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Pac-12 Power Rankings: Separation at the Top

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The Huskies, Wildcats, and Beavers have all had very strong starts to conference play

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The best possible way to maximize the Pac-12’s chances of receiving as many auto-bids to the NCAA tournament as possible is to have a massive separation between the top and bottom of the league so that 4 teams finish with 13+ wins with their only losses to each other. The distinction within the league isn’t quite that stark but with 3 undefeated teams through 2 weeks and 5 teams with 1 or fewer wins it’s looking a little like that scenario.

Of course we could also see a scenario where 7 teams finish between 7-11 and 11-7 and the conference ends up with just the auto-bid. We’ll see.

If you want a reminder for what each Q1 through Q4 means or what victory/defeat points are then check the bottom of the article.

1 (3). Arizona Wildcats, 13-4 (4-0)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 13.37 (49th)

Victory Points: 26 points. Best Win: Q1, 71-66 over #24 Iowa State (N).

Defeat Points: -5 points. Worst Loss: Q2, 49-58 to #66 Baylor (H).

This is pretty much a 1a and 1b situation at the top but I’m giving the Wildcats the edge because of the extra Pac-12 game that they’ve played and that they have a better win on their resume. There is a little bit of trouble in Tucson as Emmanuel Akot announced yesterday that he is transferring. Akot had played almost half of Zona’s minutes this season and hadn’t seen a clear drop in playing time so it has to come as a bit of a surprise for the former top-100 recruit. But it’s clear that his numbers are much worse than Ryan Luther’s (who he was essentially splitting time with) so as long as there aren’t chemistry issues his departure could actually give the Wildcats a boost on the court.

This week’s games: Thursday vs. #77 Oregon, Saturday vs. #69 Oregon State

2 (2). Washington Huskies, 12-4 (3-0)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 13.83 (46th)

Victory Points: 21 points. Best Win: Q2, 71-67 over #81 Texas A&M (N).

Defeat Points: -4 points. Worst Loss: Q1, 66-68 to #48 Minnesota (N).

The Huskies swept a Pac-12 road trip for the first time in 6 years this past weekend by dispatching of both Utah and Colorado. Washington last started 3-0 in conference play back in 2016 when the current group of seniors were all freshmen and ended up 9-9 in conference and 19-15 overall. If this year’s team has a similar finish it will be a colossal disappointment. 3 of the 4 teams that Washington only plays once are in the top-5 of these rankings so they have an inside track to a conference title from a strength of schedule perspective. Of course on the flip side that denies them opportunities for great wins to create an acceptable NCAA tournament resume. UW just has to keep taking care of business as they’ll likely be favored by double digits in both home games against the Bay Area schools.

This week’s games: Thursday vs. #124 Stanford, Saturday vs. #227 California

3 (7). Oregon State Beavers, 11-4 (3-0)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 10.38 (66th)

Victory Points: 19 points. Best Win: Q2, 79-66 over #91 UCLA (H).

Defeat Points: -9 points. Worst Loss: Q3, 63-66 to #143 Kent State (H).

My biggest criticism of the Beavers in the preseason was that they didn’t have the depth to win if one of Tres Tinkle or Stevie Thompson were out. It took overtime but OSU defeated USC with Tinkle unavailable behind a combined 47 points out of the Thompson brothers. My other worry was the ability of the OSU big men to replace Drew Eubanks. Kylor Kelley has come in as a transfer from Lane Community College and been a revelation. He’s leading the country in block percentage and actually has more blocks per minute playing in the Pac-12 then he did last year in the NWAC. Remarkable. If Oregon State emerges from the desert road trip with at least a split then they need to be taken seriously as a Pac-12 title contender.

This week’s games: Thursday at #79 Arizona State, Saturday at #50 Arizona

4 (12). UCLA Bruins, 10-7 (3-1)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 9.03 (77th)

Victory Points: 17 points. Best Win: Q2, 65-62 over #71 Notre Dame (H).

Defeat Points: -10 points. Worst Loss: Q3, 72-74 to #89 Belmont (H).

