Fall of the Pac-12

Every week since the preseason, the Pac 12 has had at least three of its teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. Last week, in the 12th edition of the AP 25, was the first week that only one team was ranked, that being the top ranked Arizona Wildcats who remain undefeated. Is this the beginning of the end for what was once deemed the toughest conference in the NCAA?

Arizona is undoubtedly the best team in the country; they have the toughest schedule, not only during conference play but non-conference as well. They also have the highest Basketball Power Index (BPI) rating*.

(*BPI Ranking: A form of ranking teams created by ESPN in 2012 that uses improved categories that include: missing players – if you lose five games without your star player but win when he gets back; a close win at home is better than a close loss on the road against the same opponent; account for blowouts but doesn’t overweight them – a 30-point win is only about 20% better than a 15-point win, not twice as good; pace of play.)

After Arizona, who has dominated the AP 25 all season – starting the preseason at #6 and reaching #1 in week 6 where they have remained since – there were three other teams that seemed to be a staple on the rankings. Oregon was one of the top teams until week nine; UCLA has bounced around and Colorado seemed to be poised to make a deep run. What happened?

Oregon is the best example of what conference play can do to a mediocre team. The Ducks began the season 13-0, winning all its non-conference games, the first conference game against Utah and reaching as high as #10 in week 9. They then lost five straight, which is a massive amount in college basketball – just look at perennial favorite Ohio State who have lost five of six. The Ducks lost to Colorado and California, both of which are tough games. The problem comes in close losses to Stanford, Oregon State and Washington. It doesn’t get any easier with two games against UCLA and Arizona remaining.

Speaking of UCLA, they are a team of ups and downs. They went into the New Year 11-2 and have gone 5-2 since in conference play. They are second in the Pac-12, have key wins against Colorado and California, and losses to Utah and Arizona. If teams are unable to string together multiple wins, they won’t move up the rankings. If they aren’t on the AP 25, alternating wins and losses sure won’t get you on the rankings. This is the case with UCLA. They have played three ranked teams this season and are 1-2, not the best way to maintain elite status.

The Bruins are one of the top offensive teams in the country, ranking 9th in points per game, 4th in assists per game and 6th in field goal percentage. They also have a high BPI ranking, sitting #16 on the list. They were ranked #22 to begin the season and peaked at #18 in week five. They fell from the rankings until week 11 when they barely broke back on at #25 but fell off again with another loss; they are currently unranked. UCLA still has a tough schedule remaining including games against Oregon, California and Arizona.

Lastly, we have Colorado. What happened to them? Once known as an underdog when they first broke onto the rankings in week six before becoming a legitimate contender. The Buffaloes peaked at #15 in week 10 before losing four out of five in the second half of January. Like Oregon, teams can’t stay atop the rankings with consecutive losses. They have a string of “easy” games over the next couple of weeks, which gives them a chance to get back on track. They still have UCLA and California on the road, as well as Arizona at home.

The Big 10 is an elite conference, currently having five teams in the Top 25. The ACC is another one, though they currently only have three ranked teams but a lot more talented teams. The Pac-12 was considered one of the best conferences in basketball. Does only having one ranked team distinguish this status? The answer to that riddle is no. Even though Arizona is the only ranked team, the other teams battle each other to breaking points and create extremely intense, close games. It’s like the NFC East and NFC North in the National Football League; mediocre to great teams battle each other with both teams winning some games. The standings will get skewed but the teams are still elite.

Even though Arizona will likely run away with the Pac-12 championship, don’t be surprised to see at least six teams in the NCAA Tournament representing the conference. One thing is for sure, we are in for an exciting month-and-a-half of basketball.

 

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