It’s a good thing that we aren’t SEC fans here on the west coast whose self worth is tied to the success of our conference rather than with our own team. Because I hate to break it to you all, but the Pac-12 sucks. KenPom breaks down games into A, B, or nothing. A power conference should aspire in the non-conference for roughly .500 in A games, .750 in B games, and .990 in all others. Here’s the cumulative Pac-12 record in each-
A games: 5-9 (.357)
B games: 6-4 (.600)
All others: 41-6 (.872)
For contrast, the Big 12 with 10 members has gone 5-6 in A games and 6-1 in B games with a single loss in other games to this point. That record in A games is what is going to kill the Pac-12 come tournament selection time. What really hurts about those games is that losing an A game in the first round of a tournament prevents you from getting to play other more highly ranked teams.
1. Arizona State Sun Devils, 6-0 (Prev: 3)
Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 11.61 (60th)
Best wins: #18 Xavier 102-86 (neutral), #37 Kansas State 92-90 (neutral)
The Sun Devils are showing what can happen when you’ve got really good senior guard play and an adequate supporting cast. Tra Holder is playing like a national player of the year candidate putting up numbers like Markelle Fultz (23p/6r, 5.5a) but for a team that’s winning. Shannon Evans II is also dominant averaging 19.5 points and 5.5 assists as his copilot and the Sun Devils have scored 90+ points in every game. The win over Xavier is probably the best in the conference so far and they are deservedly the highest ranked Pac-12 team in the AP Poll this week.
Next week’s games: Saturday vs. #134 San Francisco
2. Washington State Cougars, 6-0 (Prev: 8)
Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 0.21 (161st)
Best win: #35 St. Mary’s 84-79 (neutral)
I’m not incredibly wrong often but when I am, I’m willing to admit it. I thought the Cougs would get murdered at the Wooden Legacy Classic this past week and instead they went out and won the whole thing. Let’s recap. Last year they were 13-18 with one win over a KenPom top-100 team (#72 Colorado at home). Then they lost 5 of their top 6 scorers. Their top rated recruit couldn’t get eligible. They had to come back from down 20 to win at home in OT against Texas Southern in their first game this year. Then last week they beat 3 top-100 teams in a row on a neutral court. How?
For one, they’ve been shooting the lights out. Four different players are taking 4+ threes per game and they are shooting 35.6%, 48.5%, 57.7%, and 55.6%. That isn’t sustainable but good for them. Finally, they aren’t getting beat at the foul line. The Cougs are 20th nationally in fewest free throw attempts allowed and opponents are shooting just 62% when they do get to the line. The lack of fouling seems sustainable since they’re running a very conservative defense that doesn’t gamble for blocks or steals but opponents will start shooting better against them. We’ll see if they turn back into a pumpkin but for now this is seriously impressive.
Next week’s games: Saturday vs. #192 Cal Davis
3. USC Trojans, 4-1 (Prev: 1)
Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 20.0 (19th)
Best win: #62 Vanderbilt 93-89 OT (Road)
Worst Loss: #5 Texas A&M 75-59 (Home)
The Trojans sat out the tournament frenzy and instead had a home game against Texas A&M. They got clobbered. It looks like A&M is going to be an awesome team but it was a sign that USC might be very good rather than elite. They’ve got two more premium non-conference games in the next 2 weeks against SMU and Oklahoma to build up their resume. The Trojans are shooting just 44.2% on 2-point field goals which is 289th in the country.
Next week’s games: Saturday at #32 SMU
4. Colorado Buffaloes, 5-0 (Prev: 5)
Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 6.91 (89th)
Best win: #84 Mercer 79-70 (neutral)
The Buffaloes stood still and let everyone else fall off the cliff around them. They played a home game against #230 Air Force and otherwise relaxed over the Thanksgiving holiday. They’ve got just the 309th ranked strength of schedule right now and play just 2 more top-100 teams in the non-con so we may have to wait until conference season starts to see how good they really are. But give them credit for beating inferior teams which can’t be said for every team in the conference.
Next week’s games: Saturday at #169 Colorado State
5. UCLA Bruins, 5-1 (Prev: 7)
Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 15.57 (40th)
Best wins: #32 Wisconsin 72-70 (neutral), #63 Georgia Tech 63-60 (neutral)
Worst loss: #34 Creighton 100-89 (neutral)
The Bruins are 2-1 so far in their games against power-6 competition and look like they’ll level out as a tournament team but not necessarily a Pac-12 title contender. They’ve still got games against Cincinnati and Kentucky in the non-conference and a win over either team potentially changes their ceiling.
Next week’s games: Wednesday vs. #171 Cal State Bakersfield, Sunday vs. #291 Detroit
6. Utah Utes, 5-1 (Prev: 2)
Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 12.18 (55th)
Best wins: #54 Ole Miss 83-74 (neutral), #61 Missouri 77-59 (home)
Worst loss: #93 UNLV 85-58 (semi-away)
Utah was seemingly cruising along before getting demolished against UNLV. The strength of their team is down low but opponents are shooting just 24.1% against them from 3-point range. That’s almost 5% better than the best team in the country finished last year so the defense will likely slow down a little as they play better competition. The Utes have road games at Butler and at BYU as challenges still in the non-conference. No player on their team so far averages 15+ points or 7+ rebounds.
