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Pac-12 Basketball Power Rankings: Conference Play Begins Tonight

How does the race for...probably 1 NCAA bid shape up to start the year?

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Pac-12 play begins tonight and it comes with one major upside for the conference. At least you can’t suffer any more embarrassing losses to mid-majors.

Of course that assumes that the Pac-12 hasn’t already been relegated to mid-major status and the numbers say that’s the case at least for 2019. Steve Alford got fired, the November favorite for Pac-12 player of the year (Bol Bol) looks like he might be out for the year in order to preserve his draft stock, and the only team that has beaten a top-10 opponent turned around and lost at home to Princeton.

There are probably still 8 teams whose fans think their team could reasonably win the conference. But it’s not impossible still that the only Pac-12 representative in the NCAA tournament gets there by winning the conference tournament. It may lower the stakes but this will still be a wild and crazy Pac-12 conference season.

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 (1). Arizona State Sun Devils, 9-3

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 12.74 (50th)

Victory Points: 20 points. Best Win: Q1, 80-76 over #6 Kansas (H).

Defeat Points: -6 points. Worst Loss: Q4, 66-67 to #176 Princeton (H).

Thanks to their victory over Kansas the Sun Devils are still the front runners entering conference play just as they were last year. That didn’t turn out very well for ASU as they collapsed and barely salvaged what looked like a locked in NCAA berth. They’re in a much worse spot to start Pac-12 play this year after dropping a home game to Princeton on Saturday. An 11-7 mark or better still gets them to the Big Dance but their margin for error dropped by quite a bit thanks to that loss.

This week’s games: Thursday vs. #142 Utah, Saturday vs. #76 Colorado

2 (2). Washington Huskies, 9-4

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 11.99 (55th)

Victory Points: 16 points. Best Win: Q2, 71-67 over #97 Texas A&M (N).

Defeat Points: -5 points. Worst Loss: Q2, 66-68 to #62 Minnesota (N).

The Huskies are 0-4 against top-75 teams and 9-0 against all other teams. The Huskies continue to play down to competition and then dig themselves out of holes with a strong second half. If that trend keeps up against teams like Wazzu, Cal, and Utah then they’re a lot more liable to get punished. Let’s see if playing at home against an actual Pac-12 opponent and rival (even a bad one like Wazzu) on Saturday will inspire them to play a full 4 quarters.

This week’s games: Saturday vs. #171 Washington State

3 (5). Arizona Wildcats, 9-4

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 12.09 (53rd)

Victory Points: 17 points. Best Win: Q1, 71-66 over #18 Iowa State (N).

Defeat Points: -5 points. Worst Loss: Q2, 49-58 to #59 Baylor (H).

This is effectively a tie for second place between Arizona and the Huskies with the tiebreaker being that UW has yet to drop a home game. The Wildcats are still in solid position to compete for a Pac-12 championship despite losing 5 starters from a year ago. The Arizona road trip will be the hardest 2-game stretch for every other team in the conference.

This week’s games: Thursday vs. #76 Colorado, Saturday vs. #142 Utah

4 (4). Oregon Ducks, 9-4

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 14.49 (39th)

Victory Points: 15 points. Best Win: Q1, 80-65 over #30 Syracuse (N).

Defeat Points: -7 points. Worst Loss: Q4, 84-89 to #202 Texas Southern (H).

Oregon was the presumptive favorite in the preseason partly because they had a pair of elite rim protectors in Bol Bol and Kenny Wooten. However, Wooten broke his jaw last week and will be out at least another month. And it came out this morning that Bol Bol will likely miss the rest of the season with his foot injury for which there was previously no timetable. Those losses completely tear apart Oregon’s interior defense and scoring ability. Plus, 6’7 sophomore forward Abu Kigab announced yesterday that he’s transferring. So far this has the looks of a cursed season for Oregon as they tried to go all-in on the 5-star strategy for the first time. Time to break out the world’s smallest violin. But of course it would surprise no one if the Ducks get healthy and gel in time to make a run to the NCAA tournament and a Pac-12 title.

This week’s games: Saturday vs. #79 Oregon State

5 (8). Stanford Cardinal, 7-5

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 5.62 (112th)

Victory Points: 9 points. Best Win: Q3, 96-74 over #140 Seattle (H).

Defeat Points: -5 points. Worst Loss: Q1, 65-74 to #45 San Francisco (A).

Stanford is tied with Arizona and Washington for the fewest defeat points in the conference. They played a brutally tough top end of the schedule and like everyone but Arizona State they couldn’t quite get over the hump in any of those premium games. This is still a young team and just like last season it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they end up finishing in the top-4 of the conference. But they really miss Reid Travis and PG Daejon Davis despite his obvious talent still struggles too much with turnovers.

This week’s games: Thursday at #80 UCLA, Sunday at #88 USC

6 (3). Colorado Buffaloes, 9-3

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 8.88 (76th)

Victory Points: 11 points. Best win: Q3, 100-71 over #134 Drake (H).

