This Week In The Pac-12: Sizing Up The Final Stretch

With 12 games on tap including a few games between teams in contention for the conference title, this seemed like a potentially exciting weekend for Pac-12 basketball. But then they played the games and nothing particularly exciting happened. The average margin of victory last week was a hair over 12, and only two games finished with a smaller margin than 9. One of those games was the marginally exciting but exceedingly ugly contest between Washington and Oregon State. So yeah, not a good week for compelling basketball.

On the bright side, Oregon's win over Washington and Arizona's win over Colorado tightened up the standings atop the conference, and everything is finely poised for a thrilling finish to a jumbled race. The Bears and Huskies stand at 10-3 with the Buffs, Ducks and Wildcats just a game back at 9-4. Each team has just five games left to somehow separate themselves from the rest of the pack. To see who has the strongest chance let's rank each team's remaining schedule from hardest to easiest.

Oregon
Home: Colorado, Utah
Road: Cal, Stanford, Oregon St.

Oregon is one of the two teams nobody expected to have a shot at the title, and if they pull it off they'll have earned it. The Bay Area road trip is probably the toughest in the conference, the Beavers are a dangerously flawed team, and Colorado probably won't be a pushover, road struggles aside. It's hard to see a 4-1 finish, which is almost certainly the minimum necessary to have a chance. There's no way a 12-6 record is good enough, even this year. RIGHT?

Colorado
Home: Cal, Stanford
Road: Utah, Oregon, Oregon St.

Colorado's schedule is almost identical to Oregon's schedule, but the Buffs get their toughest games at home at altitude, which gives them a solid chance if they can stay undefeated in Boulder. If you assume that Colorado stays unbeaten at home (admittedly, a big leap) and gets past a bad Utah team on the road, then they only need a split on the road in Oregon to finish the season 13-5. Would that be enough to get a piece of the title?

California
Home: Oregon, Oregon St.
Road: Utah, Colorado, Stanford

Cal's remaining schedule seems neither especially easy or difficult. There's only one gimme (Utah) but only one game seems more likely to end in a loss (Colorado). Of course, this assumes that Cal manages to defend their home court on senior week against a team with four conference road wins and another than already beat the Bears. Yes, I'm already getting nervous. If Cal takes care of business it seems likely that they will enter the final week of the regular season needing one win in Palo Alto for at least a share of the title. Sound familiar?

Arizona
Home: USC, UCLA
Road: Washington St., Washington, Arizona St.

ASU, USC and Utah are three teams that should pose absolutely no threat to the best teams of the conference. Arizona and Washington are at the bottom of this list because they have two games remaining against those teams, rather than just one like Cal, Colorado and Oregon. I'm really glad that Arizona managed to lose three games by a combined five points, and that the Bears don't have to visit Tucson. They're playing the best basketball in the conference right now, but losing the close ones means they're still playing from behind.

Washington
Home: Arizona St., Arizona
Road: Washington St., USC, UCLA

Arizona and Washington play the same four teams (and each other). Washington's schedule is listed as the easiest because they get the Wildcats at home, a potentially huge advantage to have. Still, it's hard to see UW winning out with two tough road games and the red-hot Wildcats left on the schedule.

Next Week

Wednesday
USC at UCLA, 7:30, FCS

Thursday
Arizona at Washington St., 6:00
Oregon St. at Stanford, 7:00
Oregon at California, 7:30, CSNCA
Arizona St. at Washington, 8:00

Saturday
UCLA at St. John's, 10:00, CBS
Arizona at Washington, 12:00, FSN
Colorado at Utah, 2:00
Arizona St. at Washington St., 5:00
Oregon St. at California, 8:00, CSNCA

Sunday
Oregon at Stanford, 4:30, FSN

First of all - CBS can choose a certain number of Pac-12 games to air nationally. One of the games they picked is UCLA vs. St. John's, because a a 10-15 Big East team is apparently a better TV draw than pretty much any other Pac-12 program. Sigh.

But this week includes two of the four most important games left in the conference season. Oregon's Thursday night visit to Haas Pavilion is close to a must-win for both teams - the Ducks want the only high RPI win available and Cal can't lose at home if they want the title.

But Arizona's visit to Washington is probably the most important single game left. The Wildcats have the best chance of the three teams one game back in the standings to climb upwards, but they'll need to win in Seattle to do it. If Cal and Washington both sweep this week it's all but a two team race, but if Oregon and Arizona win we might enter the last two weeks with a five way tie in the loss column!

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