Monday, January 16, 2012
Conference power rankings: Pac-12
By Eamonn Brennan
Another week, another spate of Pac-12 rankings. For those interested, and for what it's worth -- which is quite a bit, if you dig advanced college hoops analysis (and you should) -- the Pac-12 now ranks No. 9 in Ken Pomeroy's conference rankings. Based on Ken's efficiency-based formulations, that means the Pac-12 is now ranked below not only the other five power leagues but also the Mountain West, the Atlantic 10 and, yes, the Missouri Valley.
This is your 2011-12 Pacific-12. But you probably knew that already.
In any case, there's some historic news in this week's edition of the rankings. Utah is no longer No. 12. Seriously! That thrilling development and more below:
Same as last week and the week before, I have these two teams as a relative tie at the top of the league. Both Stanford and Cal handled their business as expected last week, both topping Utah and Colorado in respective two-game homestands. Stanford did have a bit of a scare against Utah, narrowly edging the Utes 68-65, and that's hardly an encouraging scoreline given Utah's near-historic struggles for much of the season. (Cal had no such problem, beating Utah by a much more expected margin of 81-45.) But you know the cliché: A win, as they say, is a win.
Cal still looks like the more impressive team both on the court and on paper -- where they're the clear efficiency-margin leader in the league, despite their struggles in games against top opponents. But it's hard to penalize Johnny Dawkins' team after a 2-0 week.
3. Oregon: The Ducks' efficiency stats are still somewhat pedestrian, but that's true of much of the Pac-12, and you have to give them credit for a really solid week. Oregon won handily at Arizona State and followed it up with a creditable defensive performance in a 59-57 win at Arizona. Given how much we've seen Pac-12 squads struggle on the road this season, that win alone is worthy of praise.
4. UCLA: The Bruins didn't have much on the docket this week, just Sunday's tilt with rival USC, but UCLA handled business well enough against its rival's quality defense and anemic offense, winning 66-47 and preserving its status at No. 4 in these rankings. The early issues this team faced are still occasionally present here, but the Bruins still have as much upside as almost any team in this league.
5. Washington: The Huskies' record still looks pretty blah, and their defense hasn't improved much, but after Sunday night's win over Washington State, UW is 4-1 in conference play and still boasts more sheer talent in the form of Tony Wroten, Abdul Gaddy, Terrence Ross and Aziz N'Diaye.
6. Colorado: The Buffaloes were the only undefeated team in conference play as of last week, but CU coach Tad Boyle said his team still had much proving to do as it went on the road for the first time in Pac-12 play. He was right. Colorado went 0-2 on the road this week, losing by seven at Cal and by 20 at Stanford. The Buffs' per-possession stats have been cause for skepticism all season, and this week we saw that play out on the court.
7. Arizona: Arizona beat Oregon State on Thursday, which is all well and good, but the Wildcats turned around and lost at home to Oregon two days later, and while the final scoreline (59-57) was forgivable -- hey, sometimes you lose close games, it happens, you move on, etc. -- scoring less than a point per possession on your own floor against the Ducks' thus-far mediocre defense is hardly cause for inspiration.
8. Oregon State: The Beavers showed plenty of signs of promise and improvement in nonconference play, but Saturday's loss at Arizona State moved them to 11-7 overall and 1-5 in league competition. OSU's tempo-free stats indicate that it's one of the four or five best teams in the league, but that doesn't mean much if you can't get wins, particularly the kind of wins that exude some measure of superiority. A loss to a hobbled ASU squad, even in Tempe, is not that.
9. Arizona State: The Sun Devils aren't going to blow your socks off, but they do deserve credit for playing through adversity (including the dismissal of leading scorer Kaela King) and getting a nice little home win over Oregon State. Despite the struggles and the personnel problems, ASU has one more conference win than Washington State, Utah and Oregon State. Yes, that's damning with faint praise, but Herb Sendek is doing his best to keep moving forward during a difficult year. I was sure ASU would be ranked next-to-last for the entire season. It's not, and that in itself is an accomplishment. Hey, at least it's not the cellar.
10. Washington State: The Cougars have had a tough run in the schedule lately, playing three straight league road games since Jan. 5. All three ended in losses, including this week's 10-point defeat at Washington. In other words, the Cougars might not be quite this bad. But at some point, you have to compete on the road, and Washington State hasn't been able to do that lately.
11. Utah: Rejoice, rejoice, you pained Utes fans -- for the first time all season, your team is not ranked No. 12 in the league. Why? Because they've won a conference game and USC hasn't. That's probably reason enough. But Utah has also looked much better in recent losses, falling by just four to Washington last week and by just three at Stanford on Jan. 12. That's ... well, not impressive, so to speak, but seeing as how Utah has spent much of this season ranking alongside the Central Arkansas of the world, well, this is a borderline shocking development. Utah! Utah? Hey, sure! Utah!
12. USC: USC just can't score. It's really that simple. The Trojans play good defense, but they've scored more than 50 points just once in their past five games, scoring far less than a point per possession in every Pac-12 contest to date. That's how you start 0-5 in conference play, and that's how you fall below Utah in the conference power rankings. Oof.