In ascending order …
No. 12 (Last week: 12) Utah (Record: 1-8, RPI: 307)
Recent result: Lost 61-42 to BYU
Suspended point guard Josh Watkins returned after missing one game and the Utes still lost by 19 points to state rival BYU. It gets worse. Starting shooting guard Chris Hines, who was scoreless in the last outing, has been injury prone this season and is questionable for Friday. Utah dropped to No. 330 in the Sagarin Ratings, 15 spots from the bottom. Coach Larry Krystkowiak is taking some heat, but he knows it’s going to get better next season. Transfers Aaron Dotson and Glen Dean, former Seattle-area prep stars, are sitting out due to NCAA rules. They’ll make a big impact next season.
Up next: Friday vs. Idaho State
11. (9) USC (4-6, 164)
Recent results: Lost 44-41 to New Mexico
USC ranks 339 out of 345 Division I teams with a 53.7 points per game average. The Trojans have tallied 36. 40 and 41 points in games this season. They haven’t scored more than 66 in any contest and yet they’ve managed to remain competitive at times because of an aggressive defense that allows 54.3 points per game.
Up next: Saturday vs. Georgia
10. (10) Arizona State (3-5, 146)
Recent results: Beat North Dakota State
Trent Lockett may be the best player on the team, but Carrick Felix or Keala King has led Arizona State in scoring the past five games. Still Lockett is a productive player. He’s fifth in the Pac-12 with a 7.8 rebounding average and tied for ninth in scoring at 14.2 points per game. USC and Utah are 12th and 11th in the conference in scoring because of injuries. ASU is 10h because coach Herb Sendek prefers a half-court oriented system.
Up next: Saturday vs. Northern Arizona
9. (11) UCLA (4-5, 171)
Recent results: Beat Eastern Washington 60-47, Beat Pennsylvania 77-73
Maybe things are starting to turn for UCLA, which has won consecutive games for the first time this season and is winners in three of the last four games. But then maybe the Bruins are snake bitten as well. Just when things are looking are looking good, they lose sophomore forward Travis Wear to a skin infection on his foot. It’s been that type of season for UCLA, the Pac-12 title favorite hit hard by off-court distractions.Coach Ben Howland floated the idea of playing four forwards before the season. Remember that? He trashed that idea about the same time former Bruins cover boy Reeves Nelson set fire to his UCLA career. Howland implemented a three-guard lineup and now he’s trying to implement a zone defense. It’s not the first time Howland has resorted to a zone, but he’s been a strong man-to-man defense advocate during his career. Check out Joshua Smith’s minutes in the past five games: 17, 12, 12, 19 and 13.
Up next: Saturday vs. UC Davis
8. (7) Colorado (5-4, 111)
Recent result: Lost 65-54 to Wyoming
The Buffaloes had their 27-game home non-conference winning streak snapped in a nine-point defeat to the Cowboys. Colorado received just four points in the game from two of its stars, senior guard Nate Tomlinson and senior forward Austin Dufault. After a relatively slow start, freshman forward Spencer Dinwiddie has been very productive recently. He didn’t break double-digit scoring in the first five games, but has 16. 15, 16 and 16 in the past four contests. He’s also averaging 5.3 rebounds in the past four games.
Up next: Monday vs. Cal State Bakersfield
7. (4) Washington (4-4, 76)
Recent results: Lost 86-80 to No. 7 Duke
This might be a little too low for the Huskies, but they have a three-game losing streak and have lost four of the last five games. Washington’s best win came in the opener when they destroyed Georgia State (7-3) at home. The other three wins were also lopsided victories, but those opponents haven’t fared well recently. Still according to the Sagarin rating, the Huskies have played the toughest schedule in the Pac-12 and the 29th most difficult schedule in the nation. Washington hopes the non-conference schedule will help when the Pac-12 season begins. Said C.J. Wilcox: “We saw the best competition we’re going to see this year while in New York. We know where we have to get.” Wherever they go, the Huskies will have to get there without center Aziz N’Diaye who will miss the next 2-3 games due to a sprained knee. Washington has a five-game home stand and plays nine of the next 11 at Edmundson Pavilion.
Up next: Friday vs. UC Santa Barbara
6. (8) Washington State (6-4, 137)
Recent result: Beat Santa Clara 93-55
Keep an eye on Washington State. The Cougars have strung together four straight wins, which is the longest in the Pac-12. They’ve toppled a bunch of cupcakes, but they’ve done it without three injured players who figure prominently in their plans. Senior guard Faisal Aden (concussion), WSU’s leading scorer at 16.3 points per game, missed three games. Senior forward Abe Lodwick (foot), a two-year starter, has yet to play this season and junior guard Mike Ladd (thumb), a Fresno State transfer, missed five games. They’re expected to return Sunday. While they were out, WSU developed new stars. Brock Motum won the Pac-12 Player of the Week award on Monday. Charlie Enquist has filled in nicely for Lodwick. Freshmen guards DaVonte Lacy and Dexter Kernich-Drew have garnered valuable minutes. Bone has two non-conference games to integrate the returning players into the rotation. If WSU can maintain its chemistry, then the Cougars may be a dangerous team when the Pac-12 season begins.
