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Pac-12 Basketball Power Rankings: Arizona, USC Surge

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The preseason favorites have taken control of the top 2 spots but is Washington right behind them?

NCAA Basketball: Utah at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Some sense of normality has finally returned to the Pac-12. The two favorites in the preseason by a sizable margin were Arizona and USC. Both teams now have a 2+ game lead on the rest of the conference and appear locks for the NCAA tournament. But the spot for 3rd best team in the conference is still up for grabs. UW, Utah, and UCLA all still have hopes for an NCAA bid while Arizona State could still rebound to the team they were in the non-conference at any second. It should be an exciting race to the finish.

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, 18-4 (8-1)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 18.25 (27th)

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: 5-2, L- #65 NC State 90-84 (neutral), #114 Colorado 80-77 (away)

Tier 3: 4-0

Tier 4: 6-0

Arizona’s demonstrated they’re the best team in the conference but they aren’t invincible. 3 of their 9 conference games have been decided by 3 or less points including narrow escapes at Stanford and in their last game home against Utah. The Utes got the ball in that game down 1 with 4.5 seconds left and couldn’t make the shot. Their only meeting this year with the 2nd place Trojans comes in Tucson so they’re sitting pretty for the conference title.

This week’s games: Thursday at #158 Washington State, Saturday at #91 Washington

2. (5) USC Trojans, 17-6 (8-2)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 14.82 (48th)

Tier 1: 3-2, W- #40 New Mexico St 77-72, #45 Middle Tennessee 89-84 (neutral), #75 Oregon 75-70 (away)

Tier 2: 3-2

Tier 3: 6-2, L- #114 Washington 88-81 (home), #118 Princeton 103-93 OT (home)

Tier 4: 5-0

USC has rebounded nicely since Daejon Davis hit the miracle half court buzzer beater to hand them their 2nd conference loss by winning 6 in a row since. However, they finish with 5 of 8 on the road including their next 3 games at UCLA, Arizona State, and Arizona. If they can go 2-1 in those contests then they should be locked in for an NCAA berth despite the disappointing start to the season for a team with Final 4 aspirations before the year. The key for USC has been defense. They’ve held their opponents to 70 or less points in each victory during the current 6-game win streak.

This week’s games: Saturday at #59 UCLA

3. (7) Washington Huskies, 15-6 (5-3)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 7.63 (91st)

Tier 1: 2-4, W- #9 Kansas 74-65 (semi-away), #48 USC 88-81 (away)

Tier 2: 2-1

Tier 3: 5-1, L- #99 Stanford 73-64 (home)

Tier 4: 6-0

Washington has positioned themselves nicely by getting a road win at Colorado. The upcoming stretch though is the toughest of the season. The Huskies get 5 consecutive either Tier 1 or Tier 2 games. If they can pull out a 3-2 record they’re in great shape for an NCAA berth. Even 2-3 and they’re still ok. But 1-4 or 0-5 pulls the plug on that dream. Getting the opener of this stretch against ASU would be a huge confidence boost and take a huge weight off the team’s shoulders going into the Saturday tilt with the Wildcats.

This week’s games: Thursday vs. #28 Arizona State, Saturday vs. #27 Arizona

4. (9) Utah Utes, 13-8 (5-5)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 11.7 (66th)

Tier 1: 2-7 W- #28 Arizona State 80-77 OT (away), #75 Oregon 66-56 (away)

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

Tier 3: 4-0

Tier 4: 4-0

Utah had their own brutal stretch with 4 straight Tier 1 games and lost them all. Since then they’ve gone 3-1 with only the one-point loss to Arizona ruining the record. Utah finishes conference play with no more Tier 1 games and have a chance to go on a big run. If they end the year with a 6-2 or better finish given their tough strength of schedule they’ll have an outside shot at the bubble. They’ll need the next 3 though at Colorado and home for the Bay Area schools.

