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Pac-12 Basketball Power Rankings: Movers and Shakers

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Some surprising starts to conference play have mixed up the rankings

NCAA Basketball: Stanford at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

If you only look at the preseason media poll, the Pac-12 standings don’t seem that weird. Arizona 1st, check. Stanford from 5th to 2nd. A minor surprise but I had them 3rd in my projections so reasonable. USC and UCLA dropping from 2nd and 3rd to 3rd and 4th, no big deal. UW moving from 10th to 5th and Utah dropping from 7th to 10th are mild upsets but there are Wazzu and Cal at the bottom as expected.

But when you realize that Stanford had 0 wins over teams in the top 2 tiers just two weeks ago and ASU started conference play as a top-5 team in the country and the madness quickly becomes apparent. By the time the next set of rankings are released we’ll hopefully know whether the preseason poll is omnipotent and the non-conference was meaningless or if the schedule imbalance is the cause of some wacky results and it will even out shortly.

The NCAA selection committee will be using tiers this year rather than the simple record vs the top-50 and top-100 they’ve used in years past. Here’s the definition for each of the tiers if you want a refresher.

Tier 1: Home 1-30; Neutral 1-50; Away 1-75

Tier 2: Home 31-75; Neutral 51-100; Away 76-135

Tier 3: Home 76-160; Neutral 101-200; Away 136-240

Tier 4: Home 161-plus; Neutral 201-plus; Away 241-plus.

1. (1) Arizona Wildcats, 14-4 (4-1)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 19.18 (24th)

Tier 1: 3-2, W- #25 Arizona State 84-78 (home), #29 Texas A&M 67-64 (semi-home), #75 Utah 94-82 (away)

Tier 2: 3-2, L- #67 NC State 90-84 (neutral), #103 Colorado 80-77 (away)

Tier 3: 4-0

Tier 4: 4-0

Arizona dropped a game at Colorado on the second leg of the always challenging mountain road trip. That has been their only blemish in league play so far as they continue to look like the class of the league. Texas A&M has gone into a tailspin which devalues what looked like a possible top-10 win a few weeks ago but otherwise Arizona is in solid position to end up with at worst a #3 seed in the NCAA tournament. Freshman center DeAndre Ayton is the front runner for Pac-12 player of the year averaging 20.2 points and 11.2 rebounds this season. Teammate Rawle Alkins is right behind him averaging 19.9 points which means the Wildcats have 2 of the top-3 scorers in the conference.

This week’s games: Wednesday at #212 California, Saturday at #106 Stanford

2. (10) Colorado Buffaloes, 11-7 (3-3)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 6.43 (103rd)

Tier 1: 3-3, W- #24 Arizona 80-77 (home), #25 Arizona State 90-81 OT (home), #52 UCLA 68-59 (away)

Tier 2: 0-2

Tier 3: 4-2, L- #108 San Diego 69-59 (home), #181 Colorado State 72-63 (away)

Tier 4: 4-0

And the award for most stunning sudden turnaround goes to... The Buffs looked dead in the water as they started out 0-4 in tier 1 and tier 2 games. They’ve since won 3 of 4 with all of them coming against my previous top-3 teams in the power rankings. We’ll see how much of that is sustainable. Colorado shot 43% from 3-point range in those three upset wins and are shooting 33.4% from deep in all of their other contests. If they go back to making only 1-in-3 of those shots then this was just a mirage. Give major credit though to the Wright brothers (not actual brothers) who have combined to average 26 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 6.5 assists per game this season.

This week’s games: Thursday vs. #151 Washington State, Saturday vs. #113 Washington

3. (12) Stanford Cardinal, 10-8 (4-1)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 5.99 (108th)

Tier 1: 0-4

Tier 2: 3-0, W- #46 USC 77-76 (home), #52 UCLA 107-99 2OT (home), #114 Washington 73-64 (away)

Tier 3: 4-2

Tier 4: 3-2, L- #174 Eastern Washington 67-61 (home), #212 California 77-74 (home)

Stanford certainly has given Colorado a run for its money in the sudden turnaround category. The change certainly makes a little more sense because they got back 2 missing pieces that were a major key for them in Dorian Pickens and Kezie Okpala. On the other hand, the wins against the L.A schools were both incredibly close and if a half court heave against USC clangs out and UCLA hold on in the final seconds of regulation then this is a 2-3 team no one is talking about. They’re 5th in offensive efficiency and 4th in defensive efficiency so I don’t know if they’re “tied for 1st” good but they definitely appear to be “finish in the top half of the conference” good. Getting the Arizona schools at home this week will be a major determinant.

