College Basketball Nation: Oregon State Beavers

Oregon State starts five walk-ons in loss to Oregon

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
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Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle started five walk-ons in the Beavers' 65-62 loss to Oregon.

3-point shot: Tinkle's fit at Oregon State

May, 19, 2014
5/19/14
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In today’s 3-point shot, Andy Katz talks about why Wayne Tinkle is a great fit at Oregon State, the NBA draft stock on 2013-14 seniors and Noah Vonleh’s pro potential.

3-point shot: Oregon State coaching search

May, 12, 2014
5/12/14
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Andy Katz looks at Oregon State's coaching search and teams taking on foreign offseason competition.

3-point shot: Oregon State coaching search

May, 6, 2014
5/06/14
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Andy Katz looks at replacements for Craig Robinson at Oregon State and news at the Big 12 meetings.

Few words in the English language are more confused than "unique." Most of the time, the word is used to mean slightly different or unusual.

In fact, unique means one of a kind. If something is unique, it is unlike anything else in the world. How many things are actually unique? Why do we use the word so commonly?

What we're trying to say is that it feels good to have a chance to use the word appropriately.

In a sport full of patterned trajectories and templated tenures, Craig Robinson's six-year run at Oregon State -- which ended Monday -- was, quite literally, unique. It's right there in the first line of his biography: brother-in-law of President Barack Obama. In the summer of 2008, at the Democratic National Convention, Robinson introduced his sister and future first lady Michelle Obama. He told his own story in his speech. Robinson had been miserable as an investment banker, and his sister encouraged him to rediscover his first love: teaching and coaching.

"And today I'm proud to be the coach of the Oregon State men's basketball team," Robinson continued. "Go Beavs!"

How many coaches get that kind of introduction?

It was a time for unbridled optimism. Robinson's White House ties would usher in a new era of Oregon State basketball. Recruits would flock to Corvallis, Oregon, to play for the president's brother-in-law.

[+] EnlargeCraig Robinson, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama
AP Photo/Eugene TannerThe first lady and president were in attendance for Oregon State's game against Akron at the Diamond Head Classic on Dec. 22, 2013, in Honolulu. Former Oregon State coach Craig Robinson is Michelle Obama's brother.
In the meantime, his first season was a legitimate coaching success. Robinson inherited a team that went 0-18 in the Pac-12 and 6-25 overall in 2007-08. A year later, the Beavers were 18-18 with a 7-11 conference record. Their adjusted efficiency ranking jumped from No. 264 to No. 97. It was a major turnaround, a vindication of Robinson's coaching talent. Just two seasons at Brown (with a 30-28 record) left some wondering if the presidential bump was perhaps the only reason Robinson was hired. His first season quelled those doubts.

And then the Beavers just never got better. They won more than 18 games just once between 2009 and 2014 (going 21-15 in 2011-12). Forget the NCAA tournament; Robinson never took a team to the NIT. That big efficiency boost we just mentioned? Oregon State's metric climbed above 97 only once in the rest of his tenure (No. 94 in 2013). His teams' average KenPom rank: 121.7.

In 2012, Robinson made his second appearance at a national convention. He spoke alongside President Obama's sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng -- another of the family introduction/reminder speeches aimed at humanizing politicians. Robinson had more basketball jokes this time. He introduced himself as "Michelle Obama's big brother, father of four and head coach of Oregon State University's men's basketball team" and quickly added: "Any 7-footers out there, give me a call."

"I'm proud of her work to give our children a healthier start in life," Robinson said later, praising the first lady's nutritional initiatives. "And let's face it, Maya: I could use the recruits."

It was a good laugh line, but it wasn't accurate. In 2009, Oregon State had signed Roberto Nelson, the No. 17-ranked shooting guard. In 2010, four-star forward Devon Collier became the second ESPN 100 addition of Robinson's tenure. In 2012, Jared Cunningham became Oregon State's first draft pick in 14 seasons. The 2012 class was deeper and bigger than it appears in retrospect.

When Oregon State fans grew frustrated -- as did notable interested observers, such as SI's George Dohrmann (whose book, "Play Their Hearts Out," tracked Nelson's development from a young age) -- it was not because the Beavers lacked talent. Nelson and Collier both were still in the fold in 2013-14. One Pac-12 coach told ESPN's Jeff Goodman the Beavers had the third-most talent in the league last fall.

The Beavers just never improved. Whatever individual strides players made, the collective would always seem to fall short. In 2013-14, as Nelson and Collier formed a legitimately interesting group on offense, the Beavers suddenly played the worst defense of Robinson's tenure. (Oregon State allowed 1.10 points per trip in conference play. To be clear, that is not good.) It was strange. After years of offensive criticism, Robinson seemed to have finally put a potential tournament team together and the defense promptly crumbled.

[+] EnlargeCraig Robinson
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsRoberto Nelson averaged 20.7 points per game as a senior this past season for Oregon State.
On March 28, Oregon State athletic director Bob De Carolis issued a letter to fans and boosters touting Robinson's accomplishments and asking for patience and support. He had met with Robinson and made a somewhat reasonable case: "Oregon State has been .500 or better four times since 1991 and he has coached his teams to three of those seasons. … Oregon State has won eight conference games three times since 1993, of which he has had two of those seasons. … Oregon State had four wins against top-50 and six against top-100 NCAA basketball programs this past season, including wins over two teams that advanced to the Sweet 16." The letter had a lot of those bullet points. But the best one was the first:

"He is the fourth-winningest coach in Oregon State history with 94 victories and trails only Hall of Famers Slats Gill, Ralph Miller and Bob Hager," De Carolis wrote.

The gist of De Carolis' point was fair: Oregon State hasn't been good at basketball for a long time, and under Robinson, they were better than the average. When you're touting your coach's status as the fourth-winningest coach in the history of the program and he has 94 total wins at the school, you have a problem with your program.

Robinson's 94 wins were accompanied by 105 losses. Five weeks after the letter, Eric Moreland had declared early for the NBA draft, Hallice Cooke decided to transfer, and Challe Barton chose to stay overseas instead of returning to the program this fall -- all in addition to the losses of leading scorers Nelson, Collier and Angus Brandt. So supportive a few weeks ago, De Carolis swallowed Robinson's $4 million buyout Monday.

And so ended Robinson's run at Oregon State. It began with a speech at the Democratic National Convention and continued through three-fourths of his brother-in-law's presidency. It started with one of the most impressive one-season coaching jobs of the past decade and ended with a mass exodus. It took place at a program with little history of success; the boosters eventually had enough anyway.

How's that for one of a kind?

Look back, look ahead: Pac-12

April, 25, 2014
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Sean Miller seemed to have every tool necessary for the Arizona Wildcats to make a push for the national title as the 2013-14 season approached. His talent pool was so rich that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a former McDonald’s All-American, was a reserve most of the season.

But Arizona, a team so well-rounded that it reached the Elite Eight without NBA prospect Brandon Ashley’s services in the final two months of the season, wasn’t the best measurement of the conference.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Ashley
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesBrandon Ashley's return from a foot injury should keep Arizona in contention in the Pac-12.
For that, go to Salt Lake City, where Larry Krystkowiak began the season as a campus crime-fighter and continued his heroics by enhancing Utah’s program. This past season, the Utes finished 9-9 in conference play a year after going 5-13 in the Pac-12. They also added six wins compared to last season.

