Pac-12 men’s hoops power rankings: USC rises, Oregon and Arizona fall

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1. Washington (16-4, 7-0) — Previous rank: 1
Opponents: at Oregon (W, 61-56), at Oregon State (W, 79-69)
Player of the week: Jaylen Nowell (19.5 PTS, 3.5 TRB, 2.0 AST, 1.5 STL)

If there was a weekend when the Huskies’ winning streak was going to snap, this was the weekend. Yet, here they are, winners of nine straight games. Washington continues to surge, knocking off both Oregon and Oregon State on the road in arguably its toughest road trip of conference play. Jaylen Nowell received his third Pac-12 Player of the Week honor, David Crisp refuses to miss a 3 and Nahziah Carter sent the nation’s leading shot-blocker to the graveyard with a purely vicious poster. Washington (probably) has a couple losses in its future before conference play ends, but right now, this team sure does look amazing.

2. Arizona State (14-6, 5-3) — Previous rank: 3
Opponents: at UCLA (W, 84-73), at USC (L, 69-67)
Player of the week: Zylan Cheatham (9.5 PTS, 17.0 TRB, 3.0 AST)

The roller-coaster ride that is the Sun Devils’ 2018-19 season continues to twist and turn at breakneck speed. Arizona State nearly flew out of Southern California with a pair of wins before Bennie Boatwright hit a game-winning 3 to propel USC to a win. De’Quon Lake gave the Sun Devils some great production off the bench, averaging 8 points and four rebounds in these two games. Rob Edwards continues to be hindered by injury, and it might be time to consider moving him to the bench in favor of Kimani Lawrence.

3. USC (12-8, 5-2) — Previous rank: 7
Opponents: Arizona (W, 80-57), Arizona State (W, 69-67)
Player of the week: Nick Rakocevic (21.0 PTS, 10.5 TRB, 2.0 AST, 76.0% FG)

A month ago, there was a feeling that the Trojans were dead and gone. Kevin Porter Jr. was injured, Jordan Usher announced his intent to transfer, and they were down to a six-man rotation. But how times have changed. USC has won three consecutive games, and that right there is called a winning streak. Those three games may have come at home, but if conference play has taught us anything, it’s that home-court victories are far from a guarantee. If Porter can return to pre-injury form, these Trojans will really be a problem.

4. Arizona (14-7, 5-3) — Previous rank: 2
Opponents: at USC (L, 80-57), at UCLA (L, 90-69)
Player of the week: Ira Lee (11.5 PTS, 7.0 TRB, 1.0 AST)

Yikes. Los Angeles was not kind to Arizona, which was outscored by a combined 44 points against USC and UCLA. It didn’t help that the Wildcats were without Chase Jeter in both games, who was sidelined with a back injury. Jeter’s absence took away Arizona’s lone presence down low, forcing the team to rely on the 3-ball. The result was the Wildcats only hitting a third of their 2-pointers and 26 percent of their 3-pointers. If Arizona doesn’t have Jeter against Arizona State, an exciting midseason rivalry game could turn into a laugher.

5. Oregon State (12-7, 4-3) — Previous rank: 5
Opponents: Washington State (W, 90-77), Washington (L, 79-69)
Player of the week: Stephen Thompson Jr. (26.0 PTS, 4.5 TRB, 4.0 AST)

Washington has the toughest defense in the Pac-12, but apparently, Stephen Thompson Jr. is completely oblivious to that fact. Thompson put together his latest conquest of the Huskies’ defense, dropping 30 points on Matisse Thybulle and company, but it wasn’t enough to knock off the kings of the conference. In his career, Thompson is averaging 19.2 points on 48.2 percent shooting, and he’ll have one more crack at Washington come the last game of the season.

6. Utah (11-8, 5-2) — Previous rank: 8
Opponents: at Stanford (W, 70-66), at Cal (W, 82-64)
Player of the week: Sedrick Barefield (19.5 PTS, 3.5 TRB, 2.5 AST)

Don’t look now, but the Utes are making some noise. Apparently, upsetting Arizona State on the road was just the beginning. Utah is currently riding a four-game winning streak and is tied with USC for the second-best record in conference play. There are some caveats to the team’s latest success, the biggest being that wins came against Washington State, Colorado, Stanford and Cal, four of the worst teams in the conference. Granted, some credit needs to be given for Utah winning in Palo Alto for the first time there since 1971. Both Gach flashed his collective potential against Cal with 18 points, three rebounds and two assists off the bench. It might be too late for Gach to campaign for the all-freshman team, but performances as such should have Utah fans salivating.

