As we make our way to the halfway point of the Pac-12 basketball schedule, it is time to look at who the best teams in the conference are.
All three schools have lost to Oregon, and they all have played each other. Arizona won at Arizona State 71-54 on January 19th, UCLA defeated Arizona on the road 84-73 this past Thursday, and Arizona State upset UCLA at home on Saturday, 78-60.
Teams are already beginning to beat each other up in conference play. This could potentially be the Pac-12 Conference’s best season since 2007-08. There are currently four to five teams in the Pac-12 that could go dancing in March.
In the past few seasons, Pac-12 teams have beaten up on each other because they were simply not talented. A team we all thought would be on the rise would suddenly lose. It hurt the conference, and fewer teams received NCAA tournament bids. The Pac-12 is still not as talented as it should be, but it is on the rise.
Here are the top five teams in the Pac-12 Conference up to this point in the season.
Oregon Ducks (18-2, 7-0 in the Pac-12)
Key Wins: UNLV, Arizona, UCLA
The Oregon Ducks are one of this year’s biggest surprises nationally.
The Ducks are currently 7-0 in conference play and have a two-game lead over UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State.
The Ducks have already defeated all three of those teams and will not face them again until possibly the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. The Ducks are in good shape right now to win the Pac-12 regular-season crown.
Oregon has been solid this season with strong play from senior forward E.J. Singler and Rice transfer senior forward Arsalan Kazemi. Singler is averaging 11.2 points per game, and Kazemi has been a force to be reckoned with on the boards, averaging 9.6 rebounds per game.
Freshman guards Damyean Dotson and Dominic Artis have also played a crucial role in getting the Ducks back to the top of the Pac-12 standings. Artis is currently out indefinitely with a foot injury and did not play on Saturday against Washington.
The Ducks should be able to go undefeated at home in their remaining Pac-12 Conference games. They have now extended their home-game winning streak to 20 after defeating Washington 81-76 on Saturday.
Senior guard Mark Lyons.
Arizona Wildcats (17-2, 5-2 in the Pac-12)
Key Wins: Florida, Miami (FL), San Diego State
The Arizona Wildcats came into this season as the favorites, along with UCLA, to win the Pac-12. The Wildcats have had close wins against Florida, San Diego State, Colorado and Utah that gave the nation a reason to think this was one of most clutch teams in college basketball this season.
On January 10, though, the No. 4 Wildcats traveled to Eugene to take on Oregon and were upset 70-66. Since then, Arizona has gone 3-1, with its other loss coming at home to UCLA this past Thursday.
The Wildcats have been led by senior guard Mark Lyons and senior forward Solomon Hill this season. Lyons is averaging 14.9 points per game and 3.1 assists per game. Hill has averaged 13.5 points and 5.6 rebounds.
Sophomore guard Nick Johnson has also helped lead this Wildcat team. Johnson has averaged 13.3 points per game and is currently leading the team in steals with 2.2 per game.
The Wildcats will not get a rematch with Pac-12 leader Oregon, so they will likely need to win out to have a chance of winning the Pac-12 regular-season title.
Arizona has six tough Pac-12 games remaining. Three of them are home games against Stanford, Washington and Arizona State. The other three are road games at Washington, Colorado and UCLA.
Freshman Guard/Forward Shabazz Muhammad.
UCLA Bruins (16-5, 6-2 in the Pac-12)
Key Wins: Missouri, Arizona
The UCLA Bruins, with freshman phenomenon Shabazz Muhammad, were supposed to be the front-runners in the Pac-12 this season.
Unfortunately, the Bruins lost to conference leader Oregon at home on January 19. They had a huge win last Thursday at Arizona, 84-73, but were blown out 78-60 on Saturday at Arizona State.
The Bruins have been led by Muhammad and freshman guard Jordan Adams. Muhammad has averaged 18.2 points per game and has a three-point field goal percentage of .436. Adams is averaging 15.3 points and 4.0 rebounds.
Junior forward Travis Wear and freshman guard Kyle Anderson have been solid for this Bruins squad, as well. Wear has averaged 12.2 points and 5.8 rebounds. Wear sat out against Arizona State after suffering a concussion on Thursday at Arizona. Anderson has been impressive this season by recording 9.1 rebounds per game.
Like Arizona, the Bruins will not get a rematch with Pac-12 leader Oregon. They will likely need to win out to capture the Pac-12 regular-season title.
The Bruins will have to play Washington twice, travel to Bay Area schools California and Stanford and host both Arizona schools.
Freshman guard Jahii Carson.
Arizona State Sun Devils (16-4, 5-2 in the Pac-12)
Key Win: UCLA
Arizona State may have defeated UCLA on Saturday, 78-60, but I still rank the Sun Devils behind them. I’m not sold on this team yet.
Arizona State went a combined 10-26 in Pac-12 play the past two seasons. The Sun Devils are off to a 5-2 conference start this year and could be dancing in March if they continue to win games.
The Sun Devils almost upset Oregon on the road on January 13 but failed to hit a game-tying three-point shot as time expired. The convincing win over UCLA this past Saturday has given this team hope.
Freshman guard Jahii Carson has been a spark for this Sun Devils squad this season. Carson is averaging an impressive 17.3 points per game and 5.5 assists per game.
Senior Carrick Felix has also been impressive this season and was named ESPN.com’s National Player of the Week after this weekend’s big win against UCLA. Felix is averaging 15.1 points per game and 8.2 rebounds per game.
Herb Sendek’s Sun Devils squad will need to go at least 7-4 in their last 11 conference games to put them in good shape for the NCAA tournament. Every game the Sun Devils have left on their schedule will be interesting, except for the game at Utah.
The two most important games for the Sun Devils will be at UCLA on February 27 and at Arizona on March 9.
Freshman guard Eli Stalzer (left), junior forward Andre Roberson (middle), and freshman guard Xavier Talton (right).
Colorado Buffaloes (14-6, 4-4 in the Pac-12)
Key Wins: Baylor, Colorado State
The Colorado Buffaloes came into the season with high hopes after winning the Pac-12 tournament last season and paving their way into the NCAA tournament.
Colorado started off hot this season, going 10-2, but dropped both games in the desert against Arizona and Arizona State. After their trip to the desert, the Buffaloes went on to lose two of their next three games.
Things didn't look promising for this squad, but they are now back in the mix after sweeping Stanford and California at home this past weekend. Colorado is still in the Pac-12 race, but it appears they will finish second or third at best in conference play.
The Buffaloes have multiple weapons on their team. Sophomore guards Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker are each averaging over 14 points per game. Freshman forward Josh Scott is averaging about 12.6 points and 5.6 rebounds. Junior forward Andre Roberson has also been impressive, averaging 10.6 points per game and 11.6 rebounds.
The Buffaloes need a few more key wins and will probably have to go 7-3 in their last ten conference games to be in good shape for the NCAA tournament.
The Buffaloes still play Oregon twice and both Arizona schools at home. Wins over these three schools could be very beneficial when the selection committee is choosing who will be dancing in March.