Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 1

Cal Basketball
Gracie Malley/File

No. 1: Cal (12-3, 2-0)

No Pac-12 team is ranked, and Stanford and Cal are the only ones receiving votes. In a weakened conference, it’s championship or bust for the Bears.Returning three double-digit scorers, the Bears were expected to be title contenders in their fourth season under Mike Montgomery. But while Cal has regularly blown out inferior teams at home, the squad has struggled against better squads on the road. The Bears have yet to scratch out a marquee win this season, getting blown out by both No. 8 Missouri (92-53) and No. 19 UNLV (85-68). They also lost to No. 25 San Diego State by one point.

Cal has struggled against athletic transition teams, and also have a thin frontline thanks to the absence of Richard Solomon. After being suspended for two games for an unnamed conduct violation, the sophomore forward is now sidelined with a stress fracture.

The team has rallied in the early portion of Pac-12 play, eking past USC on late free throws before knocking out UCLA. Road tests at Oregon and Oregon State loom this week. The conference may only get two or three NCAA bids, so each win becomes more precious. Having Jorge Gutierrez, an elite perimeter defender, will help the Bears, as will continuing to shoot a conference-best 43 percent from 3-point range.

— Jack Wang

No. 2: Stanford (12-2, 2-0)

Not since Brook Lopez roamed the paint have expectations been this high in Palo Alto. The Cardinal have perhaps the best resume of any Pac-12 squad thus far. The squad beat Oklahoma State and North Carolina State and lost to Syracuse, now the No. 1 team in the country, by just six points in New York.

Stanford followed up a narrow loss to national champion runner-up Butler by sweeping the Los Angeles schools to open Pac-12 play. Point guard Aaron Bright has been steady at a position that has been bleak in years past for the Cardinal. The sophomore had 16 points a piece in the two conference games, while power forward Josh Owens has had a solid start to his senior campaign, averaging 12.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, both leading the team.

The Cardinal are young and athletic. They have a deep bench — nine players average at least 13 minutes a game — but the hidden gem may be freshman guard Chasson Randle, a four-star recruit who is scoring in double figures.

— Jonathan Kuperberg

No. 3: Arizona (10-4, 1-0)

The core of lost year’s team left as Derrick Williams rightfully took off for the NBA. Without the Pac-10 Player of the Year, the Wildcats currently don’t have anyone that ranks in the Pac-12’s scoring top 20.

True freshman Josiah Turner was expected to fill the celestial void, but the point guard has barely glimmered in 12 games and one start. Turner, ranked as the No. 11 recruit overall and second at his position, is averaging only 7.0 points per game and shooting a shade below 40 percent.

The problems haven’t all been on-court. He lost his starting job after being late for a shootaround. He sat a win over Ball State due to a violation of team rules. He was later suspended for another, a 78-72 overtime loss at Florida.

Versatile forward Solomon Hill is currently the heart of the squad, leading in points (12.1), rebounds (7.9) and assists (3.3). More than anything, the Wildcats lack a true distributor. If Turner can screw his head on straight, Arizona could be dangerous.

— Jack Wang

No. 4: Washington (8-5, 2-0)

Tony Wroten has already bagged the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year award. The team’s leading scorer, Wroten currently averages 16.8 and 3.4 assists per game. In an 86-80 loss to No. 7 Duke, Wroten dropped 23 points off the bench.

But the 6-foot-5 guard has played erratically, and his Huskies have followed suit. Most criminal is his shooting — the Seattle native shoots only 28 percent from beyond the arc and a putrid 53 percent from the line.

In a 92-73 home loss to South Dakota State on Dec. 18 — one of Wroten’s three starts this season — he scored 23 points but made only 6-of-11 free throws.

Still, the bottom line is that Wroten leads a talented Washington roster that may be starting to find itself. The Pac-12 portion of the schedule has been kind to the Huskies, who have opened with double-digit wins over Oregon State and Oregon.

— Jack Wang

No. 5: Oregon (10-4, 1-1)

The Ducks are part of the Pac-12’s muddled middle. They do not excel at any particular facet of the game, but are also not completely inept in any facet.

Here are the numbers: eighth in scoring offense, free throw percentage and field goal percentage; ninth in scoring defense, three point percentage and turnover margin; 10th in rebounding margin.

They split their opening weekend with a strong 92-75 win at Washington State and a 76-60 loss at Washington. Garrett Sim and E.J. Singler lead Oregon with 12.8 points per game.

— Jack Wang

No. 6: Oregon State (10-4, 0-2)

The conference’s biggest surprise has a potential Pac-12 Player of the Year in high-flying guard Jared Cunningham, an inside threat in forward Devon Collier and — of course — Barack Obama’s brother-in-law as its head coach.

Craig Robinson had the benefit of a relatively soft nonconference schedule, but he did have his team upset a rebuilding Texas team in overtime. In addition to Cunningham — who leads the conference in scoring (17.0) and steals (2.9) — the Beavers also have productive bench players in guard Roberto Nelson and forward Eric Moreland.