This week’s games: Wednesday vs. #25 Arizona State, Saturday vs. #24 Arizona

4. (3) UCLA Bruins, 13-5 (4-2)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 13.26 (52nd)

Tier 1: 1-3, W- #26 Kentucky 83-75 (neutral)

Tier 2: 2-1

Tier 3: 5-1, L- #103 Colorado 68-59 (home)

Tier 4: 5-0

The Bruins offense suddenly looks like the one they had last season as they are 1st in conference play in offensive efficiency. The L.A schools have probably had the easiest start to Pac-12 play though with 4/6 at home and no games against the Arizona schools yet. Dropping games to both Stanford and Colorado suggests this team isn’t good enough to win the conference but should be an NCAA tournament team if they can finish above .500 in league play.

This week’s games: Thursday at #110 Oregon State, Saturday at #60 Oregon

5. (6) USC Trojans, 13-6 (4-2)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 14.53 (46th)

Tier 1: 0-3,

Tier 2: 4-1, W- #54 Middle Tennessee 89-84 (neutral), #57 New Mexico St 77-72 (neutral), #75 Utah 84-67 (home), #96 Vanderbilt 93-89 OT (road)

Tier 3: 5-2, L- #114 Washington 88-81 (home), #118 Princeton 103-93 OT (home)

Tier 4: 4-0

The Trojans, like the Bruins above, have mostly taken advantage of an easy start to the conference schedule. Unlike UCLA however, USC doesn’t have a neutral win over a blue blood like Kentucky to buoy their resume and instead have neutral wins over mid-major powers. That has them on the outside looking in for the tournament right now. They’re in the top-3 in both offensive and defensive efficiency in conference play which suggests they still have it in them to challenge for a conference title if they can be more consistent.

This week’s games: Thursday at #60 Oregon, Saturday at #110 Oregon State

6. (2) Arizona State Sun Devils, 14-3 (2-3)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 19.06 (25th)

Tier 1: 4-1, W-#10 Kansas 95-85 (away), #17 Xavier 102-86 (neutral), #44 Kansas State 92-90 (neutral), #75 Utah 80-77 (away)

Tier 2: 2-2, L- #60 Oregon 76-72 (home), #103 Colorado 90-81 OT (away)

Tier 3: 3-0

Tier 4: 5-0

The Sun Devils had the most difficult start to conference play of any team in the Pac and it shows in their record. The Sun Devils are still much better than expected in the preseason but not the #1 seed they looked like through the first 6 weeks. The Sun Devils’ top-5 nationally offense has faltered in conference. Live by the 3, die by the 3 and right now it’s die. ASU shot 48% or better from deep in their three wins over Kansas, Xavier, and KSU in the non-con but are shooting just 34.7% in the 5 Pac-12 contests which ranks just 8th in the conference. They’re 10th in defensive efficiency in conference so the offense has to get back to being elite right now for them to stay in the hunt for a conference title.

This week’s games: Wednesday at #106 Stanford, Saturday at #212 California

7. (4) Washington Huskies, 13-5 (3-2)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 5.32 (114th)

Tier 1: 2-3, W- #10 Kansas 74-65 (semi-away), #46 USC 88-81 (away)

Tier 2: 0-1

Tier 3: 4-1, L- #108 Stanford 73-64 (home)

Tier 4: 7-0

The Huskies got their first “bad” loss of the season dropping a home game to Stanford on Saturday which was a big blow to their faint tournament hopes. It looks like a fully healthy Cardinal squad will be a contender in the conference but their terrible non-conference will hold back their computer numbers all season. The Washington offense has been putrid in league play as they’d rank 310th right now performing like that all year. They’re 1st in FG% on 2-point shots and 12th in FG% on 3-point shots. Coach Hopkins has to get this team to take it inside more. Luckily, the defense has kept them afloat as they’re essentially tied with OSU for the best defensive efficiency in conference play to this point. The Huskies absolutely need a split on the mountain road trip which isn’t a good place to be.

