While the Pac-12 did have a forgettable weekend—Colorado fell to Wyoming, Cal stumbled at Wisconsin and UCLA missed out on an opportunity to regain some of its dignity against San Diego State—it's safe to say the league is much improved from a year ago.
Whereas quality non-conference wins were nowhere to be found last year, this year there will be at least a handful. Most notably, Oregon's win over UNLV and Colorado's win over Baylor.
As it stands, Arizona looks to be the team to beat. Colorado, Cal and Oregon look like they are most likely challengers.
To the rankings:
*The rankings below take into account games played through December 2, 2012.
1. Arizona (5-0, 22 RPI, 17 Sagarin, 15 KenPom)—Sean Miller's squad is talented, athletic and balanced, but they're also untested. To date, the Wildcats' opponents have a combined record of just 14-17. The level of competition rises this week—first, Southern Miss (6-1) pays a visit to McKale Center before Arizona faces a tough road test at Clemson (5-2)—but we won't find out where Arizona stands among the nation's elite until Florida pays the 'Cats a visit in two weekends.
2. Colorado (6-1, 5, 49, 65)—Had the Buffs knocked off Wyoming in Laramie, they would have earned the top spot in this week's power rankings. But, Colorado couldn't find its rhythm on offense or stay out of foul trouble before falling to the Cowboys. Despite enduring a rough week—CU also needed double overtime to dispatch lowly Texas Southern in Boulder—Tad Boyle's group has done plenty of good. Wins over Baylor and Murray State could go a long way come Selection Sunday.
3. Oregon (7-1, 29, 61, 70)—Oregon owns the Pac-12's best win to date—an 83-79 win at UNLV. That alone puts them in the upper echelon of the conference. On the downside, Oregon's six other wins have come against opponents with projected RPI's between 197 and 310. In fact, Oregon has already played both of its non-conference opponents projected to land in the RPI top 100. That's why the Ducks' win at UNLV was so critical. It's also why they'll have trouble climbing the rankings.
4. Cal (6-1, 31, 33, 46)—There's no denying that Cal laid an egg in Madison. The Badgers had runs of 14-0, 12-0 and 11-0 at various points en route to an 81-56 drubbing of Mike Montgomery's Bears. However, Cal did come out of the gate with six straight wins. While the level of competition wasn't outstanding—the best of its six wins will likely wind up being Georgia Tech—Cal looked solid nonetheless. Junior guards Allen Crabbe (22.4 PPG) and Justin Cobbs (18.7 PPG) make Cal a threat.
5. Arizona State (6-1, 78, 99, 150)—Jahii Carson may be the best point guard in the Pac-12. After sitting out a year for academic reasons, the freshman has burst onto the scene, averaging over 18 points and five assists per contest. Big man Jordan Bachynski has been formidable in his own right, averaging 11 points and eight boards. With solid contributions from wings Carrick Felix and Evan Gordon, the Sun Devils have managed to knock off Arkansas and hang tough with Creighton.
6. Oregon State (4-2, 115, 58, 61)—Craig Robinson's squad is probably a little better than its 4-2 record would suggest. The Beavers have dropped neutral court games by three points to Alabama and by six points to Kansas. Their wins just aren't good enough to justify placing them higher in the power rankings. Purdue and New Mexico State could turn into top 100 RPI wins by year's end, but they're extremely unlikely to become top 50 wins. Oregon State will feast on cupcakes until Pac-12 play begins.
7. Stanford (6-3, 104, 48, 48)—Stanford, like Oregon State, has lost to good teams and beat lesser teams. The reason Oregon State gets the nod over Stanford is the fact that Oregon State hasn't lost in Corvallis. Stanford, on the other hand, failed to protect home court against a quality Belmont team. Stanford, again like Oregon State, is out of opportunities to pick up quality wins before conference play. Therefore, it's imperative that it wins out and makes a move come January and February.
8. USC (3-3, 89, 91, 149)—Southern Cal squandered an opportunity to pick up a quality win against San Diego State in the Galen Center. Consequently, USC, like many Pac-12 teams, sits without a marquee win. The good news is, USC has Minnesota and New Mexico on the schedule this week. A win against either would prove invaluable in helping the Trojans' case for postseason play come March. Alternately, the Trojans can hope their win over Texas turns out to be better than it looks now.
9. UCLA (5-3, 131, 66, 32)—No upset in the early season created a bigger stir than then-ranked UCLA falling at home to Cal Poly. Perhaps more shocking than the upset itself was the fact UCLA gave up an 18-point second half lead at home. To make matters worse, Tyler Lamb and Josh Smith both recently left the program. The mess in Westwood can and will be fixed. The UCLA brand is too much to keep down forever. The question is, will it be fixed this year and will Ben Howland be the one fixing it?
10. Washington (4-3, 35, 72, 84)—Washington's home loss to Albany ranks only behind UCLA's loss to Cal Poly as the most shocking outcome in the Pac-12 to date. If not for Cal State Fullerton muffing the end of Sunday's game in Seattle, the Huskies would be sitting with three home losses already. Washington does have decent wins against Seton Hall and Saint Louis, but the Dawgs are going to have to protect home court better to be a factor come conference play.
11. Washington State (5-3, 164, 105, 104)—Wins against Eastern Washington, Utah Valley, Arkansas Pine Bluff, Idaho and Portland do little to inspire confidence that Washington State is to be taken seriously in the Pac-12. A loss to Pepperdine and a 37-point drubbing at the hands of Kansas doesn't help either. The Cougars have a golden opportunity in front of them, however. Gonzaga, a team considered by many to be Final Four caliber, makes the trip to Pullman on Wednesday.
12. Utah (5-2, 110, 170, 245)—Larry Krystkowiak just doesn't have much to work with. The task of rebuilding from the ground a once-elite program is still in its early stages. The Utes have a 5-2 record, but those five wins have come against competition far below Pac-12 quality, even in a down year. Add in a home loss to Sacramento State and it's hard to pull Utah out of the bottom spot in the power rankings. They're not too far behind Wazzu, though.
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