Pac-12 Bubble Watch and Semifinals Preview

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 11th, 2016

Eight games are in the books at the Pac-12 Tournament and the higher seeds have advanced in each one, setting up a terrific set of semifinals tonight. Before we preview those games, let’s break down postseason expectations for the four teams that were eliminated from the Pac-12 Tournament on Thursday.


The Buffaloes are going dancing. Their RPI is a sparkling #30 and they own home wins over Oregon, California, Arizona and Oregon State. In a year such as this one, that should be enough to put them safely above the cut line. With very little else on their resume, though, don’t expect a great seed for the Buffs. Somewhere in the #8-#10 range sounds about right, which means Colorado’s stay in the NCAA Tournament is unlikely to extend beyond next weekend.

Despite A Quarterfinal Loss, Tad Boyle And The Buffs Should Be Comfortably In On Selection Sunday

Despite A Quarterfinal Loss, Tad Boyle And The Buffs Should Be Comfortably In On Selection Sunday

Oregon State

Coming into the weekend, the popular wisdom put Oregon State squarely on the bubble with USC appearing safe. Upon closer review, however, the Beavers may have the superior resume. They have the higher RPI, three wins over top 25 RPI teams (Oregon, California, Utah) and three more victories over teams in the RPI #26-#50 range (Tulsa, Colorado, USC). With no bad losses, that’s a terrific resume, even if all of those quality wins came at home. An argument could even be made that Oregon State’s resume is every bit as good as that of Colorado. This team should definitely be dancing for the first time since 1990.

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Pac-12 Tournament Preview

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 9th, 2016

We’ve spent the last several months marching to Vegas, so let’s tip things off a bit later today with our Pac-12 Tournament preview.



Favorite: Oregon

This may not be the very best version of the Pac-12 Conference in its illustrious history, but it is a certainty that this has been a strong and deep conference. For Oregon to win 14 games this year against an unbalanced in-conference schedule tougher than that of either Utah or Arizona is impressive. While the Ducks’ lack of depth (310th in the nation in bench minutes) is concerning in a three-game/three-night scenario, they’ve done enough to prove that they’re the best team in this conference until proven otherwise.

Next Best Chance: Utah

The Utes opened conference play by getting swept at the Bay Area schools followed shortly thereafter by an 18-point loss to Oregon at the Huntsman Center. Since that loss, the Utes have won 12 of 14 games (with another loss to Oregon among those two) and the issues that were apparent in January — Brandon Taylor struggling; Lorenzo Bonam learning; a soft front line; chemistry questions — have all been addressed. The Utes still need to prove that they can play with Oregon, but they are rolling right now and could use a strong Pac-12 Tournament performance as a springboard into next week.

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Arizona State’s Future is Bright

Posted by Connor Pelton on March 4th, 2016

Connor Pelton covers Arizona State sports for You can follow him on Twitter at @ConnorPelton28

When is Bobby Hurley going to call a timeout? That was the thought shared among Arizona State fans during the opening minutes of last Thursday’s game at Utah. Little did they know that no timeout was forthcoming. Not when Brandon Taylor drained a three-pointer to put the Utes up 9-0. Not when Jordan Loveridge dropped in another three to extend the lead to 12-0. Not even when Taylor buried another triple on the next possession to make the score 15-0. The game’s first break didn’t arrive until the under-16 media timeout with the Sun Devils trailing 15-2 and a comeback looking increasingly unlikely. It’s important to remember that Hurley is still learning on the job. After spending the previous two seasons at Buffalo, this is just his third campaign as a head coach. He is young and still evolving, picking up valuable experience every night out.

Hurley's High Energy On The Sidelines Has Gotten Him Into Some Trouble With Officials This Season (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star)

Hurley’s High Energy On The Sidelines Has Gotten Him Into Some Trouble With Officials This Season (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star)

So, why was there no timeout when already trailing by 15 in one of the conference’s toughest venues? First, the end of a long season is winding down – a season that is unlikely to result in a trip to the NCAA Tournament. There isn’t much to lose in this scenario, so why not experiment with letting the players work through their problems without assistance from the sideline? This wasn’t the only learning experience, as this season has been chalk full of them — beginning with a disheartening home opener loss to Sacramento State. Along the way Hurley has suspended three players for multiple team violations, been thrown out of a rivalry game against Arizona, dropped four conference games by seven points or fewer, lost a player to transfer just days removed from a career performance, and watched an assistant coach get arrested on suspicion of DUI. Read the rest of this entry »

