Pac-12 power rankings: UA controls men’s basketball landscape

Three weekends have already passed in Pac-12 men’s basketball, and it looks like 2014 could be another deep season for the conference.

Although UA looks unbeatable at the moment, there have already been some strange moments from upsets to a once-thought contender that’s quickly headed to the bottom. The spots beneath the Wildcats are still up for grabs in the ultra-competitive Pac-12.

Here’s how the conference shakes up in The State Press’ first power rankings:

1. UA (18-0, 5-0 Pac-12)

Can anyone in the Pac-12 — let alone the entire nation — stop the No. 1 Wildcats? UA is off to its best start in school history, and it’s not like it played the easiest schedule to get there. While the Wildcats are talented from top to bottom, they also play with energy every night that completes their formula of being undefeated.

UA isn’t a perfect team, as the Wildcats struggle with outside shooting and taking care of the ball, but those flaws haven’t cost them yet.

2. UCLA (14-4, 3-2 Pac-12)

Steve Alford’s first season as the No. 25 Bruins’ head coach is going swell. UCLA leads the Pac-12 in steals, assists and every turnover margin in the conference. The Bruins nearly upset UA on Jan. 9 but fell victim to Utah’s tough homecourt advantage on Jan. 18. Still, this is a deep team that hasn’t lost a pulse from a successful season last year and should produce the same results this time around.

3. California (14-4, 5-0 Pac-12)

Despite losing guard Allen Crabbe to the NBA last year, the Golden Bears are still a legitimate contender and should challenge UCLA for the No. 2 spot in the Pac-12 for the rest of the season. Senior point guard Justin Cobbs is second in the conference in assists yet keeps an efficient assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.7. It’ll be fun and interesting to watch California when it starts playing the Pac-12 South schools.

4. Stanford (12-5, 3-2 Pac-12)

The Cardinal proved they could be one of the big dogs from the Pac-12 come tournament time when they upset No. 10 Connecticut on the road Dec. 18. Stanford had a sloppy start to conference play with losses to California and Oregon State, but it looks like the Cardinal have things under control after winning their last three.

5. Washington (11-8, 3-3 Pac-12)

It’s tough to gauge where the Huskies stand in the conference totem pole every season, but the Jan. 2 win at ASU was huge for UW. The Huskies are in the middle ground of the Pac-12, defeating every team with a losing conference record but losing to everyone with a winning record with the exception of Colorado.

Senior guard C.J. Wilcox is having a nice year as the Pac-12’s second-leading scorer and should be taken between the late-first and early-second rounds of this year’s NBA Draft.

6. Colorado (15-4, 4-2 Pac-12)

The No. 21 Buffaloes were supposed to be a legitimate contender in the Pac-12 until tragedy struck. Junior guard Spencer Dinwiddie went out for the season with an ACL injury he suffered on Jan. 12 against Washington. After that, the Buffaloes got on the wrong side of blowouts in their next two games against Washington and UCLA before blasting USC on Jan. 18.

Colorado still has some talent in sophomore forward Josh Scott and junior guard Askia Booker, but it’s hard for any team in basketball to stay competitive without its go-to man.

7. ASU (13-5, 2-3 Pac-12)

When redshirt sophomore point guard Jahii Carson struggles, the entire Sun Devils squad struggles. ASU already played crucial road games at Pac-12 contenders UCLA and UA and was rolled over in both. If there was anything good to take out of the blowout in Tucson last Thursday, it’s that Carson had his best game of 2014 by dropping 20 points and dishing five assists. The Sun Devils can get back on track if Carson continues to play well and they get a little more consistency from everyone else on the roster.

8. Oregon (13-4, 1-4 Pac-12)

Remember when the Ducks were No. 10 in the AP Top 25 and were the assumed No. 2 team in the Pac-12? Well, they’ve lost their last four games and are in a complete free fall. This is clearly a concern, but it’ll be a surprise if coach Dana Altman doesn’t steer Oregon out of this mess.

9. Utah (14-4, 3-3 Pac-12)

The Utes have been strangely inconsistent — they lost at Washington State on Jan. 12 but upset UCLA at home six nights later. Other than their game against the Bruins, they haven’t exactly played the toughest teams in the Pac-12, so it’s tough to tell where Utah stands in the conference at the moment.

Sophomore forward Jordan Loveridge, who averages 16.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, always flies under the radar but is one of the Pac-12’s best frontcourt players.

10. Oregon State (10-7, 2-3 Pac-12)

Senior guard Roberto Nelson is the conference’s leading scorer with 21 points per game and the Beavers’ only attraction at their one-man show. The Beavers are feisty at home and defeated Stanford on Jan. 9 and rival Oregon Sunday, but they have only won two of their seven games away from Gill Coliseum.

11. Washington State (8-10, 1-5 Pac-12)

The Cougars are a solid defensive team — they made Utah shoot just 29.5 percent from the field in their only conference win on Jan. 12 — but it’s hard to let that translate to wins when they can’t shoot, score or rebound. Those woes got so bad that Washington State only scored 25 points the entire game against UA on Jan. 2.

12. USC (9-9, 0-5 Pac-12)

It seems like coach Andy Enfield’s successful history as an underdog from his 2013 season at Florida Gulf Coast hasn’t rubbed off on the Trojans so far. USC has become the routine punching bag of the Pac-12 with no signs of a way out of the hole it has been in the past several years. It would be embarrassing for any of the other 11 teams to drop a game to the lowly Trojans.

 

Reach the reporter at jnacion@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @Josh_Nacion