Pac-12 MBB power ratings: Oregon and ASU rise, USC surges and UCLA takes aim at the cellar

Pac-12 MBB power ratings: Oregon and ASU rise, USC surges and UCLA takes aim at the cellar

The early stage of the Pac-12 race has been the stuff of hallucinations and Hollywood, with Oregon and Arizona State as the unlikely, undefeated pairing atop the conference.

While the mayhem provides first-rate entertainment, it’s hardly the ideal scenario for reaching the Pac-12’s collective goal: Maximizing the number of the NCAA Tournament at-large bids.

After all, the selection committee ignores conference records, conference finishes and even conference affiliations when picking the March Madness field.

Instead, the committee focuses on the guts of each team’s resume, including quality wins, bad losses, schedule strength and performance away from home — the metrics reflected by the NCAA Evaluation Tool, or NET rankings.

Ideally, the teams with the best NET placements at the close of non-conference play (i.e., the top 40) will continue winning once league competition begins, thereby solidifying their hold on at-large bids.

Otherwise, teams that surge to the top of the standings must dominate the race and collect just quality wins to offset the weaknesses lingering in their non-conference resumes.

As the situation stands, Arizona State (No. 102 in the NET rankings) does not have a resume strong enough to claim an at-large berth, and Oregon’s ranking (No. 51) is shaky.

Meanwhile, two Pac-12 teams with reasonably strong NET rankings, Utah and Colorado, are two games off the pace after subpar weekend performances on the road.

The situation could change several times over as the conference season unfolds — or not.

And if the Ducks and Sun Devils hold their ground atop the standings, with Arizona likely joining them, they cannot afford many stumbles.

(NET rankings through Sunday)

1. Arizona (12-3/3-1)

Last week: 1
Results: beat Colorado 97-50 and Utah 92-73
NET ranking: No. 3
Next up: at Washington State (Saturday)
Comment: Based on current NET positions, the Wildcats have no Quadrant I games left on their home schedule and only four remaining within their lineup of road games. Other teams competing for No. 1 seeds will have substantially more opportunities for resume-building.

2. Oregon (12-3/4-0)

Last week: 4
Results: won at Washington 76-74 and Washington State 89-84
NET ranking: No. 51
Next up: vs. Cal (Saturday)
Comment: So a team that initially planned to rely heavily on two 7-footers (Nate Bittle and N’Faly Dante) appears to have found its identity by leaning into its perimeter unit while the aforementioned big men deal with injuries.

3. Arizona State (10-5/4-0)

Last week: 6
Results: beat Utah 82-70 and Colorado 76-73
NET ranking: No. 102
Next up: at Washington (Thursday)
Comment: Of ASU’s four conference wins, three have come by three points or less and two have the same final score (76-73). The Sun Devils are built for life on the knife’s edge. But are they good enough to succeed more often than not?

4. Utah (11-4/2-2)

Last week: 2
Results: lost at Arizona State 82-70 and Arizona 92-73
NET ranking: No. 29
Next up: vs. UCLA (Thursday)
Comment: “It would be a major upset if the Utes were to lose at home to UCLA,” said nobody, ever … until now.

5. Colorado (11-4/2-2)

Last week: 3
Results: lost at Arizona 97-50 and Arizona State 76-73
NET ranking: No. 41
Next up: at Cal (Wednesday)
Comment: The Buffaloes are in the early portion of a stretch in which they play six of nine games on the road. Even accounting for the injuries, anything less than 4-5 would be problematic — and they are already 0-2.

6. Washington (9-6/1-3)

Last week: 7
Results: lost to Oregon 76-74, beat Oregon State 79-72
NET ranking: No. 62
Next up: vs. Arizona State (Thursday)
Comment: Starting tomorrow, the focus on Montlake will shift to UW basketball and Mike Hopkins’ future. Unless there’s a victory parade.

7. USC (8-7/2-2)

Last week: 11
Results: beat Cal 82-74 and Stanford 93-79
NET ranking: No. 84
Next up: vs. Washington State (Wednesday)
Comment: One number explains the home sweep: 99 points scored in two games by USC players not named Boogie Ellis or Isaiah Collier.

8. Stanford (7-7/2-2)

Last week: 8
Results: won at UCLA 59-53, lost at USC 93-79
NET ranking: No. 110
Next up: at Oregon State (Thursday)
Comment: The win at Pauley Pavilion lost a load of luster the moment Cal did the same thing. At least the Cardinal has that Arizona victory to carry forward proudly.

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9. Washington State (10-5/1-3)

Last week: 10
Results: beat Oregon State 65-58, lost to Oregon 89-84
NET ranking: No. 72
Next up: vs. Arizona (Saturday)
Comment: Those who bought WSU stock while the Cougars were building a gaudy record against soft competition might consider purchasing some beautiful Bay Area real estate on the glistening shore of San Andreas Lake.

10. Cal (5-10/1-3)

Last week: 12
Results: lost at USC 82-74, won at UCLA 66-57
NET ranking: No. 180
Next up: vs. Colorado (Wednesday)
Comment: We are mighty close to declaring Mark Madsen’s first season a success even if the Bears don’t win another game.

11. UCLA (6-9/1-3)

Last week: 5
Results: lost to Stanford 59-53 and Cal 66-57
NET ranking: No. 174
Next up: at Utah (Thursday)
Comment: At least UCLA fans can look forward to the 2024 football season.

12. Oregon State (9-6/1-3)

Last week: 9
Results: lost at WSU and Washington 79-72
NET ranking: No. 173
Next up: vs. Stanford (Thursday)
Comment: From what we have seen of the Beavers, and others, there’s a pretty decent chance OSU will occupy the cellar — both here and in the official Pac-12 standings — on a consistent basis.

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