With the non-conference schedule in the books, the time has come for Pac-12 squads to renew their rivalries as conference play has arrived. There is one clear-cut favorite and several middle-of-the-pack squads that will fight it out over what may be just a couple of at-large NCAA Tournament bids.
As we head into the first week of games, there is plenty to still be determined. Here is how the Pac-12 ranks.
The Wildcats are the class of the conference and have looked like one of the best teams in the nation thus far. On top of the much-heralded 2012 recruiting class that has played well to start the season, the Wildcats also possess a strong veteran core to help guide the squad.
The addition of former Xavier guard Mark Lyons has been arguably the biggest addition any team in the country has received.
The Ducks have looked good in non-conference and handed a strong UNLV squad its first loss of the season. They have five players averaging double figures and are the second-highest scoring team in the conference behind UCLA.
The play of freshmen Damyean Dotson and Dominic Artis has been crucial to the team’s success while upperclassmen like E.J. Singler and Carlos Emory give UO a good balance of talented youth and senior leadership.
The Buffaloes have looked solid thus far and they possess a fair amount of balance on both sides of the ball. Colorado plays very well as a team and has four players averaging more than 10 points per game.
Junior forward Andre Roberson is one of the better power forwards in the Pac-12 and with Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker complementing Roberson from the outside, CU could prove to be one of the stronger teams in the Pac-12.
The Bruins have as much talent as anyone in the conference, if not the most. The problem with the Bruins isn’t the talent, but the lack of chemistry and recent history of underachieving. The play of freshmen Jordan Adams and Shabazz Muhammad has been huge for UCLA and Larry Drew could be the conference’s best passer. The question is, can Ben Howland finally figure out to use his talent properly without losing control of his team?
The victory over Missouri puts some of the doubts on hold for now. If the team that defeated the Tigers shows up in conference play every game, the Bruins could challenge for the conference crown.
5. Arizona State
The Sun Devils were expected to compete with the lower half of the conference this season, but the play of freshman Jahii Carson and senior Carrick Felix has led ASU to an 11-2 start.
On the defensive end of the floor, Arizona State presents arguably the conference's best shot blocker in 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski, which shows that the Sun Devils have quality pieces on both ends of the floor.
Despite the strong start, there is still plenty of uncertainty regarding ASU. The Sun Devils' strongest win thus far was a road victory over an average Arkansas squad, so it should be interesting to see how their season progresses in conference play.
6. Oregon State
The Beavers most prominent victory was over a Purdue squad that has lost six times already this season. Roberto Nelson and Devon Collier give OSU fans hope, but it’s hard to tell just how good the Beavers are at this point in time. The recent defeat at the hands of Towson is a big blow heading into conference play.
Not only is that a bad loss to have on your tournament résumé, but it’s not a good sign for a team with a schedule ahead that is full of teams that are much better than Towson.
Allen Crabbe is one of the best scorers in the conference and Mike Montgomery always has his team ready to play, but do the Golden Bears have enough support? Justin Cobbs is really their only other scoring threat and there isn’t much more leadership on the roster.
Losing to Harvard at home in its last non-conference contest certainly doesn’t bode well for the Golden Bears' chances in the Pac-12, where the competition at the top is much better than the product Harvard brings to the floor.
The Cardinal have a good young guard in Chasson Randle and junior forward Dwight Powell is one of the better big men in the league. Outside of those two, there isn’t much available for Stanford and losing to a squad like Be;mont in non-conference play doesn’t bode well for its chances in the Pac-12.
The Huskies have players that can make a big impact and lead the Huskies to a big season, but like Cal, the question is whether or not they have enough. C.J. Wilcox, Scott Suggs and Abdul Gaddy all provide the ability to score and Gaddy is one of the league’s better passer.
UW will rely on just a small handful of players to carry the scoring load and, while it’s certainly possible for a player like Wilcox to put the team on his back, it may be too tall of a task for one player.
10. Washington State
Wazzu is going to try to ride the shoulders of center Brock Motum while guard Davonte Lacy provides scoring support from the outside. The problem for the Cougars is that they possess a severe lack of talent and have depth issues. The only way they can contend is if Brock Motum plays on a higher level than anyone else in the conference, which is unlikely.
The Utes have lost four games and three of those came against Sacramento State, SMU and Cal State Northridge. Barring a miracle, Utah will challenge USC for last place in the Pac-12.
The Trojans have little to be hopeful about this season and have been outclassed by most of the respectable teams they have played. It should be a tough year in the Pac-12 and Kevin O’Neill’s seat should be feeling awfully warm right about now.