Jared Cunningham and his Oregon State team-mates have the best win of Pac-12 conference this season so far (v Texas). (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
This may be the worst Pac
8 10 12 in years. The conference has been truly awful as we briefly discussed here. UCLA is part of the reason for that awfulness and is now ranked as low as 8 by many experts who originally picked UCLA first. But PRN (Post Reeves Nelson) UCLA is 5-0 and playing better.
Begging some to ask why didn't CBH start the season doing what he is doing now? So before the Pac-12 preview, let me throw a few thoughts out there why UCLA has a shot to be the best TEAM in the conference despite having NONE of the best players. Also why Howland did not start the year doing what he is doing now.
Going into the season, UCLA figured to be a team built around Josh Smith and Reeves Nelson. This figured to be a team with some strong athletes as starters for the makings of a tough Man to Man defense with Tyler Lamb, D'End Parker (he started one game before he was hurt), and Lazeric Jones rounding out the starting five. In a strange example of how this season has not gone according to plan the best man to man defender in the group has been Lazeric Jones, who preseason figured to be the worst. For Nelson finished his mental breakdown, Smith in the off season ballooned to 400 pounds, Parker has had three injuries and has hardly played, and Lamb has looked slow and is suffering from a painful hip injury.
Jones is actually the perfect symbol for UCLA so far this year. He is arguably the team MVP, leading UCLA in scoring (and in scoring in the four "best wins") and many other categories he ranks number one or two, even second in defensive rebounds. He also turned in the best defense performance of the season against one of the best players we have played this year in Zach Rosen. But that just it, LJ is also flawed. He is the starting PG but not the best at running the set offense, arguably cost us the LMU game when he tried to be Derrick Rose, and has been better in part by trying to do less. This is a team without stars.
But this is a TEAM, PRN, they are not squandering leads or doing just enough to win. This is a team that always seems to hustle, except maybe for Josh Smith, who ironically should be the star. So how did the front pagers think this team without stars would do in a weak PAC 12 in our annual PAC 12 Power Poll:
1. Cal (7 first place votes, highest pick first, lowest fourth)
PRN, Cal has the only returning All- Pac
10 12 Player in Jorge Gutierrez. They also have maybe the best offense player in Alan Crabbe. Cal has a very good coach who won the Pac-10/12 last time it was this bad with Mike Montgomery. Of course, Cal has also been blown out this year both times it played ranked teams.
2. UCLA (4 first place votes, high of first, low of third)
Some may accuse Bruins Nation of being homers, but if you come here often you know that is not the case. It is more a belief in the fact that this team is turning it around and some of its talent, say Josh Smith and Norman Powell, is going to be much better by season's end. Also, CBH is a good coach and that can make a big difference in a less than talented conference. Of course, how much injuries and the terrible Sports Arena will effect UCLA remain to be seen.
3. Arizona (1 first place vote, high of first, low of fourth)
It is real interesting that the frontpagers also had more confidence than most in Arizona. Arizona loss to Mississippi State is not looking as bad as MSU is now ranked. They have had major chemistry issues resulting in supposed freshman phenom Josiah Turner being suspended and some questions about their inside play but they seem to be putting it together reasonable well. The pieces are there.
4. Stanford (high of second, low of sixth)
Stanford, along with Oregon State, has been one of the two pleasant surprises for the Pac-12. Stanford is 10-2 and played number one Syracuse close in one of their two losses. Stanford returned many of the players from last year's team and seemly benefited from that experienced. They did get blown out recently by a bad, for them, Butler team which has a losing record at home in their last game. The UCLA at Stanford game will be the most interesting of the first weekend. Is Stanford for real and has UCLA really turned it around? That game will be telling for both teams.
5. Washington (high of third, low of sixth).
In some ways it is looking like 2009-10. Washington probably has the most talent and least chemistry of any team in the Pac-12. The Huskies are the team that seemingly could beat any Pac-12 team anywhere and lose to any team anywhere. They have too many good guards/swings (led by Wroten, Ross and Wilcox) and not enough bigs. They are the number 18 scoring team in the country but they also lost at home to South Dakota State by 19. Washington won't win the regular season title as long as Romar is the coach but may get hot and win the Pac-12 tourney as long as Romar recruits the team.
6. Oregon (high of fifth, low of eigth)
Oregon plays on that court that gives people a headache and should be illegal. Their coach has won some fans and "stole" Dominic Artis from UCLA in recruiting. The problem is there are questions whether Oregon can play off their home court.
7. Oregon State (high of fifth, low of eleventh)
Oregon State along with Stanford is the other big positive surprise of the season. Of course Oregon State's record of 10-2 is based on wins against teams like the Illinois-Chicago Flames, and some other lower end squads like Portland State and Chicago State. However, OSU does have the conference's best win so far, over Texas, and arguably its best all-around player in Jared Cunningham.
8. Washington State (high of seventh, low of ninth)
Washington State is the hardest place in the conference to travel to and play. WSU has a good scorer in senior Faisal Aden but that's about it.
9. Southern Cal (high of eighth, low of tenth)
USC has the conference best defense and one of the NCAA's worst offenses. USC is ranked #334 in points per game and failed to score 40 against Cal Poly and UC Riverside. USC will probably be able to hold Washington's potent offense to under 70 but it is doubtful whether they could score 70 in an empty gym.
10. Colorado (high of eighth, low of eleventh)
Colorado is a football school. The good news is their basketball team is better than their football team. The bad news is the football team is really bad and the basketball team is not much better. Colorado will again beat up on Utah but how much more remains to be seen.
11. Arizona State (high of seventh, low of eleventh)
ASU is thankful this season for Utah, otherwise they might not win a game in the Pac-12, Jahii Carson not being academically eligible killed any chance of ASU being a contender.
12. Utah (unanimous last place)
Utah is epically bad having lost to everyone ugly, except San Diego Christian, Idaho State, and Portland all at home in games that were close. Playing Utah is as close to an automatic win as a Pac-12 team can hope for.