Last season the Pac-12 was terrible. Plain and simple. Not a single team was ranked to finish the season, and if there wasn't an automatic qualifier, no team would have made the tournament. The conference as a whole did not register a non-conference win over a top-25 team. It was painful to watch at points.
This season is different. There have been several top-25 wins (#5 Florida, #7 Missouri, #16 Baylor, #17 San Diego State, #18 UNLV), and it looks as though at least four, if not five teams will make the tournament.
Oregon, despite being ranked at No. 21, is a legit top-15 team. They have all the makings of a very solid team down the stretch and will be in the hunt with Arizona until the end. UCLA, while still being penalized (in the rankings) for their early season loss to the Mustangs of Cal Poly, have won nine in a row. The UCLA Bruins are also a bona fide top-15 team and have a higher ceiling than the Oregon Ducks.
Add in Arizona State, which now looks like a dangerous team after starting the Pac-12 season 3-1. The ASU Sun Devils are playing a fast-paced style of ball and have performed better than the Arizona Wildcats through the first four games of the conference season. The two games Arizona plays against their rival from Tempe will be hard fought and close. An ASU victory seems reasonable this season.
Colorado, stunned by the trip to Arizona and its 1-3 start, should bounce back as well. The Colorado Buffs are a team which beat a top-20 Baylor team, should have beat a third ranked Arizona team, and played well against a UCLA team playing its best basketball. Once Colorado gets back on track, they will be playing in the NCAA tourney as well. The game in Boulder is going to be one where the Buffaloes are out for blood after their victory was stolen in Tucson.
A far cry from last year's Pacific 12 Conference, the vast improvement of several Pac-12 teams means a more difficult path to the Pac-12 title for Sean Miller and his Cats.