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Assessing The Pac-12 With One Week Left

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 1st, 2016

Way back in early November, when Pac-12 prognosticators were looking ahead to the season, there were four teams almost universally considered as contenders to win the regular season title – Arizona, California, Oregon and Utah. We’ve had all sorts of twists and turns over the past four months: USC and Washington emerging earlier than expected; California and Utah taking some time to find their stride; and of course, the assorted injuries, hot streaks, cold patches and upsets that change expectations along the way. But here we are, heading into the final week of the regular season, and those four preseason contenders are still exactly that. There’s a lot still left to be decided in the final week and into the conference tournament, so let’s go team by team and break down what’s to play for on the way in.

Dillon Brooks And The Ducks Are One Win Away From Clinching At Least Part Of A Pac-12 Title (John Locher, USA Today)

Dillon Brooks And The Ducks Are One Win Away From Clinching At Least Part Of A Pac-12 Title. (John Locher, USA Today)

Oregon – For at least a month now, anyone with a Pac-12 schedule could look at Oregon’s road trip to Los Angeles in the final week of the regular season and know it would have major ramifications on the regular season title. What nobody could really see at the start of February was both of the Los Angeles schools falling off a cliff. More on them later, but the situation is simple for the Ducks. Win one in LA and earn at least a share of the conference title. Win them both (now, suddenly possible, if not even likely) and they’ve got their first regular season title since 2002 (and only the program’s second since World War II ended). They are likely to be favored in both games — because the season is trending in the wrong direction for both opponents — and a couple of wins could see the Ducks break into two-seed territory come Selection Sunday.

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The Race For The Pac-12 Title

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 24th, 2016

Tonight kicks off the second-to-last week of the Pac-12 regular season. One third of the conference has three games remaining on their schedule; everybody else has four. And even at this late date, nothing much is really decided. Sure, we know Washington State is going to be the 12-seed in the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas. Arizona State is probably going to be a (relatively) dangerous 11. The current conference leaders – Arizona and Oregon, tied at 10-4 – seem destined for opening round byes, although things are tight enough that even that isn’t assured. So let’s get caught up on where we stand as March draws nearer, with an eye towards the race for the regular season title.

As The Season Winds Down, It's A Fight At The Top Of The Standings (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

As The Season Winds Down, It’s A Fight At The Top Of The Standings (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

Officially, there are seven teams still mathematically alive for the conference title. Realistically, however, Colorado and Washington would need to win out and have everything else break perfectly for their conference title lottery ticket to pay off. Likewise, USC finds itself two games in back of the leaders and would need good fortune to bring the crown back to Los Angeles. Given those disqualifications, odds are very strong that our eventual champion(s) will come from this quartet of teams: Oregon, Arizona, Utah and California.

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RTC Top 25: Week Fourteen Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on February 22nd, 2016

The unpredicatability of this college basketball season was in full effect last week as 15 of the RTC25 suffered defeats. For example, archrivals #8 North Carolina and #11 Duke both experienced the thrill of victory and agony of defeat in a matter of just four days. In last Wednesday evening’s showdown between the two teams, Duke stormed back from a significant second half deficit to grab an impressive road victory — all the more impressive when considering it came without the services of injured forward Amile Jefferson or guard Matt Jones, who left the game with an ankle injury. The Blue Devils, however, could not keep the winning ways going, falling at #16 Louisville on Saturday. On the other hand, North Carolina bounced back from its defeat in a major way, dominating #17 Miami (FL) from start to finish. Just another week in a wacky season. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 10.00.20 PM

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Pac-12 Bubble and Bracket Breakdown

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 17th, 2016

We’re now less than four weeks from Selection Sunday and there are three weeks remaining in Pac-12 play. With 11 lof our 12-pack of teams currently ranked in the RPI top 100, now’s as good a time as any to review where all the conference teams stand and what they need to do between now and March 13 to make sure they hear Jim Nantz call out their names that afternoon. Let’s jump in.

