Power rankings: Pac-12, WCC, MWC men's basketball — edition 6 (12 items)
After the first chunk of the conference season, parity is probably the word that best sums up the state of college basketball in the West, including the Pac-12, Mountain West and West Coast conferences.
Arizona has clearly established itself as head and shoulders above the rest at this point, but after the Wildcats, nothing is concrete.
San Diego State really has made the best case for the No. 2 spot, but even then the Aztecs, on their home court, trailed a mediocre Fresno State team with 10 minutes to play on Wednesday. This came after beating Air Force by seven and Boise State by just three.
Oregon, the previously ranked No. 2 team, needied overtime to beat Utah on Jan. 2 and has now lost three straight, including home losses to Cal and Stanford.
Colorado has lost two straight games and also lost its best player for the season in Spencer Dinwiddie.
Utah scored just 46 points in a loss to Washington State, a team that lost to Stanford by 32, Arizona State by 19 and that scored just 25 points in a 35-point loss to Arizona.
Meanwhile in the WCC, Gonzaga got handled by Portland, and Saint Mary’s lost at home to Santa Clara. BYU, on the other hand, rattled off four straight wins and is suddenly second in the conference standings as the rest of the WCC teams knocked each other off. Pacific, which at one point found itself cracking these power rankings, is 1-4 in conference play.
In the Mountain West it’s no better, either. Nevada, which looked weak in non-conference play, is second in the conference standings at 4-1 with wins over Utah State, UNLV and Wyoming. The Wolf Pack lost to Boise State at home in their last game, right after Boise had lost at home to Wyoming.
New Mexico just lost at home to UNLV after struggling to beat mediocre San Jose State, Wyoming and Colorado State. UNLV’s win at New Mexico came after ugly home losses to Nevada and Air Force. Utah State has been inconsistent as well.
While parity is great in some sports, like the NFL, it’s not such a good thing in college basketball where there are more than 300 Division 1 teams and NCAA Tournament bids are so hotly contested. All of these conferences would like to see an upper echelon separating itself from the rest of the pack. Outside of Arizona, however, that really is not happening.
Here is the sixth edition of the Pac-12/MWC/WCC power rankings (games through Jan. 16).
Nate Gagon is a published sports, music and creative writer. He is also a wholehearted father, grateful husband and ardent student of life. He shoots roughly 94% from the free-throw line and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or @nategagon.
1 of 12. 1. Arizona Wildcats (Pac-12)
The Wildcats, off to their best start in school history at 18-0, are a very deep, balanced team. Most of the time they win big, but when games have been close they have pulled those out, too.
In addition to blowout wins by 23, 20, 35, 33, 26, 26, 21, 28, 50 and 34 points this season, Arizona also has wins by just four (Drexel), six (Duke), five (UNLV), two (Michigan) and four (UCLA), each of which hung in the balance until the end.
The Wildcats win mostly with their defense, length and toughness. Their second-leading scorer averages just 12.4 points per game, but they have seven guys averaging more than seven. The ’Cats win because they are solid and balanced in every phase of the game.
While Arizona (5-0 in conference) will most likely stumble at some point and lose, the Pac-12 Conference is looking far from intimidating right now, and the ’Cats should have a fairly easy path to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
2 of 12. 2. San Diego State Aztecs (MWC)
The Aztecs (15-1, 4-0) keep winning and are pretty close to the Mountain West’s version of Arizona in that they keep going while the rest of the league mostly fades.
After a big win at Kansas on Jan. 5, the Aztecs have beaten Boise State, Air Force and Fresno State, all of the victories by single digits.
Right now, San Diego State is projected as a No. 3 seed in ESPN’s latest Bracketology offering. Looking at their upcoming schedule, the Aztecs should be able to get by fairly unscathed and should be in great shape for the NCAA Tournament, barring injuries.
3 of 12. 3. UCLA Bruins (Pac-12)
The Bruins (14-3, 3-1) nearly completed an epic comeback versus Arizona on Jan. 9 when they came back from 13 points down in the final 5½ minutes to take a lead with 1:44 to go. Unfortunately for them, the ball bounced the Wildcats’ way after that and the game slipped away.
Despite that tough loss to Arizona, however, UCLA has mostly impressed lately. The Bruins trounced USC by 34 and Arizona State by 15 and then won at Colorado by 13.
The Bruins travel to Salt Lake City to play the Utes on Saturday. The Utes will see a player putting up phenomenal numbers in 6-foot-9 sophomore Kyle Anderson. The guy has a ridiculous stat line, averaging 14.8 points, 9.1 rebounds, 6.5 assists, two steals and a blocked shot per game, while shooting better than 50 percent from the field, 44 percent from long distance and 75 percent from the foul line.
4 of 12. 4. California Golden Bears (Pac-12)
The Bears (13-4, 4-0) have enjoyed an outstanding start to conference play. They get the nod at No. 4 over Colorado due to the Buffaloes' injury woes.
Cal has won at Stanford by seven, at Oregon by 13, at Oregon State by five and at home over Washington by 26. That same Washington team had just pounded Colorado by 17 and also beaten Utah and Arizona State.
The Golden Bears are currently projected as a No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament and are getting votes in both major polls. Like Arizona, Cal is extremely well balanced with six players averaging between 8.4 and 14.9 points per game.
Feb. 1, when Arizona visits Hass Pavilion to take on the Bears, is shaping up as one of the big dates on the remaining Pac-12 schedule.
5 of 12. 5. Gonzaga Bulldogs (WCC)
The Bulldogs (15-3, 5-1) probably deserve to fall further than one spot for losing quite handily at Portland (their first loss to the Pilots in 21 games) but with Colorado losing Dinwiddie and Oregon falling apart, the Bulldogs still look like a top-5 team from among these conferences.
Outside of the Portland stunner, the Bulldogs have been dominant in conference play, beating Santa Clara by 14, San Francisco by 28, Saint Mary’s by 21, Pacific by 22 and Pepperdine by 17.
Despite the one bad loss, Gonzaga could still be considered the WCC’s version of Arizona as a team that should dominate a mediocre conference and cruise into the NCAA Tournament with a high seed. Currently, Gonzaga is projected as a No. 7 seed.