Up next: Sunday vs. Western Oregon
5. (6) Oregon (6-2, 54)
Recent result: Beat Portland State 79-70, Beat Fresno State 74-70
Newcomer Devoe Joseph, a 6-4 guard, has been better than advertised partly because there wasn’t a lot of hype before the season about the Minnesota transfer. He became eligible Dec. 10 and quickly made a splash for Oregon, which needed a boost in the back court after losing two freshmen guards. Joseph scored 18 points on 6-for-13 points and dished four assists in 29 minutes as a reserve in his Ducks debut. He followed that with a 13-point, six-assists outing against Portland State also as a backup in 29 minutes. Oregon nominated him for the conference player of the week, which seemed like a stretch. But it wouldn’t be surprising if Joseph works his way into the starting lineup and replaces slumping Jonathan Loyd. He scored 24 points two weeks ago against UTEP, but has managed just four points in the past three games.
Up next: Sunday vs. Virginia
4. (5) No. 23 Arizona (7-3, 37)
Recent results: Beat Clemson 63-47
Seattle-area fans can check out Arizona up close 1 p.m. Saturday when the Wildcats face Gonzaga at KeyArena. Solomon Hill disappeared last week in the big game at No. 12 Florida, but the junior forward is playing at an all-Pac-12 level and is positioning himself as an early MVP candidate. He leads the Wildcats in points (11.7 per game) and assists (3.4) and is second in rebounds (7.6). Hill is also among the top 10 conference leaders with a 78.6 free throw percentage. Freshman guard Josiah Turner returned from a one-game suspension and fouled out after 17 productive minutes against Clemson. Coach Sean Miller was forced to use freshman Nick Johnson at point guard at Florida, but moved him back to his natural position at shooting guard. Johnson finished with a team-high 14 points on 7-for-9 shooting in his last outing.
Up next: Saturday vs. Gonzaga at Seattle
3. (2) Oregon State (7-2, 131)
Recent results: Beat Illinois-Chicago 95-53, Lost to Idaho 74-60
Sophomore guard Roberto Nelson and freshman forward Eric Moreland would start for many Pac-12 teams, which shows you how much coach Craig Robinson has improved the talent in Corvallis, Ore. Nelson isn’t a true point guard, but he can handle the ball and shoot the three while Moreland is an athletic shot blocker. OSU’s has a potent offense that ranks 28th in the nation in scoring while averaging 79.4 points per game. However, Idaho held the Beavers to a season-low 60 points at home. It’s difficult to know if the Beavers are contenders or pretenders. Their schedule is weak – don’t be fooled by the Texas win – and the computers hate them. Their RPI and Sagarin rating (85) and strength of schedule (297) are low. But OSU passes the eye test. The Beavers are athletic and explosive offensively. They have depth with a 10-man rotation. They get to the line (271 attempts) more than anyone in the Pac-12. They have a MVP candidate in Jared Cunningham, who leads the conference in scoring. They have three-pointer shooter in Ahmad Starks, a shot blocker in Devon Collier and two solid big men in Joe Burton and Moreland.
Up next: Thursday vs. Howard
2. (3) California (8-2, 80)
Recent results: Beat Jackson State 73-46
According to the Sagarin rating, the Pac-12 is 1-16 against top 50 teams. California has the only win and bet you a dollar you had no idea who it was against … Denver. Since losing to San Diego State, California has destroyed two bad teams (Jackson State and San Jose State) at home. The Golden Bears held both teams under 50 points, which is the first time they’ve done that since the 1984-85 season. Aside from the weak non-conference schedule, there’s plenty to like about the Bears. They lead the Pac-12 with a 1.3 assist-to-turnover ratio, 16.6 assists per game, a plus 9.7 rebounding margin, 74.5 percent free throw shooting and 43.0 percent three-point shooting.
Up next: Friday vs Weber State
1. (1) Stanford (8-1, 32)
Recent results: Beat North Carolina State 76-72,
The pollsters may not like Stanford, but the Sagarin ratings say the Cardinal is No. 17 in the nation. If not for a six point loss against No. 1 Syracuse at Madison Square Garden, Stanford would be perfect and likely ranked among the top 25 in the nation. But they lose that game in a not-so-neutral setting and they barely receive votes from pollsters. It doesn’t make sense. The Cardinal will have a 13-game layoff between games and returns to the court Saturday. It’s difficult to find a star on the roster. No one averages more than Aaron Bright’s 12.2 points per game The Cardinal is loaded with talented role players like sophomore forward Josh Huestis, who averages 6.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 21.3 minutes per game. Senior Jarrett Mann, a two-year starter at point guard, is now coming off the bench and sophomore Anthony Brown is fourth in scoring at 7.8 points per game as a reserve wing.
Up next: Saturday vs. San Diego