The Leaders

Even Following A Lost Weekend By The Bay, The Ducks Are In Good NCAA Position (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

Even Following A Lost Weekend By The Bay, The Ducks Are In Good NCAA Position (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

  • Oregon (20-6, 9-4, RPI #4, KenPom #20) – What a difference a week makes. After backing up a road sweep of the Arizona schools with a confident home sweep of the mountain schools, the Ducks seemingly had command of the Pac-12 regular season race. But a trip to the Bay Area last weekend resulted in a pair of losses that have put the Ducks into a tie with Arizona atop the conference. With a collection of solid wins both in and out of conference play under its belt, Oregon is still the team that is best positioned for a happy outcome on Selection Sunday. The Bay Area meltdown probably removes any chance of a #1 seed, but the Ducks have a manageable schedule remaining (at home against Oregon State and the Washington schools before a tough final weekend trip to Los Angeles). Where things will really get tricky is when the conference tournament convenes in Las Vegas, because in a season full of parity, even the top seed is going to face a very capable and battle-tested team right out of the gates. Barring a disaster, the Ducks seem headed for Spokane in the opening weekend with a chance at a #2 or #3 seed out West.
  • Arizona (21-5, 9-4, RPI #23, Ken Pom #16) – It’s been a challenging season in Tucson. After losing tons of experienced and early-entry talent from last year’s team, the Wildcats have dealt with injuries and growing pains from day one this year. But here we are at the turn into the backstretch of February and the ‘Cats are as healthy as they’re going to get and appear to be dialing into March. They’re never going to have the top-end ceiling of the last couple teams, but you can bet that Sean Miller is going to get the most out of his group. The first goal is a third consecutive Pac-12 regular season title, and they’ve got a slightly more difficult path ahead than the Ducks, with home games against Arizona State and then Cal and Stanford sandwiched around a roadie to the altitude schools. Their non-conference schedule didn’t provide them with many chances for high-value scalps, so wins over Gonzaga and USC are about the best resume-enhancers they have. But if they can do something crazy like only lose once more between this spot and Selection Sunday, they could sneak into the conversation for a #2 seed if things go haywire elsewhere. A #3 or #4 seed is more realistically within range, with geographical favoritism (Denver followed by Anaheim) a goal. That said, considering Arizona’s recent history in Anaheim, maybe the Wildcats would be better off with a change of scenery this March.
Sean Miller Is Again Tourney-Bound, But Maybe Not So Much On The Anaheim Thing? (Christian Peterson, Getty Images)

Sean Miller Is Again Tourney-Bound, But Maybe Not So Much On The Anaheim Thing? (Christian Peterson, Getty Images)

Playing For Position

  • USC (18-7, 7-5, RPI #22, KenPom #27) – Losing at Arizona State is really not that terrible of a thing. Bobby Hurley has a good squad that has experienced some bad luck, and Wells Fargo Arena is on the upswing as a home venue. But the worst part of losing at Arizona State is then having to visit Arizona following that loss. The Trojans played better against the Wildcats (at least for stretches), but still came away with an 0-2 road trip, putting them a game and a half back of the leaders in the conference race. The bad news for Andy Enfield’s team is that its remaining schedule is brutal. They get four home games but each of those (Colorado, Utah, Oregon State, Oregon) are losable, while the road trip to the Bay Area will be very difficult too. Still, barring a complete collapse, the Trojans will be dancing. With quality non-conference wins over Monmouth, Yale and a short-handed Wichita State club, coupled with a home win over Arizona, USC has a nice resume and a chance to add to it down the stretch. An optimistic scenario is something like a 4-2 finish, a run to the title game in Las Vegas and a seed in the #4-#6 range. If the wheels completely fall off in the next few weeks, however, the Trojans could drop down the bracket and give a high-seed a nightmare game in the first and second round.
  • Utah (18-7, 8-5, RPI #16, KenPom #40) – The Utes sit just a game back of the conference leaders but their final two road games of the season at the Los Angeles schools this weekend will tell us a lot about how they are regarded on Selection Sunday. Three wins against the RPI top 25 and six against the RPI top 50 mean the Utes are already golden with chances against highly-ranked teams like USC, Arizona and Colorado still remaining, Utah (along with its traveling partner, Colorado) has a great opportunity to jump up the seed lines with a few more victories. Right now something in the #6 or #7 range seems most likely, but a strong finish could push them up to the #4 line with a potential opening weekend in Denver.
  • Colorado (18-7, 8-5, RPI #25, KenPom #63) – While the Buffaloes sport the same record as their conference-mandated rival, there’s definitely not the same quality of meat on their bones. Their best non-conference win is over a BYU team that will likely be on the outside looking in although wins over Oregon and Cal will pay dividends. Right now, the Buffs are somewhere in the #7-#9 seed range with a chance for a big finish. Of more importance to the team’s overall chances, however, is the concern over Josh Scott’s ankle injury. If Colorado is going to score quality wins down the stretch over teams like USC, Arizona and Utah, it will need the senior big man in action.
Colorado Will Need Josh Scott To Live Up To Their Potential (Kai Casey, CU Independent)

