Monday, February 27, 2012
Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12
By Eamonn Brennan
For all the ways you can diss the Pac-12 this season -- and you can start with the 1-29 record against the RPI top 50 in nonconference play, or look at the paucity of teams ranked inside Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency top 50 (there are two), and so on and so forth -- you can't dispute this: This league is in for a fascinating final week.
Why? Cal's loss at Colorado on Sunday dropped the Bears to 13-4, where they're currently a half-game behind Washington, which just snuck past rival Washington State 59-55 on Saturday. If the Huskies win at USC and UCLA, they'll finish 15-3 and in sole possession of the conference title. If they stumble -- and provided Cal can get past Stanford on Sunday -- the Bears could still earn a share of a title they've appeared destined to win for much of the season. Forget NCAA tournament bubble implications. These coaches and players have a title to win.
Oh, and speaking of the tourney: There really are no guarantees. Cal is the closest thing to an exception, because it would be hard for the Bears to fall below the coterie of teams bunched around the bubble line on the S-Curve even after Sunday's loss in Boulder. But Washington? Arizona? The operative Bubble Watch phrase here is "work to do." The basketball has been uneven all season, but you can't dispute the intrigue and what promises to be a fiery debate in the weeks leading up to Selection Sunday. Stay tuned.
1. California: On Sunday, Cal lost 70-57 at Colorado. Just three days earlier, Stanford went to Boulder and beat the Buffaloes 74-50. You figure those two results out. I really can't. Cal still looks like the best team in the conference, and its still-solid efficiency numbers (the Bears rank No. 19 overall in KenPom's adjusted efficiency and No. 2 in the league in per-possession offense and defense, the best all-around numbers of any team in Pac-12 play) back that up. But they're far from a dominant outfit, which we saw in the offensively challenged performance at CU. Now the Bears have to win at rival Stanford -- and hope for a Washington loss -- to steal a share of the league title.
2. Washington: The Huskies now control whether they win the Pac-12 title. Wins at USC and UCLA would make them outright regular-season conference champs. Most Washington fans would assume, and understandably so, such an accomplishment would seal their team's NCAA tournament bid. But in this season's Pac-12, that isn't a guarantee. Remember, the committee doesn't look at conference record (at least, it says it doesn't), but it does look at nonconference performance and top-50 wins, among other things. This conference is severely lacking in both categories. One would assume 15-3 and the league title will be enough, but UW might not want to drop a game to the LA schools and test whether 14-4 does the trick.
3. Arizona: Seniors Kyle Fogg and Jesse Perry were determined to make their final regular-season home game a win, and their second-half efforts -- in which they combined for 28 of their team's 38 points -- ensured a crucial two-point victory over UCLA. Arizona's at-large chances remain a work in progress, but the win over the rival Bruins keeps them in the discussion heading into the finale against ASU and the Pac-12 tourney.
4. Oregon: Oregon's chances of notching an at-large bid aren't great, but Dana Altman's team kept its faint hopes alive by escaping from Corvallis with a one-point win over Oregon State on Sunday. Oregon finishes up with two home games versus Colorado and Utah. E.J. Singler and Devoe Joseph have really come on down the stretch for this team, giving the Ducks efficient offense on the wing, but the narrow losses to Oregon State, Cal and Colorado in the past month have kept Altman's team from breaking through to the top of the league.
5. Colorado: When you're on the bubble fringe, as Colorado is, the best you can do is take your chances when they come. That's what Tad Boyle's team did Sunday, beating league leader (and the only team in the league with a top-50 RPI) California. The Buffs have struggled on the road all season long, so season-closing road trips to Oregon and Oregon State will present their challenges. At this point, even with the Cal win in hand, CU's profile is such that it almost certainly has to win the next two and at least get to the Pac-12 tourney final to find itself in the NCAA tournament.
6. UCLA: The 2012 Bruins are still the 2012 Bruins -- disappointing, mediocre, occasionally not-quite-mediocre and then mediocre again. This week, UCLA beat Arizona State in Tempe and lost to Arizona in Tucson. It is 9-7 in league play. its longest winning and losing streaks in league play are three games and two games, respectively. In its past five games, UCLA has lost (to Cal), won (USC), lost (at St. John's), won (Arizona State) and lost (at Arizona). I think that pretty much sums it up.
7. Stanford: Can you explain the Cardinal's week? Because I can't. On Thursday, Stanford went to Colorado -- a team that beat Cal by 13 Sunday, mind you -- and won by 24 points. Then, on Saturday, Stanford lost. Yes, lost at Utah. Utah has played better, and clearly Colorado was off, and so on, but still. This league is weird.
8. Washington State: The Cougars nearly took down the Huskies in Pullman Saturday, a win that may well have sunk Washington's at-large hopes for good. Instead, Washington escaped with the 59-55 win, as Wazzu's offense -- which, pre-Faisal Aden injury, was one of the league's best while at home -- fell short.
9. Oregon State: The Beavers' one-point home loss to Oregon on Sunday was their fifth in a row, a losing streak that began with a home loss to the aforementioned Cougars and continued against Washington, Stanford and Cal. Back in November, Oregon State lost to Vanderbilt by two points on a neutral floor just two days after putting 100 points on a solid Texas team in an overtime victory. That was months ago now, but it feels even longer.
10. Arizona State: All things considered, this has been a disastrous season for Arizona State, from the losses to the ineligibility of freshman Jahii Carson to more losses to, well, more losses after that. In any other season, ASU is probably the worst team in this league. But not in 2012! So, you know, there's that.
11. Utah: We can say much of the same for the Utes. In any other season, Utah -- which changed coaches and conferences in the matter of 12 months and saw its best and most important player (Josh "Jiggy" Watkins) dismissed by coach Larry Krystkowiak in mid-January -- would be the worst team in this league. For much of the season, including that horrendous nonconference stretch, things appeared to be heading that way. But give the Utes some credit. They improved throughout the season, played hard and gave a bunch of putatively better teams occasionally serious challenges -- and even won some, including this weekend against Stanford.
12. USC: And also, USC is worse. The Trojans are averaging .83 points per trip (adjusted) in Pac-12 play. Overall, the Trojans' offensive efficiency ranks No. 318 in the country, per KenPom, which puts them one spot ahead of Eastern Michigan and one spot behind Arkansas-Pine Bluff. In 16 Pac-12 games, the Trojans have scored more than 60 points exactly twice. Saturday's loss at Arizona State dropped them to 1-15 in the worst Pac-12 we've seen in a really long time. In short, USC is bad.