7. UCLA (11-9, 4-3) — Previous rank: 6
Opponents: Arizona State (L, 84-73), Arizona (W, 90-69)
Player of the week: Kris Wilkes (24.5 PTS, 4.5 TRB, 3.0 AST)

The flavor of the week for UCLA was breaking streaks, for better or for worse. Regarding the latter, Arizona State strolled into Pauley Pavilion and won in the House of Wooden for the first time since 2009. It was UCLA’s first home loss since Murry Bartow became the interim head coach, nowhere near as bad as Belmont or Liberty, but disappointing nonetheless. The duel with Arizona brought much happier headlines. The Bruins snapped a three-game skid, Kris Wilkes scored 30+ for the first time in his career with 34 points, and Moses Brown logged his seventh dub-dub of the season.

8. Oregon (12-8, 3-4) — Previous rank: 4
Opponents: Washington (L, 61-56), Washington State (W, 78-58)
Player of the week: Louis King (20.5 PTS, 4.0 TRB, 1.5 AST)

Did losing to Washington at home induce the same level of pain as blowing a 9-point lead with a minute left? No. Does losing to Washington at home sting, especially considering Oregon had a 5-point lead with roughly two minutes remaining? Absolutely, positively, 100 percent yes. So has been the season of the Ducks. Technically, Oregon’s season is far from over, with the conference tournament being the ultimate equalizer, but the prospects aren’t great. Any optimism Payton Pritchard conjured up in that amazing performance against Arizona State has seemingly evaporated after a pair of duds against the Washingtons.

9. Stanford (10-10, 3-5) — Previous rank: 9
Opponents: Utah (L, 70-66), Colorado (W, 75-62)
Player of the week: Daejon Davis (16.5 PTS, 3.5 TRB, 5.0 AST)

In conference play, Stanford is ninth in offensive efficiency and ninth in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. So, it’s only appropriate the Cardinal are in the ninth spot. Of course, those two figures aren’t the only reason they’re here. Stanford was in the driver’s seat against Utah, leading by 6 points at home late in the second half. Plus, the Utes’ typically steady offense was having an off night, disrupted by the Cardinal’s length. Even with all that going for it, Stanford walked out of the gym as the tough-luck losers. Losing to Utah at home shouldn’t come as a shock for Stanford, as it’s consistent with the yearly theme of flashing potential but never quite getting over the hump.

10. Colorado (11-8, 2-5) — Previous rank: 10
Opponents: at California (W, 68-59), at Stanford (L, 75-62)
Player of the week: Tyler Bey (17.0 PTS, 9.5 TRB, 1.0 AST)

On the subject of unfulfilled potential, the Buffaloes have quietly been one of the more disappointing teams in the Pac-12. Colorado let an 18-point lead dwindle away against Cal and had to rely on McKinley Wright IV to hit some big shots down the stretch. The same applies to the Stanford disappointment. The Buffaloes had a solid lead going into the half but allowed the Cardinal to outscore them 44-25 in the latter 20 minutes. Colorado had an opportunity to come out of this Bay Area tilt with some real confidence, but the team ultimately fell flat.

11. Washington State (8-12, 1-6) — Previous rank: 11
Opponents: at Oregon State (L, 90-77), Oregon (L, 78-58)
Player of the week: C.J. Elleby (18.0 PTS, 6.0 TRB, 4.5 AST)

12. Cal (5-15, 0-8) — Previous rank: 12
Opponents: Colorado (L, 68-59), Utah (L, 82-64)
Player of the week: Justice Sueing (16.5 PTS, 5.0 TRB, 1.5 AST, 3.0 STL)
Chance of winless record (according to KenPom): 15.6 percent

When it comes to Washington State and Cal, the next several weeks, more likely than not, are going to sound like a broken record. One more week, four more losses for the Bears and Cougars. In the silver-linings department for Cal and Washington State, Robert Franks, C.J. Elleby and Justice Sueing top the list. Aside from those three, not much else to write home about. Washington State has taken Cal’s place as the worst defense in conference play, sparing Cal from having the worst offense and the worst defense against its contemporaries.

Justice delos Santos covers men’s basketball. Contact Justice delos Santos at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @justdelossantos.