Colorado Will Need Josh Scott To Live Up To Their Potential (Kai Casey, CU Independent)

  • California (17-8, 7-5, RPI #24, KenPom #32) – Let’s start by breaking down that 7-5 conference record a bit. The Golden Bears’ seven wins have all come in Haas Pavilion, while their five losses have all come on the road. Their sole win this season outside of Berkeley came at Wyoming (#178 in KenPom) in overtime. Now, none of that is necessarily a seed killer, but the Bears have four road games remaining. If form holds and Cal can’t get its act together at the Washington schools or the Arizona schools, they will have issues in terms of placement. Still, this team is going to be dancing and if it can pick up even just the low-hanging fruit on the remaining road schedule, the Bears are primed for a good seed on the basis of four win against the RPI top 25 with cracks at USC and Arizona still ahead. Currently they’re somewhere in the neighborhood of a #6-#8 seed, a spot at which they can give some opposing high seeds serious problems.


  • Washington (15-10, 7-6, RPI #61, KenPom #69) – The Huskies have lost three straight and five of their last seven games. Those numbers hurt. Dig a little deeper, though, and you find a home loss in overtime to Utah, a road loss to USC, a five-point home loss to Arizona, an eight-point road loss to Utah and a one-point road loss to Colorado — five losses to top 25 RPI teams by an average of less than six points. Still, unless the young pups can string together several wins to close out the season, those justifications may never even get on the committee’s radar. If Washington just wins their three remaining home games (Cal, Stanford, Washington State), they will be at 10-8 in the conference. At that point, they’d probably need to avoid an opening round Pac-12 Tournament loss, but they’d probably still be on the right side of the bubble, even if it meant a trip to Dayton.
  • Oregon State (14-9, 6-7, RPI #38, KenPom #70) – The Beavers are a game under .500 in conference play and they’ve got one more road game than home game remaining. That’s fine, though, because any equation that earns this program its first NCAA invitation since 1990 involves getting a road win at either Oregon or USC while taking care of business in Gill Coliseum against the Washington schools. That would put the Beavs at .500 in conference play and would give them a chance to add another scalp to what is already five wins over top 25 RPI teams. Do that and Oregon State dances. Anything less and it gets hairier, but wins over Oregon, Cal, USC, Utah and Colorado (not to mention another good one against Tulsa) will give this team a chance.
  • UCLA (14-11, 5-7, RPI #68, KenPom #54) – Don’t bury the Bruins just yet. Wins over Kentucky and Arizona show that they can play with the best, but losses to teams like Wake Forest and Washington State may be their eventual undoing. For Steve Alford’s squad to have a prayer on Selection Sunday, they’ve got to get back to .500 in conference play. Not only does that number just look a lot better, but it would also mean that UCLA added some quality wins to its resume with home games against Utah, Colorado, Oregon and Oregon State to come coupled with a road trip to the Bay Area. The bad news is that the only times the Bruins have won four times in six games was when their opponents included teams like Pepperdine, Cal State-Northridge and McNeese State. Odds are good that UCLA is NIT bound, at best.

I Need A Miracle

  • Stanford (11-11, 5-7, RPI #75, KenPom #110)
  • Arizona State (14-12, 4-9, RPI #82, KenPom #77)
  • Washington State (8-16, 1-12, RPI #188, KenPom #164)
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Pac-12 Trade Deadline: Examining the Best Trades That Won’t Happen

Posted by Mike Lemaire on February 10th, 2016

The NBA trade deadline is now less than two weeks away, which means professional basketball writers get to throw together a bunch of hasty trade ideas and rumors in an exercise that always looks like so much fun. College basketball writers get left out of the trade deadline party because, as those who have been paying attention already know, trades are outlawed in amateur athletics. In an effort to crash that party, we are going to waste some space this week analyzing several potentially smart trades for Pac-12 contenders that will not happen. We stick to intra-conference trades to make it easy and because the thought of a bunch of petty Pac-12 coaches bickering over the fairness of those trades would be so entertaining for the rest of us. And remember, talent in addition to remaining years of eligibility are important. How else would Washington State rebuild?

