I see three themes this week in Pac-12 basketball, and none is bigger than what’s going to take place in the Willamette Valley. It’s getting down to cases for the Oregon schools, and to me, that means both of them need to beat UCLA (and it’d be a good idea to accompany that with a victory over USC).
First, Oregon State. The Beavers are mucking along at 11-8, 3-4 and that’s a path that gets you fitted for a nice berth in the College Basketball Invitational. Yeah, the win over Oregon was nice, but a lot of teams are beating Oregon these days, and let’s face it, if your program is in the right place, you need to beat the Ducks on your home floor.
Craig Robinson, the OSU coach, is a well spoken CEO of the program, but it’s time to get past the challenges of Jared Cunningham having left the program early two years ago, of Eric Moreland missing the first 12 games of this season on suspension. Fact is, Robinson has a veteran team with talent, one whose parts suggest better than a second-division finish in the conference.
The Beavers have a mere 111 RPI, and that’s dangerous territory. They’re 4-4 against the top 100, not bad, but a 2-5 road record is a problem. If they’re ever going to make a run at the NCAA — and by now, that ought to be the goal — it needs to begin this weekend with a victory over UCLA.
I don’t see the Ducks’ situation as quite that urgent at 14-5 (2-5), but still, if they don’t beat the Bruins Thursday night and split the weekend, they’re 3-6 in the first half of the Pac-12 season, which leaves a lot of ground to make up in the second half and the Pac-12 tournament. It’s do-able, but Oregon has fallen to a hazy 40 RPI, and its non-league portfolio has taken hits with nosedives by Georgetown (11-9, playing Michigan State Saturday and now without ineligible Josh Smith) and BYU (12-9).
Two other venues have my attention: Can Stanford (13-6, 4-3 but probably on the outside looking in at the NCAA field right now) generate a monster, breakthrough win against No. 1-ranked Arizona Wednesday night? And what happens in Boulder Saturday? Utah (14-6, 3-5) has been occasionally formidable, yet winless on the road and encumbered by a lousy pre-conference schedule, while Colorado (15-6, 4-4) hasn’t yet found its sea legs after the loss of Spencer Dinwiddie. As noted here before, CU will be judged by the basketball committee on what it does, post-Dinwiddie injury.