With just a few weeks remaining in the regular season, the Pac-12 race is starting to become a bit clearer. It’s been the same teams fighting for the top three spots for the majority of the season, but there are numerous squads right on their tails looking to make one last run at the regular season conference crown.
There is a change at the top of the rankings this week as a school has reclaimed the number one spot despite the continual absence of one of its star players. How long it can hold the top spot without one of its most important pieces remains to be seen, but for now, everyone else is in its rear view mirror.
A sweep of Washington schools puts the Ducks back in the driver’s seat for the time being. While they are still without starting point guard Dominic Artis, they were able to come out on top on the road in two very close contests.
Oregon needs Artis back as soon as possible, however, as the game against Wazzu showed that the Ducks are not the same without him on the floor. UO found itself in an 11-point hole at the half, but stormed back in the second half to force overtime and ultimately pull off a victory over the Cougars. The Ducks may not have similar success against a tougher squad in that scenario without Artis’ services.
The Wildcats split a pair on the road to the mountain schools. Colorado enacted revenge against the Wildcats and won in convincing fashion, but UA righted the ship against Utah and came up with a much-needed victory.
With an important stretch ahead, Arizona needs to regain its focus. The team was playing much better until games against California and Colorado set the Wildcats back. A win over Utah is a good start, but improvement is still needed if UA wants to leapfrog Oregon before the end of the regular season.
The Golden Bears have caught fire at the right time and have the attention of the teams at the top of the standings. Cal swept the Los Angeles schools at home last week to move to 8-5 in Pac-12 play.
The coaching of Mike Montgomery has proven to be the x-factor for the Bears once again, but the play of Allen Crabbe has been the real story lately. The junior guard has averaged 21.5 over his last four games and has been the clear leader for Cal this season.
The Bruins had a chance to go into the Bay Area and make a statement, but came away with a split instead. UCLA was blasted at Cal and the game was not as close as the score suggested. A victory over Stanford allowed the Bruins to avoid the road sweep in the Bay Area and stay within one game of the Ducks.
5. Arizona State
The Sun Devils split their third straight series, this time at the hands of the mountain schools. ASU’s loss to Utah was flat-out bad, but to follow it up with a much-needed victory over Colorado sure helps the wounds heal a lot quicker.
Arizona State must find some level of consistency and do so quickly. The two squads the Sun Devils knocked off – Colorado and California – are better programs this year than the two squads they lost to recently in Utah and Stanford. They’ve shown they can compete with the better teams in the conference, but losing to lesser teams is a sign they are playing down to their competition.
The Buffaloes were about to make a jump in this week’s rankings, but a loss at ASU threw them completely off track. Colorado was able to salvage its season-series against the Wildcats with a big home victory, but its inconsistency was present again the following game against Arizona State. Now at 7-6 in the conference, CU will likely need a late season run or it risks missing the big dance completely.
The Trojans' chances at the big dance rely solely on winning the conference tournament. While their 12-14 record would suggest to the uneducated fan that their chances at making the NCAA Tournament are non-existent, observers of their games realize that they are a threat to beat anyone in the Pac-12 if they catch their opponent napping.
Winning the entire Pac-12 Tournament is an extreme long-shot for USC, but the rest of the league should not take the Trojans lightly. They are 7-6 in conference play, but just 5-8 in out of conference play.
After splitting a pair to the Oregon schools, the Huskies now stand at 2-7 over their past nine contests. The days of considering them a potential surprise in the conference standings are long gone and now UW must pray it steps up game up in Las Vegas in a few weeks or its season is over.
There isn’t much to say about Stanford at this point. The Cardinal’s blowout victory over Oregon was an obvious aberration and they are now back below .500 in conference play after losing to both UCLA and USC.
It’s been a challenging season for the Utes, but they have been competitive in the majority of their contests. Their upset victory over ASU showed a lot of heart, but the close loss to Arizona displayed how tough it has been for Utah to win close games this season.
11. Oregon State
In a battle of cellar-dwellers, Oregon State outlasted Washington State to avoid last place in the Pac-12. Even with the victory, the Beavers have been putrid this season. The combined record of the Pac-12 opponents they have defeated is currently 11-28.
12. Washington State
The Cougars extended their losing streak to six with a pair of losses to the Oregon schools. The Pac-12 hasn’t been kind to Wazzu, who is probably looking forward to the end of the season at this point.