Arizona gets Gary Payton II and Oregon State gets Ray Smith and Kadeem Allen

Gary Payton II Is Not Only The Best Point In The Pac, He's One Of Its Best Players (Oregon State Athletics)

Can You Imagine Arizona If They Traded for Gary Payton II? (Oregon State Athletics)

Corvallis is a football town first and foremost but the good residents there would still likely burn the whole thing to the ground if the Beavers tried to trade away Payton II. Some analysts believe that Oregon State will be an NCAA Tournament team so Wayne Tinkle would potentially be a buyer rather than seller at the deadline. But for a limited team with young talent and a bright future, leveraging a senior like Payton II for future assets is the smart play. His arrival in Tucson doesn’t help Arizona’s immediate shooting need but he does give the Wildcats a true point guard and a more explosive scorer. Given his popularity, Oregon State would probably think long and hard about this trade but eventually would come to their senses and grab an NBA talent like Smith and two years of a poor man’s Gary Payton II (in Allen).

Washington gets Rosco Allen and Stanford gets Matisse Thybulle

Washington is still in the hunt for the Pac-12 title but head coach Lorenzo Romar is smart enough to know better than to mortgage his team’s bright future for a run this season. The Huskies’ backcourt is their strength and has too much depth to make it worth tinkering with. However, an offensive-minded stretch forward who can shoot the three and takes care of the ball would fit in nicely in the Huskies’ fluid frontcourt. Allen would probably be the least athletic forward of the bunch but he would bring polish, offensive nuance and enough athleticism to run with the young Huskies. He would offer important spacing to a team that struggles to perform in half-court sets and wouldn’t be asked to do too much defensively. Romar would probably rather part with David Crisp or Donaven Dorsey than the versatile Thybulle, but there would be enough contenders pursuing Allen so that he might be willing to pay for a rental player who could help deliver a Sweet Sixteen banner to Seattle.

Oregon gets Ike Iroegbu and Washington State gets Kendall Small and Roman Sorkin

Minus Joseph Young, Dana Altman Still Has A Talented Roster (Michael Arellano/Emerald)

Dana Altman Needs Backcourt Depth and Ike Iroegbu Is An Easy Solution (Michael Arellano/Emerald)

Oregon is in the most precarious position of any Pac-12 contender because it is a flawed team despite its recent hot streak and its most intriguing trade chips are in the current rotation. The Ducks’ two immediate areas of need are in backcourt depth and rebounding help. If Dylan Ennis were healthy, Dana Altman would be inclined to pursue a rebounder like Josh Hawkinson. But the Ducks’ backcourt is so thin right now that getting a player like Iroegbu is more important. The junior turns the ball over too much and is not a great defender but he would give Altman’s backcourt a creative playmaker and dead-eye shooter (46.2% 3FG) at a relative discount. Oregon doesn’t have the pieces to go after Payton II or Bryce Alford, but Small and Sorkin offer enough long-term upside to convince the Cougars to part with an inconsistent talent like Iroegbu.

Cal gets Tony Parker and UCLA gets Stephen Domingo and Kameron Rooks

Despite his immense talent, Parker is probably too moody and inconsistent to garner much interest as a last-minute rental. But Cuonzo Martin, perhaps sensing that this is his only year with Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, could be persuaded to take a low-risk flyer on a big-time addition. Cal would love to take some interior attention away from the precocious Rabb and Parker would undoubtedly do that. Rabb is a good enough shooter that he and Parker could play together without floor-spacing issues and Parker is a good enough post defender and rebounder that Rabb could use his length to bother shooters on and off the ball. The question would be whether Martin could get the most out of Parker and make him a more consistent player. If so, Cal might become a scary postseason proposition. For UCLA, Steve Alford would get a chance to start fresh with a young core while adding depth to his frontcourt.

