The Pac-12 is on track to send three teams to the NCAA tournament, an unimpressive total that tracks with its substandard results in nonconference play.
But what does the substandard showing outside of league play track with? Is there any broad explanation for the Pac-12’s plight this season? Is there a theory of everything?
Sure, talent and coaching are the foundations for success. That’s always the case. But they aren’t immediately satisfying answers. If you’re looking for something tangible, for a direct connection, consider this: bad offense.
Only five Pac-12 teams are ranked in the top 100 of the Pomeroy offensive ratings, which provide a points-per-possession measure of efficiency: No. 8 Arizona, No. 15 UCLA, No. 36 USC, No. 48 Oregon and No. 90 Utah.
How does that compare to peer leagues? Number of teams in the top 100 of the Pomeroy offensive efficiency ratings, per conference:
Big Ten: 9
Big East: 7
Big 12: 6
One could argue that the poor offense is linked to good defense. And, in fact, the Pac-12 has seven teams in the Pomeroy top 100 in defensive efficiency.
But guess what nonconference winning percentages — and therefore NCAA bid projections — track with: Not stout defense but, rather, efficient offense.
Number of projected tournament bids in the latest ESPN Bracketology:
Big Ten: 9
Big East: 7
Big 12: 7
In our view, the inefficient offense in the Pac-12 is due less to the caliber of the defenses and more to the mediocre talent and coaching. More often than not, we watch teams play offense and wonder: What are they trying to accomplish?
To the power ratings …
(NET ranking through Sunday.)
1. Arizona (14-1/24-2)
Last week: 1
Results: beat OSU 83-69 and Oregon 84-81
Next up: at Utah (Thursday)
NET ranking: No. 2 (last week: 2)
Comment: For those undecided on the Pac-12 Player of the Year race, Bennedict Mathurin would like to submit his 24-point, seven-rebound and five-assist performance against Oregon in the conference game of the year.
2. UCLA (20-5/12-4)
Last week: 2
Results: beat WSU 76-56, Washington 76-50 and ASU 66-52
Next up: at Oregon (Thursday)
NET ranking: No. 13 (last week: 14)
Comment: Cody Riley and Johnny Juzang returned for the win over ASU, but Tyger Campbell and Peyton Watson weren’t available. Eventually, the Bruins will have everyone healthy. In theory.
3. USC (23-4/12-4)
Last week: 3
Results: beat Washington 79-69 and WSU 62-60
Next up: at Oregon State (Thursday)
NET ranking: No. 24 (last week: 28)
Comment: The Trojans have a three-game edge over Colorado and Washington in the loss column. With Oregon, Arizona and UCLA left on the schedule, they might need the full cushion in pursuit of an opening-round bye in Las Vegas.
4. Oregon (17-10/10-6)
Last week: 4
Results: lost at ASU 81-57 and Arizona 84-81
Next up: vs. UCLA (Thursday)
NET ranking: No. 63 (last week: 62)
Comment: Would be entirely fitting for the erratic Ducks to beat UCLA on the court where they lost to Cal two baffling weeks earlier.
5. Colorado (18-9/10-7)
Last week: 8
Results: won at Oregon State 90-64, Cal 70-62 and Stanford 70-53
Next up: vs. ASU (Thursday)
NET ranking: No. 79 (last week: 94)
Comment: Yes, the Buffaloes deserve credit for their five-game winning streak. But their schedule also deserves credit: Those five wins are against teams with a combined record of 18-63 in league play: Stanford, Cal, Utah and Oregon State (twice).
6. Washington State (14-12/7-8)
Last week: 5
Results: lost at UCLA 76-56 and USC 62-60
Next up: vs. Washington (Wednesday)
NET ranking: No. 48 (last week: 46)
Comment: The problem isn’t that WSU keeps losing one-possession games. It’s that WSU doesn’t have any Quadrant I victories, whether they are by one possession, two possessions or five possessions.
7. Washington (13-12/8-7)
Last week: 7
Results: lost at USC 79-69 and UCLA 76-50
Next up: at Washington State (Wednesday)
NET ranking: No. 132 (last week: 128)
Comment: The Huskies finish with two games against WSU, then host UCLA and the Oregon schools. Not difficult to envision two more wins and a 10-10 finish. Which would be plenty good enough for Mike Hopkins to return next season.
8. Arizona State (10-16/6-10)
Last week: 9
Results: beat Oregon 81-57 and OSU 73-53, lost at UCLA 66-52
Next up: at Colorado (Thursday)
NET ranking: No. 119 (last week: 135)
Comment: One reason for the upturn, and perhaps the main reason: Better offense. ASU is No. 233 nationally in the Pomeroy offensive efficiency rankings but was over 50 percent from the field against Oregon and close to it against OSU.
9. Stanford (15-12/8-9)
Last week: 6
Results: lost to Utah 60-56 and Colorado 70-53
Next up: at Cal (Saturday)
NET ranking: No. 104 (last week: 91)
Comment: When there’s no home crowd, there’s no home-court advantage: Stanford was 5-5 in league games at Maples Pavilion this season.
10. Utah (11-16/4-13)
Last week: 11
Results: won at Stanford 60-56 and Cal 60-58
Next up: vs. Arizona (Thursday)
NET ranking: No. 122 (last week: 130)
Comment: One reason for the upturn, and perhaps the main reason: Better defense. Utah is No. 150 nationally in the Pomeroy defensive efficiency rankings but held both the Bay Area teams under 60.
11. Cal (11-17/4-13)
Last week: 10
Results: lost to Colorado 70-62 and Utah 60-58
Next up: vs. Stanford (Saturday)
NET ranking: No. 139 (last week: 134)
Comment: Given Cal’s personnel, it’s a wonder the offensive efficiency rating is No. 188 and not much, much worse.
12. Oregon State (3-22/1-14)
Last week: 12
Results: lost to Colorado 90-64, lost at Arizona 83-69 and ASU 73-53
Next up: vs. USC (Thursday)
NET ranking: No. 251 (last week: 238)
Comment: The last team to record only one victory in league play was Oregon State, in the 2016-17 season. Of course, those Beavers only lost 17 games. This edition could finish 1-19.
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