The Utes were one of nine Pac-12 squads that finished .500 or better in league play. Oregon State, 10th in the league, finished 16-16 overall. Only two teams in the Pac-12 finished with sub-.500 overall records.

Arizona and UCLA were the only two squads that separated themselves from the rest of the league, and that can be viewed in two ways: The Pac-12 was packed with a bunch of solid programs, or it was plagued by mediocrity.

The league’s postseason finish -- six NCAA tourney teams, three in the Sweet 16 and one in the Elite Eight -- suggests the former.

What we saw this season: On Feb. 1, the national title race changed. That night, Ashley suffered a season-ending foot injury in a loss to Cal, Arizona’s first loss of the season. How important was Ashley?

Well, the Wildcats were still a powerhouse that maintained its position as the top-rated team in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency rankings. And they maintained enough mojo to win the Pac-12’s regular-season crown and reach the Elite Eight, but they really needed Ashley’s versatility and length in their loss to Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin in the NCAA tourney.

At UCLA, in Steve Alford’s first season, he found the best position for Kyle Anderson -- playmaker -- and shaped the Bruins into a top-50 defensive unit. After some early bumps, the Bruins finished 11-4 in the final weeks of the season after suffering a four-point loss at Oregon State on Feb. 2. That run included a Pac-12 tourney title and a Sweet 16 appearance.

Both Johnny Dawkins at Stanford and Herb Sendek at Arizona State were on the hot seat entering the season. That wasn’t a secret. Both Dawkins and Sendek bought more time with NCAA tourney appearances. Dawkins reached the Big Dance with the help of a few ambitious and hungry upperclassmen (Chasson Randle, Dwight Powell), and the Cardinal’s rally to the Sweet 16 was a stunning development in the NCAA tournament. It was a big win for Dawkins, whose athletic director had demanded improvement before the season. Sendek, meanwhile, signed Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall, a reputable Robin to Jahii Carson’s Batman, but the Sun Devils lost six of their final eight games.

Oregon’s 2-8 stretch midseason didn’t define its season. Transfers Joseph Young and Mike Moser led Dana Altman’s program to 24 wins. The Ducks were ahead by 12 at halftime against Wisconsin before losing in the third round of the tournament.

Colorado’s dreams were deferred when Spencer Dinwiddie suffered a season-ending injury in January. The Buffaloes were never the same without him, and a 29-point loss to Pitt in the opening round of the tourney was the final blow in a rough season for Tad Boyle’s crew. Washington finished 9-9 in league play, but that record features more highs and lows. The Huskies, much like the rest of the conference, couldn’t win on the road.

California failed to maintain the swagger it had in that upset win over Arizona in February and ended up in the NIT. Oregon State, Washington State and USC all finished at the bottom of the conference, which wasn’t surprising.

The story of the Pac-12 in 2013-14? The limited separation within the league.

What we expect to see next season: The future is uncertain for a league that could have had an unprecedented seven tournament bids in 2014-15.

Eleven ESPN 100 prospects will enter the league in 2014-15. And the rich will get richer, so the landscape shouldn’t change much.

[+] EnlargeAlford
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsSteve Alford will bring a top-10 recruiting class to UCLA.
Miller lost Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson, but McDonald’s All-American forward Stanley Johnson is a versatile beast who leads the league’s top recruiting class. Plus, Ashley will return from his foot injury along with T.J. McConnell, Kaleb Tarczewski and Hollis-Jefferson. The Wildcats will contend for the national championship next season, although that would be an easier argument to make if Johnson had decided to return.

Anderson and Zach LaVine left Los Angeles, but Alford adds elite big man Kevon Looney (No. 12 recruit in 2014 class, per RecruitingNation) and 6-foot-11 Californian Thomas Welsh (36th). They’re more talented and athletic than the Wear twins, but Anderson’s departure and the fact that Alford doesn’t have a clear point guard right now makes it difficult to assess UCLA’s potential. A strong nucleus returns, however.

There are questions in Eugene, too. The Ducks return one of the most talented backcourt trios (Young, Damyean Dotson and Dominic Artis) in America. Without Mike Moser, what will they do inside, though?

Stanford is in a position to rise in the league after its Sweet 16 run. Reid Travis (27th overall prospect) leads Dawkins’ most fruitful recruiting class, and three of his top five scorers from last season, including Randle, will return. Utah could surge, too. Krystkowiak had only one senior on the Utes’ roster last season.

Things looked brighter for Colorado before Dinwiddie entered the NBA draft. But Boyle will still have a strong group returning, and point guard prospect Dominique Collier could evolve into the young floor leader his program needs.

Cuonzo Martin replaces Mike Montgomery at Cal. The good news? A strong group of players are back. The bad news? He won’t have Justin Cobbs and top rebounder Richard Solomon.

Andy Enfield signed a top-25 recruiting class, but his USC squad, which finished last in the Pac-12 last season, also lost its top two scorers (Byron Wesley will transfer and Pe’Shon Howard graduated). Former Oregon coach Ernie Kent will attempt to change the culture of a Washington State squad that finished 3-15 in Pac-12 play.

Nigel Williams-Goss made the right decision to return to Washington for his sophomore season, but that alone won’t be enough to make Washington a contender in the league. Arizona State could also struggle next season without Carson, Marshall and Jordan Bachynski.

There’s talent coming, but more is leaving.

Although the Pac-12 will boast a handful of teams that will warrant NCAA tourney consideration, it won’t be as deep as it was this past season.

Cyclones lead Diamond Head Classic field

December, 18, 2013
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Back in November, few outside of Ames, Iowa, would have predicted Iowa State as the last undefeated team in the Big 12. Yet, as the eight teams in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic (which starts Sunday and will be broadcast on ESPNU) land in Honolulu, the No. 17 Cyclones are 8-0 and all alone in first place.

“We knew we had some great early-season tests,” said coach Fred Hoiberg, who is 70-39 in four seasons at his alma mater. “They’ve handled adversity well. That’s been a key to our early-season success.”

For “The Mayor” to become King of Diamond Head, his horses will have to deliver. His main thoroughbred is 6-foot-6 senior forward Melvin Ejim, the conference’s second-leading scorer (18.7 ppg) and sixth-leading rebounder (7.7 rpg), who has starred despite hyperextending a knee at the end of preseason.

Versatile 6-7 sophomore forward Georges Niang (14.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.1 apg) and senior point DeAndre Kane (14.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg and 5.8 apg) also are key pieces.

ISU is fast and unselfish offensively, leading the conference in scoring, 3-point baskets and assists. The Cyclones also lead in rebounding and field goal defense, and are second in three-point field goal defense. Although the favorite, Hoiberg is wary of the competition.

“It’s a great field,” he said. “Top to bottom … any team can beat any other in the field.

Here's a look at the rest of the field competing in the Diamond Head Classic:

Akron (4-2)

What's at stake? The Zips, back-to-back MAC champions, need to replace key pieces, including center Zeke Marshall. They’ll look to gain momentum heading into conference play.

