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Friday, December 9, 2011
Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

By Eamonn Brennan

Based on results and not preseason expectations, here's my attempt at ranking the Pac-12 teams one month into the season:

1. Stanford: After four largely mediocre seasons, it appears Johnny Dawkins has his best team yet. The Cardinal have just one loss, a 69-63 defeat to No. 3 Syracuse in Madison Square Garden. Other than that, they've handled their business and looked solid doing so, playing some of the best defense in the country -- as of this writing, Dawkins' team ranks No. 9 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency.

2. Arizona: The Wildcats have struggled at times this season, and the inability of freshman point guard Josiah Turner to adjust to the college game (and stay out of coach Sean Miller's doghouse) has definitely hampered them in the early going. Still, the Wildcats don't have a bad loss on their docket and just took Florida to overtime in Gainesville. This team could fluctuate wildly in these power rankings this season, but for now, they deserve a spot near the top.

3. California: The Bears were many analysts' pick to win this league, and they haven't provided much reason to move them any lower than this. Then again, they haven't exactly wowed either. A one-point loss at San Diego State is a write-off, but that 92-53 trucking they received from Mizzou and the lack of quality wins still raises doubts about just how much this team -- which, let's not forget, lost 15 games last season -- has improved since.

4. Washington: The Huskies have oodles of talent and tons of potential -- potential they've yet to reach. But this week's thrilling last-second loss to unbeaten Marquette portends positive things to come. From a sheer talent standpoint, Lorenzo Romar's appears to be the best team in the league.

5. Oregon State: Craig Robinson desperately needed a solid season to keep the hot seat talk at bay. Thus far, he's getting it. The Beavers are 6-1 with a 100-95 (yes, 100-95) win against Texas on a neutral floor, and their only loss to date is a 64-62 neutral-court defeat to Vanderbilt. At this point, given what we've seen from the rest of this league, that makes OSU a top-half Pac-12 team.

6. Oregon: I'm not sure what a win at Nebraska means exactly, because Wake Forest accomplished the same feat during the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. But Oregon was able to go on the road and get a victory against the Huskers, and their two losses (at Vanderbilt, vs. BYU in Salt Lake) are perfectly respectable. We'll get a bit better idea when Virginia comes to Matthew Knight Arena on Dec. 18.

7. Colorado: The Buffaloes have played woeful defense to date; they're ranked No. 216 in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. But they have shown an ability to put some points on the board, and their losses -- neutral-court drops to Wichita State and Maryland, and a one-point road loss to rival Colorado State -- are relatively forgivable. This team will have to defend better, though.

8. Washington State: Ken Bone's team played well at Gonzaga but went 0-for-3 in the 76 Classic, ending with a 64-63 loss to UC Riverside in the consolation bracket. Its wins have come against Sacramento State, Portland, Grambling, Eastern Washington and Idaho. That is not very good. But from an efficiency standpoint, the Cougars are still better than the handful of teams that follow here.

9. Arizona State: Keep an eye on the Sun Devils. It seems unlikely this team is going to undergo a sudden surge at any point this season, but if it does, it will be because the NCAA rules touted freshman Jahii Carson eligible in the coming days. If Carson is ineligible for good, an already ugly season could get worse. Let's wait and see.

10. UCLA: The Bruins get the nod over USC here if only because they clearly have some talent. You can see it. It's there. But there are plenty of good reasons to rank them this low. There are the double-digit losses to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee State. The ongoing Reeves Nelson mess. The poor conditioning of Josh Smith. The 2-5 record. The inability to play any of its decent opponents close for more than a few minutes at a time. This team should be better eventually. It almost has to be, right? Either way, it's awfully bad now.

11. USC: USC does play defense! It's ranked No. 44 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. Unfortunately, it does not play offense: The Trojans are ranked No. 240 in adjusted offensive efficiency. Yeah. It's ugly. (How does a 42-36 loss to Cal Poly sit with you?) Kevin O'Neill's team might develop into a tough out for many of its conference foes because of that defense, but if it can't put points on the board it's going to struggle.

12. Utah: This was the easiest pick of the lot, and it will almost certainly remain that way for the rest of the season. The Utes are nearing historically bad territory: They're 1-7, ranked No. 305 in the KenPom rankings, and their two most recent results are an 82-52 loss to Fresno State and an 81-50 home loss -- home loss! -- to Cal-State Fullerton. First-year coach Larry Krystkowiak might get the Utes back to relevance eventually, but it isn't happening this season. Yikes.