This week’s games: Friday at #114 Colorado

5. (6) Arizona State Sun Devils, 16-5 (4-5)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 17.83 (28th)

Tier 1: 4-1, W-#9 Kansas 95-85 (away), #12 Xavier 102-86 (neutral), #35 Kansas State 92-90 (neutral), #66 Utah 80-77 (away)

Tier 2: 2-4, L- #66 Utah 80-77 (home), #75 Oregon 76-72 (home), #99 Stanford 86-77 (away), #114 Colorado 90-81 OT (away)

Tier 3: 5-0

Tier 4: 5-0

This is where the rankings start to get tough. The Sun Devils haven’t played well recently but no one else below them has and they have the best resume with their early success so they win the tie breaker. Bobby Hurley pulled a Lorenzo Romar last week and didn’t foul up 3 with 4 seconds left and Utah hit a 3-pointer to force overtime and eventually down the Devils in OT. They’ll still make the tourney but if they don’t finish at least 9-9 in conference then it’ll get mighty interesting. The offense was 5th in efficiency in the country at the end of December but is just 6th in the conference since then. A big part of that is star senior G Tra Holder shot 45% from deep in the non-conference and is now at just 33% in Pac-12 play.

This week’s games: Thursday at #91 Washington, Sunday at #158 Washington State

6. (2) Colorado Buffaloes, 12-10 (4-6)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 5.62 (114th)

Tier 1: 3-5, W- #27 Arizona 80-77 (home), #28 Arizona State 90-81 OT (home), #59 UCLA 68-59 (away)

Tier 2: 0-1

Tier 3: 6-4, L- #91 Washington 72-62 (home), #102 Iowa 80-73 (neutral), #120 San Diego 69-59 (home), #198 Colorado State 72-63 (away)

Tier 4: 3-0

The Buffs won 3 of 4 during the same 4 game Tier 1 stretch that Utah went through but have lost 3 of 4 since to cancel it out. Their best three wins stack up well against anyone in the conference but the consistency just hasn’t been there. The problem is an offense that is 11th in efficiency in conference play as they’ve struggled with turnovers and offensive rebounding. When you can’t get extra possessions, it’s very difficult to win. Freshman McKinley Wright IV has seemingly hit the freshman wall as his field goal percentage is 7% worse in conference play and his 3-point percentage is 24% worse as their leading ball handler.

This week’s games: Friday vs. #66 Utah

7. (3) Stanford Cardinal, 11-11 (5-4)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 6.95 (99th)

Tier 1: 1-7, W- #28 Arizona State 86-77 (home)

Tier 2: 4-0

Tier 3: 4-3

Tier 4: 2-1, L- #225 California 77-74 (home)

The Cardinal and Colorado are attached at the hip as both made big runs and have followed it off with a disappointing losing stretch. Stanford has dropped 3 in a row and killed the dream of a miracle run to the postseason once getting everyone healthy. They still have to go to Utah, Arizona, and Arizona State so it’s hard to envision a 13-5 or 12-6 finish in conference. They’re 7th in the Pac-12 in offensive efficiency and 5th in defensive efficiency so they may settle in as a slightly above average team in the conference but we’ll see if there’s another run left in them.

This week’s games: Thurday vs. #112 Oregon State, Saturday vs. #75 Oregon

8. (4) UCLA Bruins, 15-7 (6-4)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 12.8 (59th)

Tier 1: 1-4, W- #25 Kentucky 83-75 (neutral)

Tier 2: 2-2

Tier 3: 6-1, L- #114 Colorado 68-59 (home)

Tier 4: 6-0

UCLA was in a position where all they had to do was not screw up and they were probably in the NCAA tournament. But a 3-game losing streak home to Colorado and at the Oregon schools has them well on the outside looking in. The Bruins rebounded with a pair of double digit home wins against the Oregon schools but they’re going need a few upset wins now. They’ll get their shot with road games at the Arizona schools, the mountain schools, and USC. A 3-2 record in those 5 contests is a minimum for an NCAA bid and they might even need 4-1 at this point. But first they host USC so there’s no time to look ahead.