Who's hot? Demetrius "Tree" Treadwell is taking root in the middle, averaging 13.3 points and 8.0 rebounds and a block a game.

Who is the surprise? Sophomore big Pat Forsythe has shot 52 percent from the field, blocked a shot per game and been tough on the offensive glass.

Projection: There’s time to pull it together and battle for the MAC -- the Zips might not have that luxury in Honolulu.

Boise State (8-2)

What's at stake? The Broncos’ 8-0 start was the best in school history, before it lost at Kentucky. High-octane Boise wants to prove it can run with the big boys.

Who's hot? The junior tandem of Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks averages north of 36 points a game. Drmic, a 6-6 wing from Australia, averages 18.6 ppg, while Marks, a 6-3 guard from Chicago, shoots 48.4 percent from the field and 82.8 percent from the free-throw line.

Who is the surprise? Senior guard Jeff Elorriaga has been a surprise for how hot he’s shooting -- 62.3 percent from the field, 60 percent from behind the arc.

Prediction: Boise State needs to keep the pace fast and hit 3s to prove its fast start wasn’t a product of its schedule.

George Mason (5-4)

What's at stake? Occasionally offensively challenged, the Patriots have a tough draw, starting with Iowa State.

Who’s hot? Senior forward Bryon Allen has shot almost 40 percent from 3-point range this season, hitting a career-best four 3-pointers against South Florida.

Who is the surprise? Sophomore forward Marko Gujanicic, the 6-8, 224-pound forward from Serbia, scores 11.4 ppg, more than double last season’s output.

Prediction: It’ll be a grind as uptempo opponents will test George Mason’s defensive principles and take the Patriots out of their comfort zone.

Hawaii (7-2)

What's at stake? The Big West-leading Rainbow Warriors are 7-2 for the second time in coach Gib Arnold’s four seasons. Are they a well-kept secret or a result of their schedule?

Who’s hot? Senior forward Christian Standhardinger, 6-8 and 220 pounds, leads UH and ranks among Big West leaders in scoring, rebounding, blocks and steals.

Who is the surprise? Junior guard Garrett Nevels, a junior college transfer, shoots 55 percent from 3-point range and is second in the conference with 22 3-point field goals made.

Prediction: The Rainbow Warriors can score, but running with the big dogs in this tournament might be too much.

Oregon State (5-2)

What's at stake? The Beavers miss suspended junior forward Eric Moreland and are struggling to find the right formula. Playing Akron, plus Iowa State or George Mason won’t help.

Who’s hot? The outside-inside senior tandem of guard Roberto Nelson and forward Devon Collier rank 1-2 in the Pac-12 in scoring. Nelson (24.7 ppg) hits 1.7 3-pointers per game. Collier is a bucket behind (22.7 ppg).

Who is the surprise? Sophomore Victor Robbins, a 6-7, 197-pound swingman, chips in 7.3 points and 3.1 rebound in 21.4 minutes per game.

Prediction: The Beavers need contributions from the perimeter to keep teams from collapsing on Collier, and a dependable third option.

Saint Mary’s (8-0)

What's at stake? The Diamond Head is the Gaels’ opportunity to prove there is room for two West Coast Conference powers in the Top 25.

Who’s hot? Junior forward Brad Waldow scores a team-high 17.6 ppg (fourth in the WCC) and is second with a 65.1 field goal percentage.

Who is the surprise? Transfer junior guard Kerry Carter supplies instant offense off the bench, connecting on 50 percent of his 3-point attempts.

Prediction: The Gaels are a tournament favorite and, with a game against South Carolina and a rematch from last week with Boise or a contest vs. Iowa State, are a must-watch.

South Carolina (2-4)

What's at stake? Coach Frank Martin’s Gamecocks start two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior and have played mostly on the road. Diamond Head will be an interesting neutral-court test as USC continues to come together heading into the SEC.

Who’s hot? Freshman guard Sindarius Thornwell, a 6-5, 206-pound guard scores 12.7 points per game on 41.7 percent shooting from the 3-point line.

Who is the surprise? Sophomore forward Mindaugas Kacinas, a 6-7, 210-pound player from Lithuania, grabs a team-high 7.8 rebounds per game, almost half off the offensive glass, and scores 7.5 points on 56.3 percent shooting.

Prediction: The Gamecocks are young and talented and go a long way on emotion. Those same things also make them unpredictable and vulnerable.

3-point shot: Josh Smith's transition

October, 24, 2013
10/24/13
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Andy Katz discusses Josh Smith's transition to Georgetown, Dave Rose's return to BYU, and Oregon State's undermanned start to the season.

Nonconference schedule analysis: Pac-12

September, 11, 2013
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This week, ESPN.com has been breaking down the nonconference schedules of each team in nine of the nation's top leagues. Next up: the Pac-12.

ARIZONA

Toughest: at San Diego State (Nov. 14), NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 27-29 in New York), at Michigan (Dec. 14)
Next toughest: UNLV (Dec. 7)
The rest: Cal Poly (Nov. 8), Long Beach State (Nov. 11), New Mexico State (Dec. 11), Southern (Dec. 19), Northern Arizona (Dec. 23)

Toughness scale: 9 -- The Wildcats will go to one of the toughest spots in the Big Ten and in the Mountain West within a month of each other. The NIT Season Tip-Off is on the top line because it seems Arizona and Duke have a pretty clear path to the NIT final at MSG. If that occurs, then the Cats would have three premier games away from home. Playing UNLV and NMSU in Tucson will hardly be a cakewalk, either. This team can handle the chore, though, since it's got top-10 talent.

ARIZONA STATE

Toughest: at UNLV (Nov. 19), Marquette (Nov. 25), Wooden Legacy (Nov. 28-Dec. 1 in Fullerton and Anaheim, Calif.)
Next toughest: at DePaul (Dec. 5)
The rest: UMBC (Nov. 8), Miami-Ohio (Nov. 12), Idaho State (Nov. 15), Bradley (Nov. 22), Grambling (Dec. 14), Texas Tech (Dec. 21), UC Irvine (Dec. 28).

Toughness scale: 7 -- The Sun Devils play a number of teams that might not move the meter but are all high-level NCAA-bound squads. Marquette will be as tough a team to face as any on the slate and going to UNLV will be one of the hardest road stops. Opening with Creighton in the Wooden Legacy should be one of the top first-round games of any tournament (and with a win, San Diego State likely awaits). The road game at DePaul has to be taken seriously after the Blue Demons stunned the Sun Devils last season in Tempe. This is a quality schedule for a team that has NCAA expectations.

CALIFORNIA

Toughest: Maui Invitational (Nov. 25-27), at Creighton (Dec. 22)
Next toughest: at UC Santa Barbara (Dec. 6)
The rest: Coppin State (Nov. 8), Denver (Nov. 12), Oakland (Nov. 15), Southern Utah (Nov. 18), UC Irvine (Dec. 2), Nevada (Dec. 10), Fresno State (Dec. 14), Furman (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 5 -- The game at Creighton is by far the toughest for the Bears. The question is who does Cal eventually get in Maui? If the Bears get past Arkansas, Syracuse is next and the schedule toughness goes up. If the draw is Minnesota, then it’s not as bad. Playing Baylor or Gonzaga on Day 3 would also help the schedule strength. This is a Bears' team that will get ripe with age in the season, so not overloading it early was the smart move.

