Can’t think of a catchy, ESPN-style handle to put on this, so we’ll just call the next few days what they are to a handful of Pac-12 teams: Important.
A third of the way through the Pac-12 season, two teams are unbeaten in league and seven more have two or three league losses. And none of the nine is Oregon, which 18 days ago was unbeaten and ranked 10th in the country. Honk if you figured on that.
This is a separation sort of week, with lots of implications from games in the desert, Los Angeles and Seattle.
Today, the Pac-12 standings:
Arizona 5-0; Cal 5-0; Colorado 4-2; UCLA 3-2; Stanford 3-2; Utah 3-3; Washington 3-3; Arizona State 2-3; Oregon State 2-3; Oregon 1-4; Washington State 1-5; USC 0-5.
Let’s move past the top two teams, both of which are playing superbly, and look to the middle eight, all of which have possibilities of some sort:
Colorado: Buffs are at Arizona Thursday night and ASU Saturday night. It’s probably a bit much to ask for another game on the order of the Sabatino Chen-non-buzzer-beater of last year, so the crucial game — unless CU is capable of a blockbuster upset — is the one at ASU. And it’s worth remembering: All the good work the Buffs did in running up a 14-3 record with Spencer Dinwiddie is essentially null and void in the eyes of the NCAA basketball committee. They need to show that they’re good without him, because that’s what they have on the floor in March. I’m guessing they’ll pass muster.
UCLA: Anything less than a sweep at home is going to be a minus for the Bruins, especially if they harbor a shot at the title.
Stanford: The Cardinal is inconsistent. It could certainly use a sweep in LA, but at minimum, it can’t lose to USC.
Utah: The Utes’ game at ASU is pivotal Thursday night for both teams. I’ll go so far as to call it a resume-wrecker for the loser. Can Utah prove itself capable of winning a league game on the road, which it has done only once in two-plus seasons?
Washington: It’s not so farfetched that the Huskies could come out of the first half at 6-3; they have the Oregon schools and then play at WSU. But those are all games they could lose as well. Washington is 2-6 against the RPI top 100, and a pallid 4-8 against the RPI top 200. Long story short, any kind of revival has to begin against Oregon Thursday night.
Arizona State — Speaking of teams lacking portfolio, this is one. Despite a still-promising 60 RPI, the Sun Devils have a mere 1-5 record against the top 100. That won’t get it done. They really need a sweep of the mountain schools, and to do it, Jahii Carson needs to play better. Since Dec. 28, and the game against Cal-Irvine that preceded the Pac-12 season, he’s only had 14 assists with 25 turnovers, and shot poorly.
Oregon State — The Beavers are suddenly a formidable-looking team, with Eric Moreland swatting shots, freshman Hallice Cooke at the point and OSU turning back a determined Oregon effort the other night. It wouldn’t be a big surprise if the Beavers let down after that game, especially in a short week at WSU. Question is whether the Cougars have enough to beat them anyway, especially in front of what will be another tepid, Wednesday-night house.
Oregon — Could the Ducks fall all the way down the steps and out of the NCAA tournament after starting 13-0? Not likely, although they certainly aren’t trending well. Their top-100 RPI is 5-4, which is respectable and tournament-worthy right now. Meanwhile, they don’t have any bad losses on their resume, either. But as much as WSU is struggling, a mere split in Washington won’t be considered a breakthrough.
Should be a telling week.