UCLA won 3 in a row before tripping up in Corvallis following the ouster of head coach Steve Alford. It’s understandable that people want to think that the Bruins are suddenly going to play up to their talent level after being unshackled from the dead weight of Alford and fight for a Pac-12 title. It’s not impossible but it took an all-time collapse from Oregon (up 9 with under a minute left) for them to win against a Ducks team missing arguably its 2 best players. Their other two wins were hosting Stanford/Cal which is probably the easiest 2-game stretch available in the conference this season. We might want to pump the breaks just a bit. And yet because the Pac-12 is the Pac-12 they’re still in 4th.

This week’s games: Saturday vs. #109 USC

5 (1). Arizona State Sun Devils, 11-5 (2-2)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 10.82 (63rd)

Victory Points: 24 points. Best Win: Q1, 80-76 over #13 Kansas (H).

Defeat Points: -11 points. Worst Loss: Q4, 66-67 to #180 Princeton (H).

Tale as old as time... Bobby Hurley has a magical run in the non-conference and then collapses in Pac-12 play. Since that win against Kansas the Sun Devils have dropped 3 games against sub-125 teams in the KenPom rankings. Not great, Bob. Arizona State is still on the fringes of the NCAA tournament discussion with their wins over Kansas and Mississippi State and a sweep over the Oregon schools this week would go a loooong way towards making that dream come true.

This week’s games: Thursday vs. #69 Oregon State, Saturday vs. #77 Oregon

6 (9). Utah Utes, 8-8 (2-2)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 3.33 (136th)

Victory Points: 12 points. Best Win: Q2, 96-86 over #79 Arizona State (A).

Defeat Points: -14 points. Worst Loss: Q4, 79-90 to #159 Hawaii (N).

The Utes were this close to sweeping the Arizona schools on the road but they ultimately fell to the Wildcats in overtime. There’s enough there between Sedrick Barefield/Donnie Tillman and the coaching of Larry K that Utah is capable of winning every game they play in this version of the Pac-12. But it’s hard to see them finishing any better than .500 in the league. However, their only two losses are against the teams ranked #1 and #2 above so until they lose one they shouldn’t, they deserve to be in the top half.

This week’s games: Saturday vs. #94 Colorado

7 (4). Oregon Ducks, 10-6 (1-2)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 13.92 (44th)

Victory Points: 17 points. Best Win: Q1, 80-65 over #49 Syracuse (N).

Defeat Points: -12 points. Worst Loss: Q4, 84-89 to #195 Texas Southern (H).

As mentioned above, Oregon had one of the most astonishing collapses you’ll ever see last week allowing UCLA to come back, force overtime, and eventually win. The Ducks had a 99.8% win probability with a minute to go. Brutal. And yet, because this is the Pac-12 they’re still 7th in these rankings. Unbelievable. If Kenny Wooten doesn’t come back soon then even the NIT may be out of reach as Payton Pritchard has disappointingly regressed rather than carrying the team on his back as an upperclassman.

This week’s games: Thursday at #50 Arizona, Saturday at #79 Arizona State

8 (5). Stanford Cardinal, 8-8 (1-3)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 4.25 (128th)

Victory Points: 11 points. Best Win: Q3, 85-71 over #79 Arizona State (H).

Defeat Points: -11 points. Worst Loss: Q2, 66-77 to #109 USC (A).

Stanford’s expectations were low entering the season after Reid Travis abandoned them but a brutally tough schedule has the Cardinal treading water to stay at .500. They’re now 1-8 in games against top-100 KenPom teams with the only win coming in their most recent game against ASU. KZ Okpala has been the lone bright spot shooting an astonishing 47.9% from 3-point range and playing his way into 1st round NBA draft pick consideration.

This week’s games: Thursday at #38 Washington, Saturday at #198 Washington State

9 (6). Colorado Buffaloes, 10-6 (1-3)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 7.98 (87th)

Victory Points: 12 points. Best win: Q3, 100-71 over #145 Drake (H).

Defeat Points: -13 points. Worst Loss: Q2, 62-70 OT to #159 Hawaii (N).