COLORADO

Toughest: vs. Baylor (Nov. 8 in Dallas), Harvard (Nov. 24), Kansas (Dec. 7), vs. Oklahoma State (Dec. 21 in Las Vegas)
Next toughest: Wyoming (Nov. 13), at Air Force (Nov. 30), at Colorado State (Dec. 3), Georgia (Dec. 28)
The rest: UT Martin (Nov. 10), Jackson State (Nov. 16), Arkansas State (Nov. 18), UCSB (Nov. 21), Elon (Dec. 13)

Toughness scale: 9 -- The Buffaloes get major props for going out and scheduling one of the most difficult slates of any potential NCAA team. The toughest category above has four teams that should take turns in the top 25 and in the case of KU and OSU in the top five. Going to CSU is as tough a rivalry game as anyone will play. There are two more quality rivalry games at Air Force and against Wyoming and an improving Georgia coming west. Colorado might be more ready than any other Pac-12 team for conference play.

OREGON

Toughest: vs. Georgetown (Nov. 8 in South Korea), at Ole Miss (Dec. 8), vs. Illinois (Dec. 14 in Portland)
Next toughest: BYU (Dec. 21)
The rest: Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Nov. 13), Utah Valley (Nov. 19), San Francisco (Nov. 24), Pacific (Nov. 29), North Dakota (Nov. 30), Cal Poly (Dec. 1), Morgan State (Dec. 29).

Toughness scale: 7 -- The Ducks will test themselves with the trip to Camp Humphreys in Seoul and Georgetown is a tough team to play no matter the location. But this will be a hard game to deal with, based on the location and logistics. The Rebels will likely be at full strength when the Ducks come calling in December. Illinois is rebuilding a bit but is always a tough out, even in a Duck-leaning site in Portland. BYU is a sleeper game on this schedule with the Cougars owning a legitimate shot to pull off the upset.

OREGON STATE

Toughest: at Maryland (Nov. 17), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25)
Next toughest: at DePaul (Dec. 1), Towson (Dec. 18)
The rest: Coppin State (Nov. 10), Portland (Nov. 13), SIU Edwardsville (Nov. 26), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Dec. 7), Maryland Eastern Shore (Dec. 15), Quinnipiac (Dec. 29)

Toughness scale: 4 -- The Beavers are still dealing with the suspensions of Eric Moreland and Devon Collier. So a schedule that is too tough wouldn't have made sense for them. Going on the road to Maryland early in the season could be a wake-up call. A road game at DePaul is hardly going to be easy for the Beavers. The Diamond Head Classic could be intriguing if the Beavers beat Akron and get Iowa State on Day 2.

STANFORD

Toughest: at UConn (Dec. 18), vs. Michigan (Dec. 21 in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Next toughest: BYU (Nov. 11), Legends Classic (Nov. 25-26 in New York)
The rest: Bucknell (Nov. 8), Northwestern (Nov. 14), at Denver (Nov. 17), Texas Southern (Nov. 21), South Dakota State (Dec. 1), UC Davis (Dec. 14), Cal Poly (Dec. 29)

Toughness scale: 6 -- The Cardinal get plenty of credit for going east -- twice. Stanford will be ready for the road in the Pac-12 after November and December. The UConn-Michigan swing in the tri-state area is as tough a nonconference road trip as any team has from the West Coast. Washington tried this two years ago with Marquette and Duke in New York City and went home winless. The Legends Classic could turn out to be Stanford's event if the Cardinal can get by Houston and then an anticipated matchup with Pitt. BYU in the opener will wake up this team, too.

UCLA

Toughest: at Missouri (Dec. 7), vs. Duke (Dec. 19 in New York)
Next toughest: vs. Northwestern (Nov. 29 in Las Vegas), Alabama (Dec. 28)
The rest: Drexel (Nov. 8), Oakland (Nov. 12), Sacramento State (Nov. 18), Morehead State (Nov. 22), Chattanooga (Nov. 24), vs. Nevada (Nov. 28 in Las Vegas), UCSB (Dec. 3), Prairie View A&M (Dec. 14), Weber State (Dec. 22)

Toughness scale: 6 -- The Bruins didn't hide from playing Duke in New York City, a virtual home game for the Blue Devils. The return game at Mizzou will be as rocking a road game for UCLA as it will have during the season. The rest of the slate is more than manageable. There is always room to stumble and the Bruins have at home recently. So let's see if Steve Alford wins the games he's supposed to at Pauley.

USC

Toughest: at Utah State (Nov. 8), Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 28-30 in the Bahamas)
Next toughest: Boston College (Dec. 8), at Long Beach State (Dec. 19), at Dayton (Dec. 22)
The rest: Cal State Northridge (Nov. 12), Northern Arizona (Nov. 15), Cal State Fullerton (Nov. 19), West Alabama (Nov. 21), CSU Bakersfield (Dec. 15), Howard (Dec. 29)

Toughness scale: 7 -- The Trojans are going to places few Pac-12 schools would choose to go. No teams from power conferences, outside of Mississippi State this season, go to Utah State. The trip to Logan to open the season will be a bear for new coach Andy Enfield. The Atlantis tournament might not be kind to the Trojans, either, with a possible second-round game against Kansas (after opening with Villanova). BC is much improved and will test USC at home. The road games to Long Beach State and Dayton are two other stops not normally found on a high-major nonconference road schedule.

UTAH

Toughest: at Boise State (Dec. 3), BYU (Dec. 14)
Next toughest: Fresno State (Dec. 7)
The rest: Evergreen State (Nov. 8), UC Davis (Nov. 15), Grand Canyon (Nov. 21), Lamar (Nov. 22), Savannah State (Nov. 23), Ball State (Nov. 27), Idaho State (Dec. 10), Texas State (Dec. 19), St. Katherine (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 3 -- The Utes play one true road game in the nonconference. Boise State should be the second pick in the Mountain West, so that will be a tough one. The BYU rivalry game is at home this season, a plus for the Utes. But the rest of the schedule is weak. That's OK, considering Utah is trying to rebuild under Larry Krystkowiak. But they can't expect much of a postseason chance off this schedule.

WASHINGTON

Toughest: 2K Sports Classic (Nov. 21-22 in New York), at San Diego State (Dec. 8), UConn (Dec. 22)
Next toughest: N/A
The rest: Seattle (Nov. 10), UC Irvine (Nov. 14), Eastern Washington (Nov. 17), Montana (Nov. 26), Long Beach State (Nov. 30), Idaho State (Dec. 14), at Tulane (Dec. 17), Mississippi Valley (Dec. 27), Hartford (Dec. 29)

Toughness scale: 6 -- Washington has some renewed energy and is a team that should be on the radar as a possible NCAA tourney squad. That means the games against the Aztecs, home against UConn and then in New York against Indiana and either BC or UConn will carry significant weight as to how UW is judged as tourney worthy or not in March. I like this schedule as a legitimate prep for the Pac-12 to gauge where the Huskies will be later in the season.

