1. Oregon Ducks (8-2)
I talked about Oregon not moving the needle with great chances at their disposal against Gonzaga and North Carolina. However, the Ducks definitely scooped up that crucial signature victory when they went to Ann Arbor and held off a top five ranked squad in Michigan. The West Linn combo of Payton Pritchard and Anthony Mathis have been ruthless for Dana Altman’s team so far.
2. Arizona Wildcats (10-2)
Despite Gonzaga doing almost everything they could in the final minutes to hand the game back to Arizona, the Wildcats fell at home to the Zags, just a week after a road beating at the hands of Baylor. When Sean Miller’s boys are on, I still think they’re the best team in the Pac-12 with their depth. Yet, when they’re unfocused and playing without discipline, they can be easily exploited.
3. Washington Huskies (7-2)
Penalizing the Huskies for dropping a game to Gonzaga is not something I’m ready to do in any way shape or form, but it does hurt the program’s goal of taking over the Evergreen State. Washington should enter league play at 9-2 (pending a brutal slip-up) and starting their Pac-12 slate at home against UCLA may help them to take their recent form of play to the next level.
4. USC Trojans (9-2)
A fifteen point victory over Harvard and a road win at TCU are the type of results that last year’s USC squad seemed to always leave on the table, casting a cloudy haze over the direction of the program. Andy Enfield’s group definitely is far from a finished product, but the noticeable growth is thee over the first month of the season. The Trojans have become legitimate Pac-12 contenders.
5. Colorado Buffaloes (8-2)
Saturday’s match-up with Dayton in Chicago may be the first litmus test to see just how good this Colorado team is right now. At times, the Buffs have looked to be the preseason Top 25 pick that everyone projected them to be, but at other times, a lack of proven options offensively have hindered this squad. Colorado held serve by not giving away a rivalry game with Colorado State.
6. Stanford Cardinal (9-1)
If the season ended today, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone more deserving of the league’s Coach of the Year award than Jerod Haase. After losing KZ Okpala to the NBA, Stanford was supposed to be in for a rough go of things with a reworked roster and in truth, it’s been anything but that. Haase has this team believing in the sum of the parts approach and it’s working.
7. Arizona State Sun Devils (8-2)
The Sun Devils twenty-point destruction of a solid Georgia team could be one of those games that carries more weight in a few months time. Point guard Remy Martin is playing like a Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate and as he goes, so does this Arizona State roster. It’d be really interesting to see how this group would be viewed if they could’ve held off Virginia a few weeks ago.
8. Oregon State Beavers (8-1)
Oregon State has quietly stayed below the radar as they’ve done nothing much out of the ordinary except take care of business against some inferior opponents. As much as a weak non-conference slate won’t help their NCAA Tournament resume, it will aid this Beavers program in finding a comfort with winning that they hadn’t previously had. Oregon State needs to keep it up.
9. Utah Utes (8-2)
The good news for Utah is that they outpaced BYU in the basketball version of the Holy War and maybe have put head-scratching losses to Coastal Carolina and Tulane behind them. The bad news is that the road ahead is beyond daunting for the Utes. A meeting with Kentucky in Las Vegas and San Diego State in Los Angeles will test the moxie of this team like never before.
10. UCLA Bruins (7-4)
In my head I truly believe that we’ll look back in a few years and wonder how poor this UCLA team must have fit Mick Cronin’s style, when the new Bruins head coach has the legendary program competing for Pac-12 titles each season. In the here and now though, the lack of sheer pride in their play is something so concerning about this team. The Bruins can’t get by on talent alone.
11. California Golden Bears (6-5)
After a 4-0 to the start to the year, California has dropped five of their last seven games overall, including three of their last four all to in-state foes. The Golden State is a brutal state to try and own with it’s deep competitive roots, but Mark Fox’s program should be challenging teams like USC, Stanford, UCLA, Saint Mary’s and San Diego State for that title, not lesser-name schools.
12. Washington State Cougars (6-4)
Kyle Smith knew his first year in Pullman would not be easy and in terms of the recent status of the Cougars program, at least there’s more wind in their sails than there’s been. When you watch Washington State, you can see the change that’s taking place in terms of culture and expectations, but it’s the growing pains stages now for the Cougars and that never is a fun time.