Washington turnovers. Twenty-five!
Washington State (8-2)
The Cougars got another good win this week, beating 5-3 Air Force by a 75-68 score at home. Leading scorer Klay Thompson put up 19 (six below his average) and Washington State shot 51.0% as a team, with very balanced scoring that puts the PAC-10’s only eight-win team in good position as we near conference play.
California is out of action this week but will returns with a bang visiting Allen Fieldhouse to take on #1 Kansas next Tuesday. Obviously, a win would be huge for the sliding Golden Bears. It’s also extremely unlikely. Cal hasn’t beaten any of the three best teams they’ve faced so far this season, with losses to Syracuse, Ohio State and New Mexico. In those three losses, the Bears are allowing 86 PPG. If California wants to work back into the Top 25, a good showing in Kansas is mandatory.
‘Tis the season to schedule some cake opponents before heading into the conference schedule. That’s exactly what Arizona State did when they beat lowly Delaware State last week, winning by 40. It was a morale booster for the Sun Devils after two losses. But ASU heads right back into its tough schedule with a date against rising San Diego State coming up. Are the Sun Devils for real? This game will be a good indicator.
Stanford continues to surprise and impress, winning a game they should have won (85-69 over UC Davis) and nearly knocking off a very good Big 12 team (71-70 to Oklahoma State). There’s going to be a great race for third place in the conference this season, with Stanford, Arizona State and Washington State clearly playing some of the best ball in the Pac-10 right now.
No one expected Oregon to be a Final Four team this year, and for good reason. The Ducks have a pretty easy schedule and are struggling with it. This week, they fell to St. Mary’s and then beat up on Mississippi Valley State. That’s all well and good, but consider Oregon’s next three opponents: Oakland, Idaho State and Arkansas Pine Bluff. Their combined record? 7-21. All at home! Someone please tell Oregon that this is the Pac-10 and not the Eugene School District.
The Trojans are struggling visibly, but they’ll win some close games in the Pac-10 this season because of their interior dominance. Forward Alex Stephenson is developing into a force, and Marcus Johnson had a school record 13 blocks in a 59-35 win over Idaho State. That said, USC only beat Idaho State by six, and suffered through some severe offensive droughts. The Trojans will likely get steamrolled by Tennessee this Saturday.
It was going to take some time to evaluate Arizona and determine whether the Wildcats were a poor team, or had just scheduled tough opponents. After a 63-46 loss to San Diego State, it’s safe to say that Arizona just ain’t that good. The Aztecs are a very strong mid-major this season, but they played ‘Zona like a mandolin. They’ll rebound at home against Lipscomb, and then get crushed by North Carolina State and BYU before more of the same in the conference season.
Oregon State (4-5)
The bad news continues with the Beavers’ woeful ways. Nebraska took a 50-44 win and then Oregon State fell to Illinois Chicago in a 63-61 loss. Where is the Oregon State team that beat Colorado earlier this season? They didn’t show up in Nebraska, where the Cornhuskers didn’t score a field goal in the final 6:53 and still weren’t threatened by Oregon State’s laughable offense. Like the rest of the conference, the Beavers scheduled a pair of juggernauts in Mississippi Valley State and 4-5 Fresno State. Step your game up, Pac-10.
The Bruins couldn’t hang with the length or athleticism of Mississippi State in a 72-54 loss, but rebounded with an offensive outburst in a 100-68 win over New Mexico State. Glory be! Has coach Ben Howland righted the ship? The Bruins snapped a five-game skid, had five players in double figures and held the Aggies to 38.9% shooting, but UCLA is hardly out of the woods yet. They face a high-octane Notre Dame attack and a strong Colorado State before hosting Pac-10 punching bag Delaware State and heading into conference play.
Games To Watch:
- #21 Washington vs. Portland – 12/19, 10:00pm
- Stanford @ Northwestern – 12/19, 2:00pm
- Arizona State vs. San Diego State – 12/19, 6:30pm
- USC vs. Tennessee – 12/19, 4:30pm on FSN
- #21 Washington vs. Texas A&M – 12/22, 11:00pm on FSN
- Stanford @ #20 Texas Tech – 12/22, 8:00pm
- Washington State vs. LSU – 12/22 10:00pm
- Arizona vs. North Carolina State – 12/23, 10:30pm on FSN