Next week’s games: Saturday vs. #213 Hawaii
7. Oregon Ducks, 5-2 (Prev: 6)
Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 14.72 (42nd)
Best win: #127 DePaul 89-79 OT (semi-home)
Worst loss: #73 Connecticut 71-63 (semi-home)
The PK80 was an undoubted success. Oregon’s tournament was undoubtedly not. I’ll take it. The Ducks have now played two teams in the top-120 of KenPom’s efficiency margins. They’re 0-2 against those teams. In those games their opponents averaged 39 free throw attempts per game so the Ducks are going to have to learn how not to foul in order to turn things around. They’ll get a chance with a good contest against Boise State on Friday. Only a road game at Fresno State gives them any chance to add to their resume in the non-conference.
Next week’s games: Friday vs. #79 Boise State
8. Arizona Wildcats, 3-3 (Prev: 4)
Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 20.45 (17th)
Best win: #169 Cal State Bakersfield 91-59 (home)
Worst loss: #92 NC State 90-84 (neutral)
The Wildcats lost 3 games by a combined total of 37 points to finish last at the Battle 4 Atlantis this week. In the process they became the first team in several decades to go from #2 in the AP Poll to unranked in the course of one week. Winning 3 cupcake games at home by 25+ is all well and good but the Wildcats just blew a golden opportunity to be in line for a #1 or #2 seed at the end of the year. The FBI investigation may or may not be playing a role but this team looks disjointed. DeAndre Ayton is the real deal and Allonzo Trier is an elite college player but this team is missing something. We’ll see if they find it.
Only plausible explanation for Arizona's defensive ineptitude: He had Lorenzo Romar install Washington's scheme from last season.— Jeff Eisenberg (@JeffEisenberg) November 25, 2017
Next week’s games: Wednesday vs. #224 Long Beach State; Saturday at #95 UNLV
9. Washington Huskies, 5-2 (Prev: 9)
Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 1.80 (142nd)
Best win: #117 Belmont 86-82 (home)
Worst loss: #39 Virginia Tech 103-79 (neutral)
The Huskies made it through their stretch of 3 home games in 5 days without a slip up. The games against Seattle U and UC Davis were a little closer than you would have liked but they’re doing what it takes to win games. After one more (hopefully) gimme on Sunday the Huskies will play back-to-back games against Kansas and Gonzaga. If Washington can be competitive in either it will be a moral victory but a loss in the standings.
Next week’s games: Sunday vs. #259 Nebraska-Omaha
10. Oregon State Beavers, 3-3
Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 6.28 (95th)
Best win: #222 Long Beach State 89-81 (home)
Worst loss: #222 Long Beach State 74-69 (neutral)
The Beavers have played a pair of top-100 teams and lost both contests. There’s no shame in that for a fringe top-100 squad. But they split a pair of games against Long Beach State in the last 2 weeks which is more troubling. The big problem has been their atrocious shooting. They’re hitting on just 27% of 3-point attempts which is last in the conference by more than 4%. Their leader in attempts, Stephen Thompson, is a career 35% shooter who’s currently at just 21% so that should normalize over time. The Beavers’ highest rated team remaining on their non-conference is #118 Jacksonville State so they can’t do anything to impress this committee of one for another 6 weeks.
Next week’s games: Saturday vs. #235 Loyola Marymount
11. Stanford Cardinal, 3-5
Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 5.97 (100th)
Best win: #176 Northeastern 73-59 (home)
Worst losses: #180 Portland State 87-78 (semi-away), #202 Eastern Washington 67-61 (home)
Stanford is in the running for worst week by any Pac-12 conference team. They played 4 games in 7 days. The first two were losses against North Carolina and Florida by a combined 45 points. Not ideal but those are dominant teams. They lose by 8 to a good but not great Ohio State team. At least that means they get the cupcake of the PK80 bracket in Portland State to escape with a win, right? Nope. 0-4. Stanford turned the ball over 28(?!?!) times in that matchup. They now have a pair of losses to teams from the Big Sky. If I was Jerod Haase I wouldn’t be buying any new Palo Alto real estate. This team is way too talented for these to be acceptable results.
For those wondering, Daejon Davis has essentially taken over as the starting PG for the Cardinal and is averaging 8.3 ppg, 4.3rpg, and 4.6apg. However, he’s also averaging 5.3 turnovers per game and has hit just one of five 3-point attempts.
Next week’s games: Wednesday vs. #156 Montana, Sunday vs. #224 Long Beach State
12. California Golden Bears, 3-4 (Prev: 12)
Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 3.32 (122nd)
Best win: #2223 Wofford 79-65 (home)
Worst losses: #279 UC Riverside 74-66 (home), D-2 Chaminade 96-72 (road)
The efficiency margin is misleading because KenPom doesn’t count (for good or bad) any D-2 games because he can’t scout how good or bad that win/loss is. But it doesn’t really matter whether Chaminade is the best D-2 school in the country. If you’re a Pac-12 school and you lose by 24 to a D-2 school then you’re last in the power rankings. And you stay there for a good long while.
Next week’s games: Saturday vs. #35 St. Mary’s
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