Statistically one of the nation’s top offenses, Oregon State may be undone in Pac-12 play by a porous defense. It has already lost road games to Washington and Washington State, allowing 95 and 81 points, respectively.

— Jack Wang

No. 7: UCLA (7-7, 0-2)

The Bruins were supposed to be the top team in the Pac-12, and Reeves Nelson was supposed to be one of the top players in the Pac-12. UCLA opened the season with losses to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee (by a combined 31 points), and Nelson was dismissed from the team in early December.

But it’s a new season now. The Bruins always seem to have success in conference play, and with their experience — they lost just two other players from last year’s team — they still have a shot to claim the conference title they were predicted to win.

Based on UCLA’s middling nonconference performance, a Pac-12 title seems unlikely. In fact, the Bruins probably need to win the Pac-12 tourney to reach the NCAA tournament. But behind the play of guards Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson, UCLA looked to finish in the top third of the conference going into Pac-12 play.

Then came a winless trip to the Bay Area. UCLA lost to Stanford by just one point last Thursday but was blown out by Cal on Saturday. Jones, the Bruins’ leading scorer, tallied 26 points against the Cardinal but had just five against the Bears.

Thursday’s matchup with Arizona likely won’t go so well for Ben Howland’s squad, but look for UCLA to rebound against Arizona State on Saturday and USC the following week.

— Jonathan Kuperberg

No. 8: Washington State (9-5, 1-1)

When the Cougars lost Klay Thompson to the NBA, they lost more than just their top scorer: They lost their identity. Washington State was Thompson’s team, and with the star swingman, who led the conference in scoring last year, now playing for the Golden State Warriors, who would step up in Pullman?

The Cougars trot out a lineup of unknown players, and so far they seem to be overachieving. Junior forward Brock Motum, who did not even average 20 minutes a game last season, is scoring close to 15 points per game. Point guard Reggie Moore leads the conference in assists with 5.64 a game.

Washington State lost a close season opener at Gonzaga, and with a 81-76 win over Oregon State on Saturday, the squad should be competitive in the conference.

— Jonathan Kuperberg

No. 9: Colorado (9-4, 1-0)

Colorado can defend, holding opponents to a conference-low 39 percent from the field and a third-lowest 33 percent from 3-point range. Colorado can also shoot, draining 38 percent of its attempts from beyond the arc, a mark bested only by Cal and Washington.

The Buffs don’t have a dominant scorer. Three average double digits, but none are ranked in the top-15. They do have a dominant rebounder, with sophomore Andre Roberson currently dwarfing the rest of the Pac-12 at 12.0 per game, almost four rebounds better than Washington’s Aziz N’Diaye.

How this mix bears out in conference play will be interesting to follow; Colorado has only played Utah, and blew out the Utes, 73-33. Up next are telling visits from Washington and Washington State.

— Jack Wang

No. 10: USC (5-10, 0-2)

The Trojans ride star guard Maurice Jones hard, and the result is a sky-high average of 38.73 minutes, easily tops in the conference. He ranks in the Pac-12’s top 10 in scoring, assists, steals and 3-pointers, but USC is the conference’s lowest-scoring team at 54.5 per game.

The team does balance that with the Pac-12’s best-ranked scoring defense, but the numbers are also a result of pace. The Trojans, along with Arizona State and Utah — an utterly awful sqad — are the only teams in the conference averaging a negative scoring margin.

— Jack Wang

No. 11: Arizona State (4-9, 0-1)

In a few short years, the Sun Devils have gone from an NCAA tournament team with NBA talent, to an overachieving group of hard workers, to, well, a squad that will finish near the bottom of a mediocre conference.

Arizona State hasn’t been scaring anyone this season. Its biggest win was on Nov. 25 over Wake Forest, but the Demon Deacons don’t exactly have Chris Paul anymore.

Other than do-everything guard Trent Locket — who leads the team in rebounding (6.8) and is second in scoring (13.4) — no other player has been terribly consistent.

The Sun Devils were crushed by Arizona on Dec. 31 to the tune of 17 points. Their Thursday matchup with USC, however, could be a barn burner.

— Jonathan Kuperberg

No. 12: Utah (3-10, 0-1)

It’s going to be a long season in Salt Lake City. The Utes are in the midst of their second losing streak of the season, and while this one is only at two games, it could easily surpass the eight consecutive losses Utah suffered between Nov. 16 and Dec. 19.

The Utes’ first taste of Pac-12 basketball went about as poorly as possible. They lost by 40 points to Colorado, their new rival. Utah’s next winnable game might not be until Arizona State comes to town on Jan. 21.

Josh Watkins leads the team with 15.1 points per game, but the senior guard is shooting less than 40 percent from the field.

— Jonathan Kuperberg

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