This week’s games: Saturday vs. #48 USC

9. (8) Oregon Ducks, 14-7 (4-4)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 10.34 (75th)

Tier 1: 1-2, W- #28 Arizona State 76-72 (away)

Tier 2: 2-4

Tier 3: 4-1, L- #163 Connecticut 71-63 (semi-home)

Tier 4: 7-0

It’s hard to believe this team was in the Final 4 a scant 10 months ago. The Ducks aren’t completely eliminated from an NCAA bid at this point but it’s tough to imagine them flipping the switch. They’re 5th in offense and 9th in defense during conference play and the road win at Arizona State is the only thing sustaining their resume. They’re just 1-4 against the KenPom top-50. Now they finish conference play with 6 of 10 on the road and 2 of the home games are hosting the Arizona schools. They need an 8-2 finish at minimum in order to think about March basketball in anything other than the NIT.

This week’s games: Thursday at #225 California, Saturday at #99 Stanford

10. (10) Oregon State Beavers, 11-9 (3-5)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 5.91 (109th)

Tier 1: 0-3

Tier 2: 2-3, W- #58 UCLA 69-63 (home), #75 Oregon 76-64 (home)

Tier 3: 3-3, L- #107 Wyoming 75-66 (home), #195 Long Beach State 74-69 (neutral), #209 Kent State 79-78 (away)

Tier 4: 6-0

The Beavers are doing fine if your only standard is remembering they went 5-27 (1-17) last season. I thought this team might have the talent coming back from injury and in recruiting to push for a bubble spot but they haven’t been able to win on the road and are just 1-6 in games outside the state of Oregon. The defense has actually been pretty good but there’s been some serious problems putting the ball in the basket. The only team that’s been worse on offense in conference play is woeful Cal. The Beavers are good enough that a win in Corvallis is no guarantee but this team is likely fighting for at best 8th place in the standings.

This week’s games: Thursday at #99 Stanford, Saturday at #224 California

11. (11) Washington State Cougars, 9-11 (1-7)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 1.84 (151st)

Tier 1: 1-4, W-#16 St. Mary’s 84-79 (neutral)

Tier 2: 1-3

Tier 3: 1-3

Tier 4: 6-1. L-#239 UTEP 76-69 (away)

It’s possible that the Cougars’ win over St. Mary’s ends up being one of the most perplexing outcomes in all of college basketball by the end of the year as the Gaels have won their last 16 games. Ernie Kent hasn’t won more than 13 games in any season since he showed up on the Palouse and it looks like he won’t get there this year either. I’ve seen junior Robert Franks get mentioned as a possible late 2nd round pick and if that happens then this team will be awful again next year. Drick Bernstine is the only senior rotation player so Wazzu probably gives Ernesto one more year with a pretty veteran team in 2019 if everyone else stays.

This week’s games: Thursday vs. #27 Arizona, Sunday vs. #28 Arizona State

12. (12) California Golden Bears, 7-15 (1-8)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: -5.48 (224th)

Tier 1: 1-6 W- #60 San Diego State 63-62 (away)

Tier 2: 1-3

Tier 3: 1-3

Tier 4: 4-3, L- #187 Central Arkansas 96-69 (home), #282 UC Riverside 74-66 (home), D-II Chaminade 96-72 (road)

What is there to say at this point? The Golden Bears will lose their two best big men who are both seniors and unless they pick up a spring commitment will have no one on the roster taller than 6’8 for coach Wyking Jones in 2018/19. The good news is that freshman Justice Sueing looks like a star. He’s averaging 18 points and 7 rebounds in conference play.

This week’s games: Thursday vs. #75 Oregon, Saturday vs. #109 Oregon State

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