It’s a dog-eat-dog conference in Pac-12 men’s basketball.
With the exception of UA standing far above the conference, the Pac-12’s spots below continue to shake as the fourth week of conference play approaches.
The Pac-12 has already seen its share of upsets. Oregon State got an improbable 88-83 home win against Stanford on Jan. 11. UCLA lost at Utah, 74-69, on Jan. 15. California got its first conference loss on the road by giving the Trojans their first Pac-12 win on Jan. 22. Utah stuck with UA in Tucson through much of the game Sunday until the Wildcats pulled away late in the second half.
ASU coach Herb Sendek said Tuesday that he thinks the Pac-12 is deeper than several seasons ago when the conference was loaded with future NBA superstars.
“We don’t have the lottery picks that we did a few years ago, but I do think we have more better teams, and the league is much deeper and even more balanced in the Pac-12,” Sendek said.
It’s a bold statement, considering the teams that were in the conference at the tail end of the last decade. UCLA went to the Final Four three times in the row with help from players like Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love. A year later, James Harden led ASU to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Other stars like UA’s Jerryd Bayless and Jordan Hill, Stanford’s Robin and Brooke Lopez and USC’s O.J. Mayo gave their respective teams a push to the Big Dance as well.
“That was an incredible time period where you had seemingly one lottery pick after another playing,” Sendek said.
Numbers and computer rankings back up Sendek’s claim. The Pac-12 had a combined non-conference record of 115-32 and has the third-highest conference RPI of any other conference. Six teams are ranked in the top-50 of the RPI, including UA (second), UCLA (20th), Colorado (22nd), Oregon (40th), California (44th) and ASU (49th).
Strangely, No. 1 UA is the only Pac-12 team ranked in the AP Top 25 poll. Still, most bracketologists expect between five or six Pac-12 teams to make it to the NCAA Tournament in March this season — the second most out of any conference.
“Right now, in terms of the quality of the league, the depth of the league and the parity of the league, I can’t imagine any better,” Sendek said.
ASU rotation beginning to settle
Sendek said he has a better grasp for his team’s rotation after his decision to move sophomore center Eric Jacobsen into the starting lineup. The rotation appeared to be in a flux at the start of the conference schedule, especially against UA on Jan. 16 when senior guard Jermaine Marshall missed the game with a groin injury.
ASU’s usual starting lineup now features Jacobsen, Marshall, redshirt sophomore point guard Jahii Carson, senior forward Shaquielle McKissic and senior center Jordan Bachynski.
Junior Jonathan Gilling splits time with Jacobsen at power forward, with Jacobsen playing center whenever Bachynski subs out. Junior Brandan Kearney has established himself as the team’s primary backup point guard and sometimes two-guard. Sendek confirmed redshirt junior Bo Barnes will continue to see heavy minutes at the wing positions off the bench.
“Nothing is permanent for certain, but I like our rotation right now,” he said. “It’s still not set in stone, but I think we have a little cadence to it even more than a week ago.”
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