WASHINGTON STATE

Toughest: at Gonzaga (Nov. 21), Old Spice Classic (Nov. 28-Dec. 1 in Orlando)
Next toughest: TCU (Nov. 24), UTEP (Dec. 21)
The rest: CSU Bakersfield (Nov. 8), Lamar (Nov. 16), Pepperdine (Dec. 15), at Idaho (Dec. 7), vs. San Francisco State (Dec. 18 in Kennewick, Wash.), Mississippi Valley State (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 4 -- The Cougars play two of their rivalry games on the road at the Zags and in Moscow, Idaho. The Old Spice Classic could be a breakthrough for Wazzu with a rebuilding Butler team in the first round. Get that win and it's a likely shot at Oklahoma State in Round 2. The TCU home game could be a sneaky spot on the schedule, wedged in between Gonzaga and the Orlando trip.
If an indefinite suspension from competition happens when there are no games, does it really happen at all?

That is the philosophical question (I know, but it's late July, give me a break here) that popped to mind Tuesday afternoon, when Oregon State announced indefinite suspensions of forwards Devon Collier and Eric Moreland for an undisclosed violation of team rules. The short statement from Oregon State coach Craig Robinson arrived via email:
"Senior forward Devon Collier and junior forward Eric Moreland are suspended indefinitely from competition for violation of team rules. They will be allowed to participate with the team in summer workouts and strength/conditioning activities while attending summer school classes."

Which obviously leads to the question: If Collier and Moreland can still attend classes and participate in individual workouts, and they have their suspensions lifted before the start of the 2013-14 season in November -- three months-plus is a long time to be suspended, after all -- were they ever really suspended in the first place? Does that punishment have teeth? Is the public announcement prohibitive enough?

The answers: I don't know! The violation of team rules obviously wasn't disclosed, and Oregon State's only addendum to its announcement statement read as follows: "Oregon State officials will have no further comment at this time." There's no telling what Collier and Moreland did, or what kind of punishment such things usually entails. (And where college kids and minor team violations are concerned, not knowing is usually OK by me.)

That said, if either does end up missing games for Oregon State -- provided those games go beyond the time-tested-coach-approved approach of suspending players for early-season cupcakes -- the impact will be immediately noticeable. Collier is one of the best talents of the Robinson era. Moreland is a 6-foot-10 force on the glass, particularly on the defensive boards, where he pulled down a whopping 27.5 percent of available defensive rebounds last season, fifth-best in all of college basketball. Indeed, Moreland might be the biggest concern -- he still has two years of eligibility left at Oregon State, but this is already the second time this year he's been suspended "indefinitely" for running afoul of Robinson's expectations.

Chances are, if Collier and Moreland are not in so much trouble as to be totally removed from summertime activities (or outright dismissed from the team), they will be back before Oregon State's schedule gets too hairy. But if they miss more time -- or if these issues, whatever they are, pop up again -- it could be a major blow in an absolutely pivotal year for Robinson's program.
Editor's Note: Over two days, we're releasing the brackets/matchups for 11 of the top early-season events. A thread of previews and info for all 11 tourneys can be found here.

Tournament bracket for the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic.

When and where: Dec. 22-23, 25 in Honolulu.

Initial thoughts: I like this field. No, it doesn’t feature any powerhouse programs. Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle won’t be here. But I think this might be one of the most balanced brackets among the early tournaments. That’s why I’m intrigued.

Boise State is stacked. About 92 percent of the team’s offensive output from last season returns. The Broncos squad that reached the NCAA tournament last season only had one senior. Leon Rice’s program could be (should be) the favorite to win the Mountain West in 2013-14. And the Broncos are certainly a strong contender to win the Diamond Head Classic title. They have a clear path to the championship game. Hawaii returns two of its top three scorers from a 17-15 squad that couldn’t defend anyone last season (262nd in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom.com). Saint Mary’s enters the “Life After Matthew Dellavedova” era. Frank Martin’s 2013 recruiting class at South Carolina is a promising addition and a sign of progress, but it might take some time to fit all of the pieces together and that might not be enough to help a Gamecocks team that went 4-14 in the SEC in 2012-13. Boise State stands tall on this side of the bracket.

Iowa State, however, could be potent, too. Fred Hoiberg just signed a 1,000-year extension. So he’s going to be the coach in Ames forever. There’s stability now. And he has a true pillar in Georges Niang. The sophomore is a combo forward who will showcase his full arsenal in 2012-13. He can lead the Cyclones to their third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. A pair of ESPN top-100 recruits, Matt Thomas and Monte Morris, will be in the mix, too. And former Marshall guard DeAndre Kane (15.1 PPG and 7.0 APG 2012-13) will be eligible to compete next year after recently graduating. But Sherrod Wright and George Mason will put up a fight against the Cyclones. The Patriots, who are moving to the Atlantic 10, were second in the CAA in 3-point defense (31.6 percent allowed) last year. Iowa State led the nation in 2012-13 with 878 3-pointers. Oregon State is my sleeper pick to win the championship. Eric Moreland, the team’s top rebounder, returns along with Craig Robinson’s top three scorers from last year (Roberto Nelson, Devon Collier and Angus Brandt). The Beavers will open the tournament against an Akron team that lost shot-blocking savant Zeke Marshall and could be without suspended point guard Alex Abreu, who pled guilty to one count of felony drug trafficking last month.

But I’m intrigued by the parity and possibilities.

Matchup I can’t wait to see: Well, Isaac Fotu's afro is just one of the reasons I can’t wait to see the opening-round contest between Hawaii and Boise State. This will be one the first times Boise plays under the pressures that come with expectations. Last year, the Broncos surprised the country. Now, success is expected. The bulk of last year’s tourney squad is back. And now, the team could enter the season as top dog in the Mountain West. But squads unprepared for the spotlight have stumbled early in the past. Perhaps Hawaii will catch BSU at the right time and score a major upset in this game.

[+] EnlargeBoise State's Anthony Drmic
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsBoise State's Anthony Drmic averaged 17.7 points for the Broncos last season.
Potential matchup I can’t wait to see: Well, fast forward to Boise State versus Iowa State in the championship game. There’s a lot on the line for both teams. Boise State wants to meet the hype. Iowa State wants to prove that it can continue to build despite losing key veterans. Niang & Co. would make a huge statement with a victory over a Broncos team that might be in the Top 25 of the preseason polls. Boise State, however, would acquire the same momentum with a Diamond Head Classic title. Last season ended with a first-round exit in the NCAA tournament. It just wasn’t the team’s best night. The Broncos could erase that memory with a strong start in 2013-14. And a tournament victory here would be a great step toward achieving that.

Five players to watch:

Georges Niang, Iowa State: You might not know him yet. But you will soon. Last year, he averaged 12.1 PPG and 4.6 RPG and also made 39 percent of his 3-pointers. And Hoiberg is convinced he’s capable of more in 2013-14. He won’t have a choice. The Cyclones lost four of their top six scorers from last season. Niang has to deliver.

