Good things are happening in Pac-12 basketball, even if you have to look for them. (Unfortunately for those in our state, you have to look quite a ways.)
An early assessment of the league, based on who’s done most in the first three weeks:
1. Colorado (5-0)
What’s happened – I got chided by some Buff fans for a second-division forecast of their team when last season ended. Turned out they were right. Tad Boyle is at it again, with an upset over Baylor, which, believe it or not, is Colorado’s first defeat of a non-league, ranked team since 1973. Guard Askia Booker has been a revelation, averaging 17.2 points. CU is doing it despite a strikingly negative 46-73 team assist-turnover ratio. And one disclaimer on the win over Baylor: The Bears lost at home to College of Charleston the other night.
Next game of consequence – Buffs have a rugged week starting Saturday, with games against Wyoming, Colorado State and Kansas.
2. Oregon (5-1)
What’s happened – I’m convinced Dana Altman could take you and four checkers at Safeway and turn it into a competitive team. Ducks beat UNLV in Vegas, despite 22 points and 10 rebounds from Anthony Bennett, the forward Washington pursued so hotly. Oregon is relying heavily on a couple of freshmen, point guard Dominic Artis and 6-5 guard Damyean Dotson. Now they’ve added a transfer from Rice, Iranian Arsalan Kazemi, who had a 15-rebound game in a losing effort against a ranked Cincinnati team.
Next GOC – Ducks host Nebraska Dec. 15, and have only one road game until Pac-12 play starts.
3. California (6-0)
What’s happened – Cal’s guards, Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe, have been killing it, averaging 20 and 22 points a game, respectively, as well as picking up five rebounds-plus per game for a team that has a 7.7-per-game rebounding edge. Cobbs is shooting .635 (40 of 63) and each guard is hitting a tick over 87 percent from the foul line. Cal’s wins – over Denver, Drake, Georgia Tech and Pacific – aren’t eye-opening, but solid.
Next GOC – At Wisconsin Sunday. Bears also have telling home games against UNLV and 11th-ranked Creighton Dec. 9 and 15.
4. Oregon State (4-1)
What’s happened – Beavers beat Purdue, figured to be a mid-range Big Ten team, but also lost center Angus Brandt for the year to a knee injury in that game. Their other high-level game was a loss to Alabama. Two encouraging signs: OSU opponents are shooting .364 after the Beavers allowed .482 in league games a year ago, and Craig Robinson’s team has a 7.2 plus rebounding margin.
Next GOC – Beavers meet Kansas Friday night in Kansas City, then play only one game out of the state until mid-January.
5. Arizona State (4-1)
What’s happened – Remember, this isn’t a ranking, just an early read on level of performance. The Sun Devils rise on the strength of a double-digit win over Arkansas, forecast to be in the mix for an NCAA berth out of the SEC. Speedster point guard Jahii Carson is making a difference; he had 30 in a losing effort against Creighton.
Next GOC – At Texas Tech Dec. 22.
6. Arizona (3-0)
What’s happened – Having played the fewest times in the league, ‘Zona has wins over UTEP and a Long Beach State team (by 22 points) that’s rebuilding. ‘Cats are hitting 42 percent of their threes, and 6-8 newcomer Brandon Ashley has been forceful, averaging 13.7 points and 7.7 rebounds.
Next GOC – Saturday at Texas Tech.
7. USC (3-3)
What’s happened – More than anybody in the league, Trojans don’t back down in scheduling, but they didn’t have a lot to show for their Maui appearance, losing by 30 to eventual winner Illinois, beating a shaky Texas team in overtime and then falling to Marquette. They’re having some of the same shooting woes they experienced a year ago, hitting only .403 and .326 on threes.
Next GOC – Trojans at Nebraska Monday, at New Mexico next Wednesday and host Minnesota Dec. 8.
8. UCLA (4-2)
What’s happened – Bruins’ herky-jerky start includes losses to Georgetown (no shame), Cal Poly (not a resume-builder) and a one-point victory over Cal-Irvine. Clearly, there’s some growing pains with a revamped roster that is now without Tyler Lamb, who just announced he’s transferring. Touted freshman Shabazz Muhammad is averaging 17 a game, off-guard Jordan Adams has made 35 of 36 free throws, and point guard Larry Drew, the North Carolina transfer, has a gaudy 44-7 assist-turnover ratio.
Next GOC – Saturday against San Diego State in the Wooden Classic.
9. Stanford (4-3)
What’s happened – Cardinal, coming off an NIT championship with the key pieces returning, has been as disappointing as anybody, dropping a home game to Belmont and a cliffhanger last week in the Bahamas to Minnesota when Chasson Randle fouled Andre Hollins at mid-court with 0.4 seconds to go and he hit three free throws to win by three. Nobody makes threes in Stanford games; the Cardinal is hitting .271 and opponents .298. The guards are especially chilly, as Randle is shooting .348 overall and Bellevue product Aaron Bright .257 and Bright (sidelined lately by a bad ankle), is 0 for 12 on threes. But forward Dwight Powell has rebounded from a poor 2011-12 season.
Next GOC – At NC State and Northwestern, respectively, Dec. 18 and 21.
10. Washington (2-3)
What’s happened – Huskies haven’t been healthy (Scott Suggs and Shawn Kemp Jr. have been out) but they haven’t been playing well, either, as their three losses by Nov. 24 is the earliest they’ve done that in the Lorenzo Romar era. Among other things, defense – allowing .430 shooting by opponents and .386 on threes – needs to pick it up. No doubt rebounding is also an emphasis after Colorado State laid the wood to the Huskies on the glass.
Next GOC – Wednesday night against St. Louis.
11. Washington State (3-3)
What’s happened – Cougars have two near-miss losses against Pepperdine and Texas A&M, and a blowout against Kansas in which they looked like a junior-college team. Guard DaVonte Lacy is out indefinitely with a knee injury. Dexter Kernich-Drew, a 6-6 Aussie, has shown signs of blossoming. WSU is hitting only .322 on threes.
Next GOC – Cougars host Gonzaga next Wednesday night, but can’t take anybody for granted, including Idaho this Wednesday, or Portland Saturday. WSU doesn’t play out of the state until Jan. 9.
12. Utah (4-1)
What’s happened – Utah has played a schedule only a mother – and a coach desperate for victories – could love. Best win is over Wright State, and the Utes, widely figured for last in the league, have lost to Sacramento State. Dallin Bachynski, seven-foot transfer from Southern Utah (after serving his Mormon mission), is averaging 13.2 points a game.
Next GOC – At SMU Wednesday night.