This week’s games: Thursday at #75 Utah, Saturday at #103 Colorado

8. (7) Oregon Ducks, 12-6 (2-3)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 11.74 (60th)

Tier 1: 1-2, W- #25 Arizona State 76-72 (away)

Tier 2: 1-3

Tier 3: 4-1, L- #127 Connecticut 71-63 (semi-home)

Tier 4: 6-0

The road win over ASU was like manna from heaven for the Ducks’ hopes at a repeat trip to the tourney let alone a repeat to the Final Four. Oregon has to come up with at least a split of the L.A schools at home to keep that dream alive. A 2-5 record in the first 2 tiers simply is not good enough. The Ducks are 7th in offensive efficiency and 9th in defensive efficiency in conference play so that will have to improve for this to be more than a lost season for a team with 2 grad transfer seniors and a potential one-and-done in freshman Troy Brown.

This week’s games: Thursday vs. #45 USC, Saturday vs. #52 UCLA

9. (5) Utah Utes, 10-7 (2-4)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 9.57 (75th)

Tier 1: 1-6 W- #56 Oregon 66-56 (away)

Tier 2: 3-1, L- #88 UNLV 85-58 (semi-away)

Tier 3: 1-0

Tier 4: 5-0

The Utes haven’t won a single game since the last edition of the power rankings 2 weeks ago but that’s because they had the most difficult 4 game stretch possible. Utah hosted the Arizona schools then went to the L.A schools. They were underdogs in all 4 games but they really needed to win at least one of them. Unless this team goes 11-3 or better the rest of the way I can’t see them making the NCAA tournament. It seems pretty clear they’re a borderline top-50 to 75 squad that struggles to beat better teams but are good enough to beat everyone else. They’re currently last in conference play in defensive efficiency with a number that would be 347/351 nationally over the course of the entire season. Yikes.

This week’s games: Thursday vs. #113 Washington, Saturday vs. #151 Washington State

10. (8) Oregon State Beavers, 10-7 (2-3)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 5.66 (110th)

Tier 1: 0-2

Tier 2: 1-2, W- #60 Oregon 76-64 (home)

Tier 3: 2-2

Tier 4: 6-1. L- #219 Long Beach State 74-69 (neutral)

The Beavers have actually been frisky at home with wins over both Oregon and Colorado but their only 2 wins away from Corvallis this season have been against #183 Saint Louis (in Portland) and against #324 Marist. Not great. Their defensive efficiency has kept them afloat to this point as they are fractions ahead of Washington for the best mark in conference play. Pac-12 opponents are shooting just 45.5% from inside the arc against them through 5 games which is tops in the conference.

This week’s games: Thursday vs. #52 UCLA, Saturday vs. #45 USC

11. (9) Washington State Cougars, 9-8 (1-4)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 1.84 (151st)

Tier 1: 2-3, W-#25 St. Mary’s 84-79 (neutral), #49 San Diego State 93-86 (neutral)

Tier 2: 0-1

Tier 3: 1-3

Tier 4: 5-1. L-#243 UTEP 76-69 (away)

At this point I think we can officially stop giving the Cougars credit for their wins over St. Mary’s and San Diego State on consecutive days. Since then, Wazzu is 3-8 overall and 0-7 against top-200 teams. The Cougars are 8th in conference play in offensive efficiency and 9th in defensive efficiency so they aren’t abjectly awful at anything. But they aren’t really good at anything outside of shooting nothing but three-pointers. That will probably steal them a win here or there but this team will be looked at as an automatic win on the schedule by everyone but Cal.

This week’s games: Thursday at #103 Colorado, Saturday at #75 Utah

12. (11) California Golden Bears, 7-11 (1-4)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: -4.42 (212th)

Tier 1: 1-2 W- #49 San Diego State 63-62 (away)

Tier 2: 0-3

Tier 3: 3-3

Tier 4: 3-3, L- #201 Central Arkansas 96-69 (home), #253 UC Riverside 74-66 (home), D-II Chaminade 96-72 (road)

The good news for the Bears is that they won’t lose a single game they were expected to win for the rest of the season. The bad news is they won’t be expected to win a single game for the rest of the season. If you play 10 games with a 10% chance to win then you’ll probably win one of those games so they’re projected to win 2 more games but Cal will be an underdog in every contest the rest of the way barring a dramatic turnaround. 12th in offensive efficiency and 11th in defensive efficiency in Pac-12 play is a bad place to be. After that brief glimpse of sunlight that is 11th place, Cal returns to their rightful place in the cellar. Lock the door, throw away the key, and make yourself at home Cal. Maybe buy a throw pillow or two. Spruce the place up a bit. You’re buying, not renting.

This week’s games: Wednesday vs. #24 Arizona, Saturday vs. #25 Arizona State

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