As a handful of contenders pursue the Pac-12 regular-season title, a clear frontrunner has emerged in the race for last place.
Washington is the team to beat for the bottom.
The Huskies are 0-5 in conference play, continuing a collapse unlike any we’ve seen in the modern era of Pac-12 basketball.
Less than two years ago, in March of 2019, the Huskies were 27-game winners. They went 15-3 in conference play, won the regular-season title and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Mike Hopkins earned his second consecutive Pac-12 Coach of the Year award and had seemingly turned UW into a destination program for elite recruits.
Then came the unthinkable:
The Huskies dropped to last place in the 2019-20 season, becoming the first team in the modern era to pull off the first-to-worst tumble.
Not since 1948, when the league was known as the Pacific Coast Conference, had any team plunged from first place one season to last place the next.
(That team was Washington, by the way.)
But at least the 2020 Huskies won five league games.
This season, they’re careening toward a much worse showing: Combine current performance with upcoming schedule, and there are few victories available.
In fact, Washington is on pace become the first team since California in 1962 to win two conference games or less within two seasons of a regular-season championship.
No single factor accounts for the collapse, but the prime suspect is an offense that routinely malfunctions.
For proof, may we present the advanced analytics — specifically, the Pomeroy efficiency ratings that help inform the NCAA tournament selection committee.
Washington’s national ranking in adjusted offensive/defensive efficiency during the Hopkins era:
So far have the Huskies fallen … so bleak is their short-term outlook … that a slice of the fan base already is chattering about the possibility of UW buying out Hopkins’ contract, which runs through the 2024-25 season.
We’re not convinced a coaching change is imminent, or justified.
But it’s clear Hopkins must take drastic measures to generate a functional offense by this time next year, or his job just might be in jeopardy.
1. UCLA (9-2/5-0)
Last week: 2
Results: Won at Arizona State 81-75 (OT) and Arizona 81-76
Next up: vs. Washington State (Thursday)
Comment: One year ago this week, the Bruins were 1-3 in conference play. Since then, they have won 16 out of 19 — and that’s about to be 18 out of 21 with the Washington schools coming to town.
2. Oregon (9-2/4-1)
Last week: 1
Results: Lost at Colorado 79-72, won at Utah 79-73
Next up: vs. Arizona State (Thursday)
Comment: Guard Chris Duarte, who’s averaging 21.6 points against Pac-12 competition, is the frontrunner for Most Improved Player, and we’re not sure anyone is close.
3. Colorado (8-3/2-2)
Last week: 3
Results: Beat Oregon 79-72, DNP vs. Oregon State
Next up: at Utah (Monday)
Comment: If every visitor could be Oregon: With their latest head-to-head victory, the Buffaloes now are 10-0 against the Ducks in Boulder.
4. USC (8-2/3-1)
Last week: 6
Results: Won at Arizona 87-73 and Arizona State 73-64
Next up: vs. UC Riverside (Tuesday)
Comment: Admittedly, we’re starting to believe in the Trojans.
5. Arizona State (4-5/1-2)
Last week: 4
Results: Lost to UCLA 81-75 (OT) and USC 73-64
Next up: at Oregon (Thursday)
Comment: Admittedly, our belief in the Sun Devils is being tested, although Remy Martin’s weekend absence is an excuse for continued denial.
6. Stanford (8-3/4-1)
Last week: 9
Results: Beat Washington 91-75 and Washington State 75-60
Next up: at Utah (Thursday)
Comment: Admittedly, we don’t yet believe in the Cardinal.
7. Washington State (9-2/2-2)
Last week: 8
Results: Won at California 71-60, lost at Stanford 75-60
Next up: at UCLA (Thursday)
Comment: The Washington schools are one of two sets of travel partners that drew back-to-back road trips this season. Utah and Colorado will visit the Bay Area and Oregon on consecutive weeks later this month.
8. Utah (4-4/1-3)
Last week: 7
Results: Lost to Oregon 79-73, DNP vs Oregon State
Next up: vs. Colorado (Monday)
Comment: The rugged early schedule (Los Angeles schools on the road, Oregon at home) makes Utah’s record a bit deceiving. Then again, it’s clear the Utes don’t belong in the top group.
9. Arizona (9-3/3-3)
Last week: 5
Result: Lost to USC 87-73 and UCLA 81-76
Next up: at Oregon State (Thursday)
Comment: Now four games out in the loss column (including the head-to-head result) and with the postseason ban, the Wildcats must dig deep or risk a collapse.
10. Oregon State (5-4/1-2)
Last week: 10
Results: DNP at Utah, DNP at Colorado
Next up: vs. Arizona (Thursday)
Comment: The Beavers were unable to make the Mountain swing because of COVID issues but were impacted by the virus even before hitting pause.
11. California (6-7/1-5)
Last week: 11
Results: Lost to Washington State 71-60, beat Washington 84-78
Next up: at Colorado (Thursday)
Comment: Adding context to the race for the bottom: The Bears’ head-to-head victory over Washington came without top scorer Matt Bradley, who’s out with an ankle injury.
12. Washington (1-9/0-5)
Last week: 12
Results: Lost at Stanford 91-75 and Cal 84-78
Next up: at USC (Thursday)
Comment: Next reasonable chance for a victory comes Jan. 24, at home against Utah. We’d bet heavily on the Huskies winning at least once, somewhere.