It was a rough weekend for Colorado. They were definitely in the game against the Huskies on Saturday night for what would’ve been a signature win and a small ray of hope at challenging for an NCAA bid. But they fell apart in the final 3 minutes partly because they were missing their leader McKinley Wright IV who injured his shoulder earlier in the game and there’s no timetable for his return. Without Wright it’s hard to imagine the Buffs making any kind of a run. This is still a very young team (302nd in experience at KenPom) so there’s hope for Colorado to be a force next season. But unfortunately, injuries appear to have consigned this season to be another stepping stone rather than an ascension.

This week’s games: Sunday at #111 Utah

10 (8). USC Trojans, 9-8 (2-2)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 6.79 (100th)

Victory Points: 11 points. Best Win: Q3, 77-66 over #124 Stanford (H).

Defeat Points: -12 points. Worst Loss: Q3, 92-102 2OT to #201 Santa Clara (A).

Given the turmoil around the USC program I was sorely tempted to move them to the bottom but the gap between the Trojans and Wazzu/Cal is big enough that 10th is the lowest I’m going. 5-star freshman stud (and Rainier Beach alum) Kevin Porter Jr. was suspended indefinitely just one game after returning from a stint in which he missed 10 games due to injury. He posted a message in response letting fans know that he wasn’t going to step away from the team to do draft prep but it’s unclear if we’ll see him on the court again.

Andy Enfield’s teams have under performed in my calculations every year since he’s arrived in LA so the debacle of this year isn’t necessarily surprising. The Trojans have commitments from a pair of 5-star big men coming in next year and will also have the #1 player in 2020 provided they don’t fire his dad as an assistant coach. My guess as to the future of USC is that we get a look at what might’ve happened had Washington retained Lorenzo Romar rather than sacrificing a top-3 recruiting class. But despite the sheer talent the Trojans are likely to put on the court the next few seasons I’m skeptical they’ll ever crack the ceiling of a potential Sweet 16 team as long as Enfield is at the helm.

This week’s games: Thursday vs. #91 UCLA

11 (11). Washington State Cougars, 7-9 (0-3)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: -3.53 (202nd)

Victory Points: 8 points. Best Win: Q3, 94-80 over #158 Rider (H).

Defeat Points: -23 points. Worst Loss: Q4, 90-95 to #264 Montana State (H/N).

When Robert Franks initially announced that he was declaring for the NBA Draft last spring I thought the Cougars would be atrocious. And with Franks out with a concussion the last 2 weeks we’ve gotten a good look at that reality as Wazzu has lost each of their conference games by 18+ points and are now on a 6-game losing streak. It must be stated that the Cougars are the only team in the conference yet to play a Pac-12 home game so the schedule hasn’t done them any favors. Thursday night hosting Cal is the only time the rest of the year when the Cougars will be favored so if they lose that one? Long live Ernesto.

This week’s games: Thursday vs. #228 California, Saturday vs. #124 Stanford

12 (10). California Golden Bears, 5-11 (0-4)

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: -5.82 (231st)

Victory Points: 5 points. Best Win: Q3, 89-83 over #169 San Diego State (H).

Defeat Points: -20 points. Worst Loss: Q3, 73-82 to #156 Seattle (H).

We’re already over 2,000 words so let’s keep this brief, shall we? 0-11 against teams in the KenPom top-150. A 5-game losing streak during which they’ve never gotten closer than 9 points. THE 338TH RANKED DEFENSE IN THE COUNTRY!!! That should do it.

This week’s games: Thursday at #198 Washington State, Saturday at #38 Washington

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The NCAA selection committee will once again be using the quadrant system rather than the simple record vs the top-50 and top-100 they used historically. Here’s the definition for each of the tiers if you want a refresher. The NET replaces the RPI this season but until we have access to those rankings I’m using KenPom to determine which quadrant a game falls into.

Q1: Home 1-30; Neutral 1-50; Away 1-75

Q2: Home 31-75; Neutral 51-100; Away 76-135

Q3: Home 76-160; Neutral 101-200; Away 136-240

Q4: Home 161-plus; Neutral 201-plus; Away 241-plus.

I’m including Victory and Defeat points as a shorthand for a team’s resume this year. You earn 4 Victory points for a Q1 win, 3 for a Q2 win, etc. The opposite is true for Defeat Points where you lose 4 points for a Q4 loss, 3 points for a Q3 loss, etc. The higher your net point total the better your resume.

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