Roberto Nelson, Oregon State: His achievements were buried last year due to his team’s struggles. Although Oregon State lost 14 Pac-12 games, Nelson averaged 17.8 PPG. The 6-3 guard also made 40 percent of his 3-pointers. Can’t get too excited about a squad that struggled the way that Oregon State did a year ago. But Nelson is a star.

Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks, Boise State: Both Drmic (17.7 PPG) and Marks (16.3 PPG) cracked the Mountain West’s all-conference second team last year as sophomores. The two guards fueled a Boise State attack that was No. 33 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings. The explosive duo could carry Boise State to another NCAA tournament appearance.

Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: Frank Martin promised two things when he accepted the South Carolina job last year: more love for Pitbull and an upgraded recruiting pool. Thornwell -- ranked 41st among ESPN’s top-100 recruits in the 2013 class -- represents change at South Carolina. He anchors an incoming crew that’s ranked 23rd nationally by ESPN.com. The 6-5 guard could be the young stud that Martin needs to truly build the South Carolina program.

Title game prediction: All signs point to Boise State and Iowa State meeting in the championship. They’re clearly the most talented teams in the field. But the Cyclones might need some time to build chemistry, especially with Kane possibly seizing the starting point guard role. Boise State has the benefit of continuity. And the Broncos’ offensive attack is deep and versatile. I expect to see a close game because Iowa State is legit. But I think Boise State will win the title.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: Iowa State over Saint Mary's
Jeff Goodman: Boise State over Oregon State
Andy Katz: Boise State over Iowa State
Jason King: Iowa State over Boise State
Dana O'Neil: Iowa State over Saint Mary's
The Pac-12’s reputation has taken a bit of a hit the past few seasons. Overall, though, the league has been a mecca for topflight NBA talent. Need proof? Just skim some NBA rosters and you’ll find a former Pac-12 star on almost every team.

Here’s a look at the Pac-12 products who have enjoyed the most successful pro careers since 1989, the year the NBA draft was whittled to two rounds.

[+] EnlargeJason Kidd
Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY SportsCal product Jason Kidd Kidd played in 10 All-Star Games and was first-team All-NBA five times.
1. Jason Kidd, Cal: One of the greatest point guards of all time retired this spring as the NBA’s second all-time leader in assists and steals and third all time in 3-pointers. He averaged 8.7 assists in his 18-year career and led the league in that category five times. Kidd played in 10 NBA All-Star games and earned first-team All-NBA honors five times. In 2011 he won an NBA title as a member of the Dallas Mavericks. He also was named to the NBA’s first- or second-team all-defensive squad nine times. Kidd helped Team USA win a gold medal in the 2008 Olympics. He was named head coach of the Brooklyn Nets this month.

2. Gary Payton, Oregon State: Nicknamed “The Glove” for his defensive prowess, Payton is the only point guard to be named NBA Defensive Player of the Year. He was selected to the league’s all-defensive first team nine times and was a nine-time All-Star. Payton won an NBA title with the Miami Heat in 2006, but he’s best remembered for his 13-year stint with the Seattle SuperSonics. He holds franchise records for points, assists and steals. Payton’s menacing defense was hardly the only thing that made him valuable: He averaged 19 or more points for 10 straight seasons in a career that included 15 playoff seasons. He was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.

3. Kevin Love, UCLA: Since leaving UCLA after just one season in 2008, Love has blossomed into one of the most dominant power forwards in recent NBA history. He recorded 53 straight double-doubles with Minnesota in 2010-11, the longest streak since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976. He averaged a career-high 15.2 rebounds that season and 26 points and 13.3 boards the following season. Love won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award in 2011 and was named second-team all-league the following season. He was also a member of the 2012 Olympic team. An injury to his shooting hand limited Love to 18 games in 2012-13. He’s averaging 17.3 points and 12.2 rebounds for his career.

4. Russell Westbrook, UCLA: He’s played in the NBA just five seasons, yet already Westbrook is a three-time All-Star and a three-time second-team All-NBA selection. He’s averaged more than 21 points for Oklahoma City in each of the past three seasons, along with 5.5 or more assists. In 2012-13 he ranked sixth in the league in scoring (23.2 points) and seventh in assists (7.4). He suffered a knee injury in the first round of the playoffs and was forced to miss the remainder of the season. Westbrook was also a member of the 2012 Olympic squad that won the gold medal. After five NBA seasons, Westbrook is averaging 19.9 points and 6.9 assists.

5. Jason Terry, Arizona: The guard known as JET won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award in 2009 before sparking the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA title two seasons later in 2011. That same year he tied an NBA playoff record by making nine 3-pointers in a game. He is known for performing his best in clutch situations. Terry has averaged double figures in all but one of his 14 NBA seasons and has a career mark of 15.7 points. He shoots 38 percent from beyond the arc. Terry recently completed his first season with the Boston Celtics after spending eight years with Dallas and five with Atlanta.

6. Gilbert Arenas, Arizona: A three-time All-Star, Arenas averaged 20.6 points in 11 NBA seasons, eight of which were spent with Washington. His best year came in 2005-06, when he averaged a career-high 29.3 points and 6.1 assists. He twice earned second-team All-NBA honors, and he was named the league’s Most Improved Player in 2003. Arenas was suspended for more than half of the 2009-10 season after it was discovered that he was storing firearms in his locker. He was traded to Orlando the following season. His NBA career ended the following year after he played just 17 games for Memphis. Arenas played the 2012-13 season in China.

7. James Harden, Arizona State: Harden recently completed the best season of his young career, averaging 25.9 points in his first season with the Houston Rockets. His efforts earned him third-team All-NBA honors and an appearance in the All-Star Game for the first time. The previous season he was named NBA Sixth Man of the Year after scoring 16.8 points per game for Oklahoma City. As good as he has been, Harden’s future appears even brighter, especially considering he’s a focal point in Houston’s offense instead of a secondary player like he was behind Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City.

8. Baron Davis, UCLA: The third overall pick in the 1999 NBA draft averaged double figures in all but two of his 13 NBA seasons. His best season came in 2003-04, when he averaged a career-high 22.9 points for New Orleans. He earned a spot on the All-Star team that season and was named third-team All-NBA. For his career, Davis averaged 16.1 points and 7.2 assists, and he averaged 18.8 points in 50 playoff games. In 2006-07, he led No. 8 seed Golden State to a playoff series upset of No. 1 seed Dallas.

9. Andre Iguodala, Arizona: Currently one of the NBA’s most versatile players, Iguodala has averaged 15.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 4.9 assists in his first nine years in the league. He played eight seasons with Philadelphia before being traded to Denver before last season. Iguodala was named to the NBA’s second-team all-defensive squad in 2011. His best season came in 2007-08, when he averaged career highs in points (19.9) and steals (2.1).

