We have now entered February, we are more than half way through the Pac-12 conference season, and thus we are only one month away from Championship Week and NCAA Tournament Selection Sunday. The Pac-12 is a conference with quite a few teams on the tournament “bubble” and yet has none that are currently “locks” for the tournament. Part of the problem is that the Pac-12 has now dropped to #10 in overall conference RPI behind Conference USA. This is without playing anyone out of conference in weeks. That’s because the top teams who could continue to move up in the RPI with wins like Cal, Stanford, and Oregon keep losing games to the more lowly teams.
There are currently six teams with a (distant) shot at making the Big Dance and nearly all of them would have to go gang-busters in the final 7 conference games, plus a deep run in the Pac-12 tournament to get an at-large bid. Since these six teams have to play against each other in the final weeks, that is unlikely. The more likely result is that two teams get hot enough to get a berth and maybe a third sneaks in by winning the conference tournament. So, without further ado, here is the Pac-12 Power Rankings – Bubble Trouble Edition.
1b) California (18-6 overall, 8-3 in Pac-12, RPI 47, SOS 82)- While Cal may have the overall better profile and did manage to hold on to beat the Huskies in Seattle, does anyone really believe they are the more talented team? I think most neutral observers (Like Doug Gottlieb and Eamonn Brennan at ESPN) think the Huskies are definitely the more talented team. But, I will grant that Cal is more disciplined and did better in the non-conference. Since these two clubs will not play each other again until the Pac-12 tournament, my guess is that unless one of them goes into an unfortunate slump, they will battle each other for the regular season crown.
1b) Washington (16-7 overall, 9-2 in Pac-12, RPI 73, SOS 80)- While California has the better RPI and overall profile, and the Golden Bears did beat the Huskies in Seattle, it is the Huskies that have the better conference record at this point. This team is slowly finding itself, but it sure would be nice if they didn’t constantly struggle to score in the first half of games and didn’t have to make every game a drama. While these close finishes certainly build character and experience which may serve them well in future games, one of these days it won’t work out when it has to…and that already has been the case against Nevada, Marquette, and Cal. Nonetheless, they are off to their best conference start ever and if they keep winning, they’ll make the tournament. They simply can not afford a road loss to a team like Oregon State or USC along the way.
3) Colorado (16-7 overall, 8-3 in Pac-12, RPI 71, SOS 76)- Colorado has basically done what people expected of this year. They were thought of as a middle of the conference team who would have an outside chance at an NCAA tournament bid, but with the NIT being more likely. They have done some nice things in conference so far, including beating Oregon on Saturday. It will be tough for them to get enough wins to raise their RPI high enough to make the Big Dance, but if they can go on a run, perhaps finish 13-5 in the conference and make the Pac-12 tournament final, that would be enough. Otherwise, they may have to win the conference tournament to make it.
4) Oregon (16-7 overall, 7-4 in Pac-12, RPI 78, SOS 104)- Oregon has been a little bit of a surprise this season in keeping up near the top of the conference. They were predicted by many to be a middle of the league (my prediction was 5th) team who might have an outside shot at an at-large berth or more likely the NIT. While that may still be in their future, they have benefited from UCLA and Arizona not being nearly as strong as predicted. Oregon’s profile is not great, so they need to keep on winning. A win over Washington in Eugene seems like almost a must at this point and they probably need to finish 12-6 or better in conference play, plus at least making the Pac-12 tournament final to get that bid.
5) Arizona (16-8 overall, 7-4 in Pac-12, RPI 62, SOS 61)- The Wildcats are not really on anyone’s bubble lists right now. They’ve blown golden opportunities to get marquee wins and their team chemistry has been in shambles all year. That home loss to the Huskies was an absolute killer. But, if there is a team who has the talent to get it together and roll through the rest of conference play, it is the Wildcats. If this team can win 6 of their next 7 and then a couple in the Pac-12 tournament, they would finish 13-5 in conference, would have 24 wins, and their RPI would rise up into the low 50’s or maybe even the upper 40’s. That probably would be enough for a team with such a high national profile, big name coach, and top-ranked recruits. That’s a story line the national media would love to have in the tournament.
6) Stanford (16-7 overall, 6-5 in Pac-12, RPI 97, SOS 138)- Probably the longest of the long shots to get an at-large berth is Stanford. The team was getting so much hype for their gaudy record early on. But, it’s not that hard to go 10-2 when you are playing a 200+ RPI non-conference schedule. Once they got into conference play, a conference as weak as the Pac-12, things have not gone as smoothly. Think about this, their blowout loss to Washington is the only comfortable win for the Huskies in UW’s last 8 conference games. Stanford’s RPI is almost unrepairable, even with a strong finish and their strength of schedule most certainly is. But, they still have an outside chance if they can run the table.
7) UCLA (13-10 overall, 6-5 in Pac-12, RPI 128, SOS 92)- Why would I include the UCLA Bruins in the Bubble Trouble edition? No, they have virtually no chance at an at-large bid, even if they won all of their last 7 conference games. But, UCLA is starting to figure some things out, which makes them scary to the rest of the conference. As I predicted weeks ago, they are starting to find some team chemistry and are beating some teams and kill the rest of the conference teams’ chances at an at-large bid. The Huskies are extremely lucky to have pulled out that home win against them this week after being down 10 late in the game. The Huskies still have to return to Los Angeles for the rematch. Mostly, I think UCLA is the only non-bubble team who has a realistic shot of winning the Pac-12 tournament and sneaking in with the automatic berth. They certainly have the talent to do so, and you only need to get hot for 3-days to make it happen. So, keep an eye out for the Bruins, whether it is in bracket-buster mode or in the conference tournament in their home city.
8) Oregon State (15-8 overall, 5-6 in Pac-12, RPI 125, SOS 128)- So much hype so early on. But, I never believed the hype. Looks like another CBI for the Beavers.
9) Washington State (12-11 overall, 4-7 in Pac-12, RPI 166, SOS 146)- This is a team that can still upset some folks. The Huskies need to take that game in Pullman seriously.
10) Arizona State (7-16 overall, 3-8 in Pac-12, RPI 214, SOS 85)- The Sun Devils are not a very good team, but they kept it close against UW and beat WSU. An upset is always possible, so teams need to remain weary.
11) Utah (5-18 overall, 2-9 in Pac-12, RPI 264, SOS 64)- At least they aren’t getting embarrassed as badly as they did early on in the season.
12) USC (6-18 overall, 1-10 in Pac-12, RPI 222, SOS 60)- The Trojans will probably be pretty happy when this season is over. At least Zach Banner is coming next year.