Utah gets Bryce Alford and Colorado gets Kyle Kuzma and Isaiah Wright

Utah is firmly entrenched in “win now” mode whether it likes it or not. Jakob Poeltl will likely not be back for his junior season and the Utes will also lose three other rotation members including Jordan Loveridge — their third-leading scorer and best outside shooter. UCLA, on the other hand, has a solid young nucleus and a top-ranked recruiting class coming to Westwood. If Alford was ruthless enough to ship his own son out of town, now would be a good time. For Utah, the Brandon Taylor experiment has run its course. Alford isn’t known for his defense but he is still a major upgrade on both ends of the floor and he would give his new team another deep threat to pair with Loveridge. Brekkot Chapman has not improved the way Utah would have liked but he is good enough to capably replace Kuzma and Chris Reyes is a reliable backup. Kuzma is the perfect second or third big man for the new-look Bruins. He is athletic and skilled enough that he could become a double-double machine once he is away from Poeltl’s long shadow.

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Burning Questions: Pac’s Next Best Team

Posted by Mike Lemaire (@Mike_Lemaire), Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) and Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 4th, 2016

Oregon sits alone atop the conference with a one-game lead at the halfway mark over four second-place teams. Considering the Ducks already have a win at the McKale Center (one of their six wins over top 50 teams) and a conference-best KenPom rating of #15, we’ve got a consensus of contributors willing to call Dana Altman’s group the best team in the Pac. So that brings us to the obvious next question: If the Ducks go down, which will be the team to do it? Our answers are below.

Even Sitting A Couple Games Back, Sean Miller And The Wildcats Are In Striking Position

Even Sitting A Couple Games Back, Sean Miller And The Wildcats Are In Striking Position

Mike Lemaire: Depleted as they may be, Arizona is still the next best team in the conference. All three of its road losses were by three points or fewer (and one of those went into quadruple-overtime), and although Oregon exposed the Wildcats as a flawed team (especially without the services of Allonzo Trier), it is still the most well-rounded team in the league outside of Eugene. But this pick is as much about the uninspiring resumes of the other contenders as it is about Arizona. Utah’s best win is at Colorado; the Buffaloes beat Oregon at home but haven’t posted many other victories of note; USC needed four overtimes to beat the Wildcats in the Galen Center. Behind Oregon, the Pac-12 is a conference littered with “good but not great” teams. Arizona has the best coach, the most talent and the most upside. I’ll take the ‘Cats head-to-head on a neutral floor against any other team in the conference. Read the rest of this entry »

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Making Sense Of The Tightly-Packed PAC at the Turn

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 3rd, 2016

Every Pac-12 team is now halfway through its conference schedule, and to say that this conference is tight is quite the understatement. There are currently five teams within a game of first place, and conference stalwarts Arizona and UCLA are not among that group. Let’s take a spin around the league and evaluate where the league stands as it makes the turn for the home stretch.

Legitimate Contenders For Regular Season Championship

Chris Boucher, Casey Benson And The Ducks Are Halfway Home To A Pac-12 Title (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

Chris Boucher, Casey Benson And The Ducks Are Halfway Home To A Pac-12 Title (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

Hey, this is easy, right? You just take those five teams sitting at 6-3 or better and boom, we’re done, right? No, that’s too easy. We’ve got to take a stand. So, let’s take a stand and name Oregon, Utah and USC as the biggest threats to take the title. The Ducks, conference leaders at 7-2, are the obvious one. I’m personally interested in bragging about the fact that I’ve had them as the conference favorite since I first looked at the league back in mid-summer, but Dana Altman’s got a combination of experience, upside, athleticism, intelligence, quickness and length that is the Platonic ideal of a college basketball team (little known fact: Plato was a huge hoop-head). As for Utah, it took some early lumps but has taken advantage of a lull in the schedule to reel off five straight wins. They’ve still got tough roadies ahead to the Oregon and Los Angeles schools, but Brandon Taylor is starting to knock in shots and there are few players in the conference who can handle Jakob Poeltl in the post. The final true contender is USC, and that isn’t a phrase that anybody expected to be written this February. But it’s for real. Andy Enfield’s squad is undeniably talented and beginning to figure out how to win. The Trojans’ schedule down the stretch is insane (vs. UCLA, at the Arizona schools, home against Utah and Colorado, at Cal and Stanford, finishing at home against the Oregon schools), but this team has already shown it can play with anybody in the league. Notably missing in this space is two-time defending champion Arizona. The Wildcats aren’t out of it at just two games back, but this year’s group just doesn’t measure up to the type of Wildcats we’ve grown accustomed to.

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