10. Sean Elliott, Arizona: Elliott averaged 14.2 points in 12 NBA seasons, all but one of which were spent with the San Antonio Spurs. His best season came in 1995-96, when he averaged a career-high 20 points per game. Elliott was an integral part of the Spurs’ 1999 NBA championship squad, averaging 11.2 points that season. The No. 3 overall pick in the 1989 draft, Elliott made the All-Star team in 1993 and 1996. He is the only Spurs player to rank among the franchise’s top 10 in six statistical categories. In 2000 he became the first player to return to the court after a kidney transplant. San Antonio retired Elliott’s number in 2005.

Ten more notables: All of these players have excelled in the NBA, including a few who almost cracked the top 10 (names in alphabetical order).

Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Cal
Arron Afflalo, UCLA
Mike Bibby, Arizona
Terrell Brandon, Oregon
Richard Jefferson, Arizona
Brook Lopez, Stanford
O.J. Mayo, USC
Nate Robinson, Washington
Brandon Roy, Washington
Damon Stoudamire, Arizona

Too soon to tell: These guys haven’t been in the league long enough to make the top 10, but all appear to have bright futures (names in alphabetical order).

Quincy Pondexter, Washington
Terrence Ross, Washington
Isaiah Thomas, Washington
Klay Thompson, Washington State
Nikola Vucevic, USC
Derrick Williams, Arizona

*Note: Of the 26 players on these lists, eight are from Arizona, five are from Washington and four are from UCLA. Cal and USC boast two players each. Oregon State, Arizona State, Stanford, Oregon and Washington State each have one representative.

Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

March, 8, 2013
3/08/13
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Does anyone want to win the Pac-12? The regular-season championship trophy has been dangling in front of the Oregon Ducks, UCLA Bruins and Cal Golden Bears all week, but no one has stepped up and grabbed it.

Cal was manhandled by Stanford -- at home, no less -- on Tuesday. UCLA suffered one of the biggest upsets of the conference season by falling at last-place Washington State on Wednesday. Oregon had a chance to clinch at least a share of the title by beating Colorado on Thursday. Instead, the Ducks were blown out in Boulder.

Sheessh!

Name another league where the teams at the bottom are outplaying the teams at the top at the end of the season. The Pac-12 tournament can't get here fast enough.

Here is the final edition of the Pac-12 power rankings. With most of the top teams losing their most recent games, these rankings are based on the entire conference season.

1a. Oregon. Despite the tail-kicking the Ducks received at Colorado on Thursday, it's impossible not to be impressed with the job Dana Altman has done with this squad. Oregon -- which starts two freshmen in its backcourt -- can clinch at least a share of the league title by winning at Utah on Saturday. A Ducks victory and a UCLA loss (at Washington the same day) will give Oregon the title outright.

1b. UCLA. The Bruins have come a long way since losing to Cal Poly early in the season and, for that, Ben Howland deserves credit. Howland's detractors, however, received some extra ammunition Wednesday when UCLA lost to last-place Washington State. Performing that poorly in a game with such high stakes -- UCLA would own a share of the league title already if it had won -- is inexcusable.

1c. Cal. The Golden Bears' regular season is complete. Mike Montgomery's team finished league play 12-6 and can only get a share of the title if both UCLA and Oregon lose Saturday. Much like its counterparts, Cal wilted in a high-stakes game Tuesday when it fell to Stanford 83-70 at home. The Cardinal became the first team in 10 games to reach the 70-point plateau against Cal.

1d. Colorado. With six wins in their past eight games, the Buffaloes are the Pac-12's hottest team. Tad Boyle's squad swept its season series with Oregon and is 4-2 against Top-25 teams. Thursday's 76-53 victory came without the services of Andre Roberson, the nation's leading rebounder, who missed the game with a viral illness. Colorado will close the regular season hosting Oregon State on Saturday.

5. Arizona. The preseason pick to win the league, the Wildcats have been the Pac 12's biggest disappointment. Sean Miller's squad is just 1-5 against the top four teams in the conference. Arizona's highly touted freshmen have been slow to develop, and the Wildcats lack a true point guard.

6. Washington. After a month-long lull in which they lost seven of eight games, the Huskies are getting hot at just the right time. Lorenzo Romar's squad has won four of its past five, with the most impressive victory a 65-57 decision over USC on Wednesday. Washington, which gets 17.1 points per game from C.J. Wilcox, has a chance to spoil UCLA's Pac-12 title hopes Saturday.

7. USC. The biggest news surrounding the Trojans this week has revolved around their head-coaching vacancy. UTEP's Tim Floyd and Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins both have spoken with school officials about the position. Meanwhile, interim coach Bob Cantu continues to do a solid job. USC will finish Pac-12 play 10-8 if it can win at Washington State on Saturday. That's something no one envisioned after head coach Kevin O'Neill was fired in January.

8. Stanford. The Cardinal completed the regular season with an 18-13 overall record and a 9-9 mark in Pac-12 play. Unless it wins the conference tournament, Stanford will miss the NCAA tournament for the fifth consecutive year. That has to be disheartening to Cardinal fans, who had high hopes after winning last season's NIT.

9. Arizona State. The Sun Devils' 20 wins are twice as many as they had all of last season, but they've struggled in recent weeks. A painful overtime loss at UCLA was followed by a one-point setback at USC. Arizona State will have had an entire week off when it takes the court for Saturday's regular-season finale at Arizona.

10. Utah. The Utes ended a four-game losing streak by topping Oregon State on Thursday in Salt Lake City. Utah's four Pac-12 wins are one more than last season's total. The Utes will try to spoil Oregon's conference title hopes Saturday. Oregon beat Utah 73-64 on Feb. 9 in Eugene.

11. Washington State. The Cougars, who have been the victim of bad breaks and bad luck all season, finally tasted success Wednesday by defeating UCLA 73-61 in Pullman. Brock Motum had 20 points and 11 rebounds and Royce Woolridge added 19 points. The victory came despite the absence of second- and third-leading scorers DaVonte Lacy and Mike Ladd, both of whom have knee injuries. Coach Ken Bone said Lacy is out for the season.

12. Oregon State. It has been a nightmare of a season for the Beavers, who have now lost five consecutive games. Coach Craig Robinson appears to be safe for another year, but this team has too much talent to only have three victories in a league that, despite its parity, lacks elite teams.

Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

March, 1, 2013
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Arizona and UCLA were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the preseason Pac-12 media poll. Yet neither team will be in first place when they square off Saturday at Pauley Pavilion on "College GameDay." UCLA (11-4 in conference) trails league leader Oregon (12-4) by a half-game. Arizona is a full game back along with Cal, both at 11-5. Long story short, four teams are still in contention for the Pac-12 crown, which should make for one of the more exciting regular-season finishes in college basketball. Here are this week’s power rankings:

1. Cal. Mike Montgomery’s squad has won six in a row. Included in that stretch are a two-point victory at Oregon and a one-point win at Oregon State. Allen Crabbe (19) and Justin Cobbs (14.9) have combined to average 33.9 points per game for a Golden Bears team that hosts Colorado on Saturday. Cal needs a victory to remain in contention for the Pac-12 crown.

2. Oregon. Thursday’s 85-75 victory over Oregon State was bittersweet for the Ducks. On the same night it welcomed back injured guard Dominic Artis, Oregon lost second-leading scorer Damyean Dotson when he bruised his hip in a nasty fall under the basket. He is listed as day to day. Oregon’s final two league games (against Colorado and Utah) are on the road.

