Pac-10 Basketball Power Rankings: As of Dec. 19, 2010
With the non-conference season coming to a close, the power order of the Pac-10 is beginning to shape up more and more.
Over the last couple weeks, preseason favorites Washington and Arizona both suffered tough losses, while Washington State and UCLA picked up their first quality wins of the year.
The Pac-10 looks poised to produce more NCAA Tournament teams this season than last, but exactly how many Pac-10 schools will make the Big Dance is far from being decided.
10. Oregon State
The Beavers' win over Charlotte looks pretty good right now after the 49ers defeated Tennessee. However, that is about the only thing that has gone right for Oregon State so far this season.
Oregon State has lost four of its last five games, and the fact that its best win was against a 5-6 Charlotte squad kind of says it all. But due to the lack of talent in the bottom half of the Pac-10 this year, the Beavers will probably win at least a couple conference games.
9. Arizona State
Arizona State picked up its fifth win of the season against Nevada (2-8) but has yet to beat a quality opponent this year.
Depending on how you view the Oregon and northern California schools, the soonest the Sun Devils could pick up a big win would be Jan. 15, when they play hated rival Arizona in Tucson.
Even though the Sun Devils have gotten off to a slow start, currently sitting at 5-4, they have showed some promise, namely in the form of Trent Lockett, who may be the most improved player in the Pac-10. He has gone from averaging seven points and three rebounds to 16 points and seven rebounds.
If Rihards Kuksiks and Jamelle McMillan can improve their shooting, the Sun Devils will have a chance to compete in the upper half of the conference.
The Ducks have certainly improved from last season but are far from being an NCAA Tournament-caliber team. Their close loss to Missouri opened some eyes, and Oregon really hasn't lost to a bad opponent yet.
The Oregon-Virginia game was a good measuring stick for where the Ducks' rebuilding project stands. They have some talented players in Joevan Catron and E.J. Singler, but as a whole they are just not there yet.
Cal started the season off well, defeating New Mexico and Temple, but is only 3-4 since the good start. Going into the year, it was pretty apparent that Cal was in rebuilding mode and wouldn't be too competitive in conference play.
The Golden Bears will get an early chance to see how they compare with some Pac-10 foes when Cal hosts Kansas on Wednesday. Arizona, USC and UCLA all played Kansas down to the final minutes, if not seconds.
The Bears' performance against the third-ranked team in the country will show Mike Montgomery how far Cal has progressed in rebuilding and how much further they need to go to get back to being a Pac-10 championship-contending team.
83-50. That's got to sting a little, especially since Butler is nowhere near as good this year as the national championship runner-up team last season. Even with that loss, Stanford is 6-3 and sits in fourth place in the Pac-10.
The Cardinal play Oklahoma State in Stillwater Tuesday, a game that will certainly challenge a young Stanford team.
For the Cardinal to compete in the Pac-10 this year, they will need juniors Jeremy Green and Josh Owens to continue averaging double digits but will also need freshmen Dwight Powell and Anthony Brown to improve.
For this spot, I kept switching back and forth between the two LA schools but finally decided that UCLA is the better of the two so far.
If you were to go by overall record, USC is sitting at ninth place in the Pac-10, having lost to Rider and Bradley University as well as Nebraska and TCU.
But after watching the USC-Kansas game, I was convinced that the Trojans have the talent to compete with anyone in the conference. Junior Nikola Vucevic has steadily increased his points per game since arriving at USC and is now one of the premier players in the conference.
It is not just Vucevic that has improved this year. In fact, five Trojans average double digits, and Alex Stepheson averages 9.5 points per game to go with eight rebounds. I would bet the house that if USC played Rider or Bradley again, they would beat them.
Like USC, the Bruins have a bad loss but were only a basket away from beating the Kansas Jayhawks. What made me put UCLA over USC and almost Arizona was their impressive win against BYU on Saturday, the same BYU Cougars that blew out the Wildcats.
Heading into the game, the Bruins' most impressive win came against Pepperdine, yet somehow UCLA upset 18th-ranked BYU. Reeves Nelson scored 23 for UCLA, and Tyler Honeycutt added 17 points and eight rebounds.
UCLA is still in a rebuilding process, like so many Pac-10 schools, but appears to be a step ahead of others. It won't be long before the Bruins are back in the NCAA Tournament, and if they continue to play at the same level it took them to beat BYU, they may end up getting back to the Big Dance sooner than expected.
3. Washington State
I am putting Washington State at No. 3 in the rankings because even though they came close to beating Kansas State, they just haven't beaten anyone good yet.
The Cougars' blowout victory against Gonzaga raised some eyebrows, but Gonzaga is not the same school it has been in years past, although it did just defeat ninth-ranked Baylor.
Other than the Gonzaga and Kansas State games, there is nothing for me to judge Washington State on. Their .505 shooting percentage looks good on paper, but when you look at who they have played, you can understand why they are shooting so well. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have Klay Thompson on your team.
It is still too early in the season to jump on the Cougars' bandwagon, but if they sweep the Southern California schools in a few weeks, more people, including me, will start to believe in them.
Even after having watched every Arizona game this season, I am not totally sure how good this team is. There is no doubt that Derrick Williams is incredible, but how good his surrounding cast is is still to be determined.
Arizona's offense looked clueless against BYU and NAU last week but was in sync against North Carolina State on Sunday.
The wild cards in each game are Solomon Hill, Momo Jones and Kyle Fogg. When they all have good games, Arizona does well. When they don't perform to their capabilities, the Wildcats suffer.
The Huskies lost a very tough game to Texas A&M, but that has been about the only thing that has gone wrong for Washington in the-non conference schedule.
They came close to beating Kentucky and Michigan State and have demolished the opponent in each of their wins.
In my last rankings, I said that the Pac-10 is a two-horse race between Arizona and Washington. I still feel that those two schools are above everyone else in the conference, but Washington State, UCLA and USC all have good chances of competing for the conference championship.
If all goes well this conference season, the Pac-10 will have at least five schools in the NCAA Tournament come Selection Sunday.