With Pac-12 Conference play already underway, Arizona appears to be the heavy favorite to win the regular season title. The Wildcats are currently ranked No. 1 in the nation, but will they be challenged?
Cal has caught fire and likely will be a conference contender, along with at least six other teams at this point in the season.
A lot will happen in the wild Pac-12 before a regular-season title champion is crowned on March 8, but here is a first look at the conference’s power rankings:
1. Arizona Wildcats (18-0, 5-0 in Pac-12)
Key Wins: at San Diego State, Duke, at Michigan, at UCLA
Bad Losses: None
Arizona is off to its best start in school history and is proving that it will be a contender to win not only a Pac-12 title, but a national championship as well.
The Wildcats, led by superstar true freshman Aaron Gordon, have already defeated four quality opponents this season. Gordon is averaging 12.4 points per game and 7.8 rebounds per game, while Nick Johnson is scoring an impressive 16.3 points per game. Brandon Ashley is also making an impact by averaging 14.5 points and four assists in the Wildcats’ last two games.
Arizona will be challenged in its next five games, as it hosts Colorado and Utah, travels to the Bay area to play Stanford and Cal and battles an Oregon team at home, which it has not defeated since 2011.
2. Cal Golden Bears (14-4, 5-0 in Pac-12)
Key Wins: at Stanford, at Oregon
Bad Losses: None
Allen Crabbe may be gone, but the Cal Golden Bears appear to be a team to be reckoned with in the Pac-12 again this season. Mike Montgomery’s squad hasn’t lost a game since Dec. 22, when it was defeated at Creighton 68-54.
The Golden Bears have been rolling over Pac-12 opponents thus far. A 96-83 win over then-No.17 Oregon on Jan. 9 has since given Cal momentum, as it held off Oregon State and defeated both Washington schools by an average of 23.5 points.
Senior guard Justin Cobbs leads the Bears with 14.9 points and 6.4 assists per game this season. Joining Cobbs in the backcourt is Tyrone Wallace, who has been an important aspect on the offensive end, by averaging 15.6 points in Pac-12 play. Forward Richard Solomon has also been key in the frontcourt by scoring 21.1 points per game, as well as recording a total of 117 rebounds on the defensive end.
Cal will prove how dangerous it is, as it travels to UCLA on Jan. 26 and hosts a potential undefeated Arizona squad on Feb. 1.
3. UCLA Bruins (14-4, 3-2 in Pac-12)
Key Wins: at Colorado
Bad Losses: None
The Bruins lost a winnable game at Utah 74-69, but they are going to be in the running to win a second consecutive regular-season Pac-12 title. Their two losses in Pac-12 play, which came against Arizona and Utah, have come by just an average of 4.5 points.
Sophomore guard Jordan Adams has averaged an impressive 17.4 points per game, while Kyle Anderson is averaging 15.5 point per game and 8.9 rebounds per game. Anderson almost helped the Bruins make a comeback at Utah by scoring a career-high 28 points. Zach LaVine and Norman Powell are also averaging over 10 points per game.
UCLA will be challenged in its next four games, as it hosts Stanford and Cal this week and travels to Oregon and Oregon State the following week.
4. Stanford Cardinal (12-5, 3-2 in Pac-12)
Key Wins: at UConn, at Oregon
Bad Losses: Oregon State
Stanford is an improved team since last season, but can it be consistent in conference play?
While the Cardinal don’t necessarily have a terrible loss yet, they lost their first two conference games to Cal and a mediocore Oregon State team. They have since bounced back, though, with a two-point win at Oregon and a sweep of the Washington schools.
Junior guard Chasson Randle and senior forward Dwight Powell lead a Cardinal offense that is averaging 49.1 percent from the field this season (12th in the nation). Randle has been a threat on the offensive end for opponents by averaging 19.5 points per game, while Powell is averaging 14.2 points per game and has recorded 95 rebounds on the defensive end. Anthony Brown is also a contributing factor by shooting over 50 percent from beyond the arc and scoring 13.2 points per game.
Johnny Dawkins’ Cardinal will have a difficult next five games, as three include UCLA, Arizona and hated rival Cal.
5. Colorado Buffaloes (15-4, 4-2 in Pac-12)
Key Wins: Kansas and at Oregon
Bad Losses: None
Colorado appeared to be a true contender to win a Pac-12 title and advance to its third consecutive NCAA tournament, but junior guard Spencer Dinwiddie tore his ACL and will miss the remainder of the season. Before suffering an injury on Jan. 12 at Washington, Dinwiddie led the team in scoring and assists.
The Buffs, though, have a good resume win over Kansas and are capable of making a run through the conference schedule. Sophomore forward Josh Scott and junior guard Askia Booker will need to make an even bigger impact now without Dinwiddie out of the lineup. Scott is averaging 14.3 points per game and 9.1 rebounds per game, while Booker has averaged 13.5 points per game.
Colorado will have its chance to make a statement on Thursday night when it travels to No. 1 Arizona.
6. Oregon Ducks (13-4, 1-4 in Pac-12)
Key Wins: Georgetown, Ole Miss, Illinois
Bad Losses: Oregon State
After starting the season 13-0, the Ducks' best start since 2006-07, they have since dropped four straight games.