3. UCLA. Would Bruins fans still hate Ben Howland if UCLA won the Pac-12 title? It could happen. UCLA could grab a share of the league lead by defeating Arizona on Saturday night in Westwood. The Bruins beat the Wildcats 84-73 in January. If UCLA beats Arizona again -- and then tops Washington State and Washington on the road -- it will own at least a share of the conference championship.

4. Arizona. Arizona has a gaudy overall record of 23-5, but it seems to have regressed in recent weeks. The Wildcats were whipped 89-78 at USC on Wednesday and nearly lost to Utah two weeks ago. Arizona’s freshmen haven’t developed as quickly as Sean Miller had hoped. And the team lacks a true point guard.

5. Colorado. The Buffaloes have won eight of their past 10 games, with the only defeats coming in a 58-55 upset at Utah and a 63-62 overtime setback against Arizona State. Tad Boyle’s squad faces a huge road test Saturday against Cal, which has won six straight. At this point, Colorado is in good shape to make the NCAA tournament.

6. USC. The Trojans snapped a two-game losing streak by upsetting No. 11 Arizona on Wednesday night and now have won five of their past seven overall. USC (8-7) is in position to finish Pac-12 play with a winning record, which is something no one would have imagined when coach Kevin O’Neill was fired in January.

7. Washington. The Huskies, who are 7-8 in Pac-12 play, have been a huge disappointment. But they still have a chance to finish with a winning record. Washington’s final three games (against Washington State, USC and UCLA) are all at home. C.J. Wilcox averages 17.1 points per game, and Aziz N'Diaye averages 9.5 rebounds.

8. Stanford. A few weeks ago, it appeared the Cardinal were ready to turn the corner, but Johnny Dawkins’ squad has reverted to its old ways and now has lost four of its past five games. The latest setback came in a 65-63 home defeat against Colorado on Wednesday, when Dwight Powell's potential game-tying dunk came one-tenth of a second too late as the buzzer sounded.

9. Arizona State. The Sun Devils’ NCAA tournament hopes were all but shot following back-to-back losses to Washington and UCLA (the latter in overtime). Arizona State struggled to find consistency throughout February, never winning more than two games in a row. Its final two games (against USC and Arizona) are both on the road.

10. Utah. The Utes threw a scare into Arizona and Colorado before being dominated by Cal in Thursday’s 64-46 defeat. Utah plays at Stanford on Sunday before returning home for its final two regular-season games, against Oregon State and Oregon. This team has improved significantly, even though it has yet to surpass last season's Pac-12 win total of three games.

11. Oregon State. The Beavers led Oregon 41-34 at halftime Thursday but couldn’t hold on in an 85-75 loss. Roberto Nelson had 31 points for an Oregon State squad whose only conference wins are against Washington State, Utah and Washington. Nelson is averaging a team-high 17.3 points per game.

12. Washington State. It’s amazing how many bad breaks this team has caught. Seven of the Cougars’ 17 losses are by four points or fewer, and five are by two points or fewer. Two of them came in overtime, and another occurred against Texas A&M on a 25-foot, buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

February, 22, 2013
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In most leagues, the race for the conference title is down to two or three teams. The Pac-12 is different. Arizona and Oregon are tied for first place in the conference standings at 10-4. But five other teams are within two games of the Wildcats and Ducks. The final two weeks of the regular season should be riveting. And so should the Pac-12 tournament. In the meantime, here are the latest power rankings.

1. California. These rankings generally reward the teams that are playing the best at the moment, and no Pac-12 squad is hotter than Cal. The Golden Bears have won six of their past seven. Included in that stretch are victories over UCLA, Arizona and Oregon (twice). Cal plays at Oregon State on Saturday before returning home for its final three games against Colorado, Utah and Stanford. Could Cal be the Pac-12 champion? Heck, why not?

2. Oregon. The Ducks are just 4-4 since losing guard Dominic Artis to a foot injury. They lost 48-46 to Cal on Thursday when Golden Bears standout Justin Cobbs drilled a long jump shot at the buzzer. Dana Altman's squad can still claim the league championship by winning the rest of its games. The schedule is favorable with remaining tilts at home against Stanford and Oregon State and on the road against Utah and Colorado.

3. Arizona. The Wildcats are getting strong play from point guard Mark Lyons, who is averaging 16.8 points and 4.2 assists in his past five games. Arizona is tied for the league lead with Oregon, but it has a tougher remaining schedule with road games remaining at UCLA and USC.

4. Arizona State. The Sun Devils looked like they were ready to fold after losses to Washington, Stanford and Utah. But Herb Sendek's squad bounced back nicely with an overtime win at Colorado and a home victory against a pesky Washington State team. Arizona State's remaining schedule is brutal. It hosts Washington on Saturday and then plays its final three games -- against USC, UCLA and Arizona -- on the road.

5. Colorado. Tad Boyle's squad has won four of its past five games, with the lone setback coming in an overtime defeat to Arizona State in Boulder. Forward Josh Scott suffered a concussion in that game, which forced him to miss Thursday's victory over Utah. The Buffaloes don't play again until Wednesday's road showdown with Stanford.

6. UCLA. The Bruins have won three of their past four games, with the only loss coming against a sizzling Cal team. Shabazz Muhammad is averaging 19.8 points in his past five contests, including a 25-point performance in Saturday's win over Stanford. Ben Howland's squad faces USC in a crosstown battle on Sunday.

7. USC. The Trojans' four-game winning streak was stopped with a loss at Cal on Sunday, but Bob Cantu's team has a chance to get back on track with three straight home games. The opponents (UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State) will all be tough, but USC has shown it can hang with any team in the league. J.T. Terrell is averaging 10.9 points on the season and 14.8 points in his past four games.

8. Stanford. Don't rule out the Cardinal's chances of making the NCAA tournament just yet. Stanford is 16-11 overall and 7-7 in league play. There are still chances to pick up quality wins against Cal, Colorado and Oregon. And while it seems unlikely, Johnny Dawkins' squad is good enough to get hot and win the Pac-12 tournament.

9. Washington. It's amazing that last year's regular-season Pac-12 champion is this bad. The Huskies have lost eight of their past 10 games, and the last three of those setbacks have come by double-digits. C.J. Wilcox averages 17.5 points for a team that plays at Arizona State on Saturday before closing out its season with three straight home games.

10. Oregon State. Four of the Beavers' past seven losses have come by four points or fewer. Oregon State has just three conference victories, and with three of its final four games being on the road, it seems unlikely that things will get much better.

11. Utah. The Utes shocked Arizona State last week and nearly defeated Arizona before falling 68-64. Jarred DuBois and Jordan Loveridge combine to average 23.5 points and 13.3 rebounds. The Utes are one of the Pac-12's most improved teams, even though their record doesn't show it.

12. Washington State. Ken Bone's squad has lost seven straight games. Four of the setbacks were by four points or fewer, including one in overtime. Royce Woolridge had a career game against Oregon on Saturday with 36 points. Brock Motum averages team highs in points (17.8) and rebounds (6.2).

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