President Barack Obama gave his annual State of the Union address last night, and so we felt obligated to piggyback off it and present a new edition of the Pac-12 men’s basketball power rankings. The season is more than halfway through, and much has changed since we debuted the rankings back in December. And so, without further ado…
1. California (16-5, 6-2)
Cal won four straight games before a close 77-75 loss to Washington State last weekend. Although certainly a game the Golden Bears should have won, it was not enough to bump them from the top of the board — they did, after all, beat Oregon handily on the road just two weeks ago. As well as the Ducks are playing lately, they’ll have to return the favor at Cal in February to reach the top of the pile. For right now, the Golden Bears remain the team to beat.
2. Oregon (15-5, 6-2 Pac-12)
It’s still jarring to look at the conference standings and see Oregon tied with Cal at the top of the board. Any chance of a Pac-12 regular-season title seemed to go out the window when Jabari Brown and Bruce Barron left town, but the Ducks have persevered and really seemed to have found an identity on the court. Dana Altman’s crew has won four conference games in a row, including a sweep on the road in Arizona and a rousing comeback victory over UCLA last Saturday, and it’s hard to argue that any other team in the conference is hotter right now. Devoe Joseph has been exactly the type of go-to scorer Oregon needed, and Garrett Sim is currently shooting a blistering .476 from beyond the arc. This team could really, truly win the Pac-12. You read that right.
3. Washington (12-7, 5-2)
Scoring hasn’t been a problem for the Huskies. They rank second in the Pac-12 in points per game (78.0) and as a team shoot a respectable .456 from the field. The issues have come on defense, where Washington somehow ranks last in all of the Pac-12. The Huskies give up 72.3 points per game, while also allowing opponents to shoot .350 from beyond the arc. Their conference rankings in blocked shots (third) and steals (third) are impressive, but that hasn’t kept the points from piling up. If Washington is to be considered a serious contender, it will have to shore up on the defensive side of the ball.
4. Stanford (15-5, 5-3)
With a top five scoring offense and defense, Stanford has proven to be one of the more well-rounded teams in the conference. The Cardinal come off of a troubling sweep at the hands of the Washington schools, but it was the only major stumble of the season thus far. And, just for reference, Stanford did have a very respectable showing earlier in the year in a 69-63 loss to then-No.5 Syracuse. A 20-point victory over Colorado back on Jan. 14 pretty much dispelled any notion that the Buffaloes are better, records aside.
Watch and learn:
5. Colorado (13-6, 5-2)
Sweeping the Arizona schools seems to be en vogue lately. The Buffaloes bounced back from a tough road trip in the Bay Area to defeat both Arizona State and Arizona this past weekend and head into Southern California this weekend tied for second in the Pac-12 standings. Yet Colorado still lacks a signature win this year and will need one if it is to be taken seriously in 2012. A win over the Ducks on Feb. 4 would certainly help the Buffaloes’ case.
6. Oregon State (13-7, 3-5)
This might seem crazy given the Beavers’ recent struggles, but it would be foolish to count Oregon State out entirely at this point. Yes, the Beavers lost five of six games from Dec. 29 to Jan. 14, but two were in overtime and only the Arizona State loss was truly unexplainable. This team still has the top-scoring offense in the Pac-12 at 82.7 points per game and the second best scoring margin (+10.6). The Beavers swept the Southern California schools this past weekend, and a Civil War victory on Sunday would put them right back on track. There’s still plenty of time to turn this around.
7. Arizona (13-7, 4-3)
The last team with a winning conference record on this list, Arizona has used a stifling defense to keep its head afloat. The Wildcats rank third in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (62 points per game) and second in opponent field goal percentage (.403), which helps make up for a middling offense that’s been kept just under 70 points per game. The Wildcats have yet to win consecutive conference games, and won’t be able to climb any further upward until they find some consistency.
8. Washington State (11-8, 3-4)
Things haven’t gone particularly well for the Cougars this year, but an impressive sweep of Stanford and Cal over the weekend might have been a sign of better things to come. As things currently stand, Washington State is just 2.5 games behind Cal (Pac-12 basketball, everyone!), and clearly the Cougars are better than a Jan. 5 loss to woeful Utah may have indicated. Don’t sleep on this team.
9. UCLA (10-9, 3-4)
The Bruins rank near the bottom in nearly every major Pac-12 statistical category, and the best team they’ve beaten so far is Arizona. Blowing a 13-point lead at Oregon over the weekend can’t have helped UCLA’s confidence level, and this is shaping up to be its most disappointing season in recent memory.
Avert your eyes:
10. Utah (5-14, 2-5)
After UCLA, the Pac-12 really drops off a cliff. Losers of their previous four games, the Utes randomly exploded for a 21-point victory over Arizona State last Saturday. It changes little, but Utah at least has something to hang its hat on now in what has been a dreadful Pac-12 season debut.
11. Arizona State (6-13, 2-5)
The Sun Devils have virtually the same resume as Utah, except that it just lost by 21 to the Utes in a game that roughly 10 people watched.
12. USC (5-15, 0-7)
Fun fact: Woeful USC actually leads the Pac-12 in scoring defense (58 points allowed per game). Unfortunately, the Trojans score even less points (54.2) than they give up, and thus have yet to win a conference game. Things were so much better back in the Lil’ Romeo days.