Oregon did go a combined 1-5 against Cal, Colorado and Stanford last season, but losing to in-state rival Oregon State was a major wake up call for Dana Altman’s squad.
Transfers Joseph Young and Mike Moser are leading an Oregon offense that is third in the nation in points per game with 87.4. Young is racking up 18 points per game, while Moser is averaging 14.2 points per game and 7.8 rebounds per game. Jason Calliste, Damyean Dotson and Johnathan Loyd have also been key playmakers for the Ducks this season.
Oregon has a deep lineup, but its defensive play needs to step up. Two wins in Washington this weekend would be a step in the right direction, although its upcoming games against UCLA and Arizona will be key for NCAA tournament implications.
7. Washington Huskies (11-8, 3-3 in Pac-12)
Key Wins: Colorado
Bad Losses: UC Irvine
Washington hits the seventh spot, simply because of its 79-67 loss at Stanford on Saturday. Lorenzo Romar’s squad is capable of making a run in Pac-12 play and advancing to its first NCAA tournament since 2011, but they can’t afford to be an up and down team.
Senior guard C.J. Wilcox leads the Huskies with 19.7 points per game, while Andrew Andrews averages 12.6 points per game. Senior forward Perris Blackwell is shooting 51.4 percent from field and leads the team in rebounds with 6.7 rebounds per game.
Washington has a big game Thursday night at home against rival Oregon, who it was swept by last season. A win over the Ducks, as well as over Oregon State on Saturday afternoon, are doable. They will then head to in-state rival Washington State and travel to Utah and Colorado.
Going 5-0 in their next five games is not out of reach.
8. Utah Utes (14-4, 3-3 in Pac-12)
Key Wins: UCLA
Bad Losses: at Washington State
After four seasons of averaging only 12 wins, the Utes are now a dark horse to challenge for a Pac-12 title.
Utah has the ability on offense to be a threat in conference play by averaging 81 points per game (27th in the nation) and shooting 51 percent from the field (third in the nation).
Utah’s Pac-12 record doesn’t necessarily reflect how good it is. It may have lost three conference games by an average of 2.3 points, but it rebounded with a critical 74-69 upset home win over then-No. 25 UCLA.
Watch for the Utes to get a win at Arizona State on Thursday and give Arizona a run for its money on the road on Sunday.
9. Arizona State Sun Devils (13-5, 2-3 in Pac-12)
Key Wins: Marquette
Bad Losses: None
Herb Sendek’s Sun Devils were off to an impressive 11-2 start until 2014 rang in and they dropped three of their first five conference matchups.
Arizona State likely has one if its best teams in five years, but pressure will be placed on the shoulders of standout sophomore guard Jahii Carson. Carson is currently averaging 18.2 points per game and 4.7 assists per game.
Carson will need teammate Jermaine Marshall’s help, though, if the Sun Devils expect to advance to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009. Marshall is dealing with a groin injury, which caused him to miss Arizona State’s against Arizona on Jan. 16.
The next five games could define this team’s fate heading forward.
10. Oregon State Beavers (10-7, 2-3 Pac-12)
Key Wins: Oregon
Bad Losses: Coppin State and at DePaul
It’s not time yet to count Oregon State out of an NCAA tournament birth after its upset win over Oregon in the Civil War game on Sunday. Unfortunately, the Beavers have not advanced to an NCAA tournament since 1990. Bad losses to Coppin State and DePaul, as well as questionable losses to Akron and Hawaii, could come back to haunt them.
Senior guard Roberto Nelson is one of the nation's top scorers with 21.5 points per game. Senior forward Devon Collier has been solid on the boards with 7.2 rebounds per game and Eric Moreland, who returned from suspension against Colorado on Jan. 2, has averaged an impressive 10.4 points per game and 10 rebounds per game.
With Moreland back in the lineup, expect improvement from this Oregon State squad, as conference play heats up.
11. Washington State Cougars (8-10, 1-5 in Pac-12)
Key Wins: Purdue and Utah
Bad Losses: TCU
The Cougars are already near the bottom of the Pac-12 after only six conference games. Their only win in conference play is a home 49-46 upset win over Utah.
With Washington State’s leading scorer DaVonte Lacy out with a rib injury, the bulk of the scoring has been left to freshman Que Johnson, who has averaged 15.8 points per game since Lacy has been out.
Home games against Oregon State and Oregon this week are winnable.
12. USC Trojans (9-9, 0-5 in Pac-12)
Key Wins: Xavier and at Dayton
Bad Losses: at Long Beach State
Andy Enfield is off to a shaky start at USC. The Trojans are winless in conference play and have lost by an average of 22.4 to Pac-12 opponents.
USC has been led by junior guard Byron Wesley and senior guard J.T. Terrell so far this season. Wesley is averaging 16.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game this season, while Terrell has averaged 14 points in the Trojans’ past two games.
USC has two quality wins this season, but it appears to have a long way to go in competing in the Pac-12. It shouldn’t be any surprise if the Trojans don’t win more than three games for the remainder of the season.