Defeat Points: -8 points. Worst Loss: Q2, 62-70 OT to #200 Hawaii (N).

Colorado played an insanely easy non-conference schedule as they played 0 top-75 opponents and only a single top-100 opponent (a loss at San Diego). This team still has a ton of young talent but we could see some inconsistency and I think a 10-8 record with a slew of home wins with their built in home court advantage seems about right for this squad.

This week’s games: Thursday at #53 Arizona, Saturday at #50 Arizona State

7 (7). Oregon State Beavers, 8-4

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 8.78 (79th)

Victory Points: 12 points. Best Win: Q2, 61-56 over #73 Old Dominion (N).

Defeat Points: -10 points. Worst Loss: Q3, 63-66 to #143 Kent State (H).

It doesn’t get much more blah than Oregon State’s record. They’re a fine team that will win at least one game they really weren’t supposed to and they could beat any team in the conference in Corvallis. But if their stars ever struggle I don’t think the depth exists for them to pull out a game against a good opponent. Luckily for the Beavs they won’t face too many of those in conference play...

This week’s games: Saturday at #39 Oregon

8 (10). USC Trojans, 7-6

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 8.01 (88th)

Victory Points: 7 points. Best Win: Q4, 90-75 over #194 Cal State Bakersfield (H).

Defeat Points: -9 points. Worst Loss: Q3, 92-102 2OT to #210 Santa Clara (A).

We’ll get to the other L.A school eventually but the Trojans have also been incredible under-achievers and if they didn’t have a top-3 recruiting class coming in then I think you might have heard some Andy Enfield hot seat rumblings. USC has a 1-6 record against teams in the top-210 per KenPom. That includes 5 top-60 games but when your best win at the end of the non-conference is against Cal State Bakersfield that isn’t a great sign.

This week’s games: Thursday vs. #203 California, Sunday vs. #112 Stanford

9 (9). Utah Utes, 6-6

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 2.34 (142nd)

Victory Points: 8 points. Best Win: Q3, 75-66 over #136 Grand Canyon (N).

Defeat Points: -9 points. Worst Loss: Q4, 79-90 to #200 Hawaii (N).

Utah actually has one of the better offenses in the country but their defensive efficiency stats have been atrocious so far. The Utes are one of the worst teams in the country at forcing turnovers and allow opponents to shoot above average from everywhere on the court. The mountain road trip will still trip up quite a few teams but this doesn’t look like a team that will win many road games.

This week’s games: Thursday at #50 Arizona State, Saturday at #53 Arizona

10 (12). California Golden Bears, 5-7

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: -3.63 (207th)

Victory Points: 6 points. Best Win: Q3, 89-83 over #126 San Diego State (H).

Defeat Points: -12 points. Worst Loss: Q3, 73-82 to #140 Seattle (H).

It’s a miracle! California is in 10th place! Don’t get me wrong, they’re an awful basketball team. They’re in the 300’s in the national rankings in a number of defensive metrics including just overall defensive efficiency. But enjoy the little things, Cal fans. 10th place!

This week’s games: Thursday at #88 USC, Sunday at #80 UCLA

11 (11). Washington State Cougars, 7-6

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: -0.74 (171st)

Victory Points: 8 points. Best Win: Q3, 94-80 over #150 Rider (H).

Defeat Points: -16 points. Worst Loss: Q4, 90-95 to #281 Montana State (H/N).

The Cougars will enter Hec-Ed for the start of conference play on Saturday with a winning record against the 345th ranked schedule nationally but on a 3-game losing streak including a pair of teams that UW beat already this year. The Cougars offense is dynamic and is capable of putting up 90+ points against a sub-par defense but they’ve struggled against good ones so far. Unless there’s a dramatic change this still looks like a bottom-2 team in the conference.

This week’s games: Saturday at #55 Washington

12 (6). UCLA Bruins, 7-6

Adjusted Efficiency Margin: 8.57 (80th)

Victory Points: 10 points. Best Win: Q2, 65-62 over #70 Notre Dame (H).

Defeat Points: -9 points. Worst Loss: Q3, 58-73 to #77 Liberty (H).

It’s a very little known bylaw to the power rankings but if you fired your coach after your previous game then you automatically drop to last place. Those are the rules. My hands are tied.

I’ve never thought that Alford was a very good coach and some luck in the NCAA tournament kept him in place for longer than he probably deserved. This team still has talent and I don’t necessarily expect the Bruins to suddenly turn things around and win the conference but it wouldn’t be the most shocking thing in the world. Belmont and Liberty aren’t big name schools but they’re both top-80 teams per KenPom. UCLA should be better than their 1-6 record against top-80 teams but at least they are 6-0 against sub-80 teams which is more than a lot of teams in the Pac-12 can say. Tonight’s home game against Stanford will be an interesting test of where the team is at. If they drop this one too then UCLA’s stars might already in an NBA Draft state of mind.

This week’s games: Thursday vs. #112 Stanford, Saturday vs. #207 California


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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