Here’s how to sum up Pac-12 men’s basketball, which closes the 2019 portion of the season and heads into 2020 and conference play this week:
There’s Oregon, and then there’s everybody else.
At 11-2, the Ducks are ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press top 25 poll and their only two losses were narrow defeats in the Bahamas against No. 1 Gonzaga and North Carolina.
Oregon, the preseason favorite in a media poll, is the front-runner in a top-heavy conference that includes seven teams with double-digit wins.
The Pac-12 posted a respectable 73.9 winning percentage (113-40) in nonconference games, which puts the league in good shape to push five or six teams into the NCAA tournament.
Last year, only three Pac-12 teams made it to the Big Dance.
“There are times when we’ve had a very good upper tier or couple of teams that really could challenge deep into the NCAA tournament, but maybe the bottom team or a couple teams at the bottom almost acted as an anchor against all of us,” Arizona coach Sean Miller told the AP. “But this year, I don’t believe that’s the case. I think the middle has never been stronger.
“It’s hard to differentiate maybe between the very top teams and maybe four through eight, four through nine.”
This season also marks the end of the Pac-12’s 18-game conference schedule. The league adopts a 20-game conference schedule next season.
NCAA TOURNEY PROJECTIONS
Washington’s loss in the Diamond Head Classic title game last week hasn’t tempered Jerry Palm’s belief in the Huskies. The NCAA tournament bracket analyst for CBS Sports picks UW to finish with a No. 4 seed in the West region and a first-round matchup against No. 13 Akron.
He also includes Oregon (No. 3 seed), Arizona (4) Stanford (4) and Colorado (10) in his tournament forecast.
ESPN bracket guru Joe Lunardi predicts Washington will be a No. 10 seed in the South region starting against No. 7 Seton Hall. He has five Pac-12 teams in the NCAA tournament: Oregon (3), Arizona (5), Colorado (7) and Stanford (9).
Washington is No. 44 in the NCAA Evaluating Tool (NET) while securing nine of their 10 wins against Quadrant 3 and 4 teams.
The Pac-12 has nine teams ranked among the top 100: Oregon (11), Arizona (20), Stanford (21), Colorado (23), UW, Arizona State (58), Utah (65), USC (71) and Oregon State (73).
And here’s a look at the rest: Washington State (127), UCLA (171) and California (185).
CROWDED SCORING RACE
Raise your hand if you picked Utah’s Timmy Allen to lead the Pac-12 in scoring.
OK, stop lying.
Last season the sophomore forward scored at least 20 points in three Pac-12 games and shot 57.5 percent from the floor, but he averaged just 12.2 points.
Allen’s league-leading 21-point scoring average is one of the biggest story lines heading into conference play.
Oregon State’s Tres Tinkle (20.4 ppg.), and Washington State’s CJ Elleby (20.1) round out the Pac-12’s top three scorers.
WEEK 2 PAC-12 POWER RANKINGS
1. Oregon (Last week: 1) (11-2): Senior point guard Payton Pritchard, who averages 18.5 points, 6.2 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals while shooting over 51 percent from the field goal, is gaining momentum in the national player of the year debate. This week: At Colorado and Utah.
2. Colorado (Last week: 4) (11-2): Last week’s 78-76 win over then-No. 13 Dayton is one of best nonconference performances for the Pac-12. We’ll find out Thursday night if CU is legit when it hosts Oregon in the conference opener. Fun fact: The Buffaloes have never lost to the Ducks at home (8-0). This week: Against Oregon and Oregon State.
3. Washington (Last week: 3) (10-3): In the past 10 years, just one Pac-12 regular-season or tournament champion has averaged more than 14 turnovers. The Huskies average 14.7 turnovers. Isaiah Stewart claimed Pac-12 freshman player of the week honors for the second straight week. This week: Against USC and UCLA.
4. Arizona (Last week: 2) (10-3): It’s been awhile since the Wildcats recorded a quality win. You have to go back to their 90-69 blowout victory at home against Illinois on Nov. 10. Arizona limps into 2020 having lost three of its past four games. This week: Against ASU.
5. Stanford (Last week: 5) (11-2): Sunday’s 72-56 defeat to No. 3 Kansas doused a bucket of cold water on what had been a red-hot Cardinal team off to its best start since 2011-12. That season Stanford finished 26-11 (10-8 in Pac-12) and missed the NCAA tournament. This week: Against Cal.
6. Utah (Last week: 9) (9-3): You try figuring this team out. One day the Utes pull off a 69-66 stunner against then-No. 6 Kentucky. But in its next outing, Utah gets trounced 80-52 by then-No. 20 San Diego State in Los Angeles. This week: Against OSU and Oregon.
7. USC (Last week: 7) (11-2): The Trojans might be the most underrated team in the Pac-12 that’s loaded with front-line talent including dynamic freshmen Onyeka Okongwu (17.7 ppg., 9.0 rpg.) and Isaiah Mobley (8.6 ppg., 6.5 rpg.) and veterans Jonah Matthews (12.4 ppg.) and Nick Rakocevic (12.5 ppg., 8.6 rpg.). This week: At WSU and UW.
8. Oregon State (Last week: 6) (10-2): Tinkle moved into 25th place on the Pac-12’s all-time scoring list with 1,906 points. If he maintains his 20.4 scoring average, then Tinkle would finish the regular season with 2,273 points and move past Beavers great Gary Payton (2,172) for seventh place on the Pac-12’s career scoring list and No. 1 at OSU. This week: At Utah and Colorado.
9. Washington State (Last week: 11) (9-4): Finished 2019 with six straight victories, which is the longest active winning streak in the Pac-12. During this stretch, the Cougars are winning by an average of 15.5 points. This week: Against USC and UCLA.
10. Arizona State (Last week: 8) (9-4): Got off to a strong start with a win over St. John’s in New York and an impressive victory over Georgia. But followed with a 40-point defeat against Saint Mary’s and a home loss to Creighton. The Sun Devils have difficult Pac-12 start with three straight road games at No. 25 Arizona, Oregon State and No. 4 Oregon. This week: At Arizona.
11. UCLA (Last week: 10) (7-4): It’s one thing to get blown out at Notre Dame, lose in Las Vegas against short-handed North Carolina and get reprimanded by the Pac-12 for criticizing referees. But last week’s 77-74 loss at home to Cal State Fullerton (4-10) spells serious trouble for new coach Mick Cronin. “I apologize to people that took the time out of their Saturday that had to come and watch this,” he said. This week: At UW and WSU.
12. California (Last week: 12) (6-7): Considering the league’s move to adopt a 20-game conference schedule next season, the Golden Bears could become the only team to ever finish 0-18 in the Pac-12. Since the conference expanded to 12 teams in 2011-12, three teams have finished with just one win (OSU in 2016-17, WSU in 2015-16 and USC in 2011-12). This week: At Stanford.