Sizing up the Pac-12 basketball landscape


Arizona is soaring, Oregon is aspiring and USC has co-opted a suspend-a-player-a-week plan. Eureka: It’s almost March, when some teams will be transcendent and some will be dead in the water, which is to say they’ll be in the CBI.

Today, we take the temperature of everybody in the Pac-12, even the ones in which rigor mortis appears to have taken hold:

Arizona (25-2, 12-2): The ‘Cats aren’t the same without injured forward Brandon Ashley, but you wouldn’t know it from a jaw-dropping 88-61 win at Colorado, which Tuesday caused CU coach Tad Boyle to say, “It’s hard to put into words how good they are defensively.”

‘Zona has a glittering 9-1 record against RPI top 50, which will get them a No. 1 NCAA seed. Still, the offense at times gives you pause.

UCLA (21-6, 10-4): The Bruins could win out; they play the Northwest schools, none of whom might be in the NCAA tournament. UCLA has good numbers — a 14 RPI and No. 11 strength of schedule. Finish well and Steve Alford’s first team might jump up to a No. 4 seed.

Guess who’s the league’s highest-rated prospective pick on NBAdraft.com: Zach LaVine, the ex-Bothell freshman guard, at No. 11 overall.

Stanford (18-8, 9-5): In season No. 6, Johnny Dawkins appears to have finally gotten it right, presumably turning his make-or-break season into a new deal at Stanford. The Cardinal has a nice 6-3 road record, including a win at Connecticut, but the finish is rugged — a desert trip this week and a visit from the mountain schools.

California (18-9, 9-5): For a coach with his consistent track record, Mike Montgomery seems to have an unusually up-and-down team, one capable of providing USC’s only league win but also a rousing home victory against Arizona. Freshman Jabari Bird, playing well now after an earlier injury, should help stabilize things.

Colorado (20-8, 9-6): We give you the league’s most interesting case vis a vis the big tournament. Traditionally, the NCAA basketball committee has assessed a team losing a player to a longterm injury by how it fared without him, and the Buffs are only 6-5 after Spencer Dinwiddie’s knee injury, five of the wins over second-division teams. Hardly head-turning.

Arizona State (19-8, 8-6): With a 34 RPI, ASU looks safe, although the committee won’t like its 220 nonconference strength of schedule. Meanwhile, Jahii Carson has more turnovers than assists in league and is shooting 30.6 percent in his past five games.

Utah (18-9, 7-8): Speaking of schedules, a pretty salty Utes team might look back and wonder why it played Evergreen State and St. Katherine’s, part of the 345th-rated nonleague schedule. Says coach Larry Krystkowiak, “A lot of that schedule was made when we won six games two years ago. If you could go back in time, we would probably have scheduled a little harder.”

Washington (15-13, 7-8): The UW could finish 10-8, when it might be time to consult Kevin O’Neill, who coached the only two 14-loss, at-large NCAA teams in league history, at Arizona (2008) and USC (2011). But both had far more nonleague chops than the Huskies.

Oregon (18-8, 6-8): The Ducks are like the snake that’s presumed dead but just keeps twitching. They’re 0-6 against the Pac-12 teams popularly figured for the NCAA, but with a viable 41 RPI, they’ve got a shot, starting at UCLA on Thursday night.

Oregon State (14-12, 6-8): Tell me Craig Robinson, the OSU coach, didn’t really say this after losing by 24 to the Huskies Saturday — that the “enormity of the situation” got to the Beavers.

Washington State (9-18, 2-13): What can you say about the Cougars, other than they’re shy of big players, they don’t have a point guard, and they can’t shoot?

USC (10-17, 1-13): Andy Enfield benched starters Pe’Shon Howard and Byron Wesley in consecutive weeks for team violations. Reinforcements are on the way in the form of transfers Katin Reinhardt (UNLV) and Darion Clarke (Charlotte), plus four-star point guard Jordan McLaughlin. They’re needed, one and all.

 

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