The Bears and the Huskies took the court against two teams playing excellent basketball, but their own talent - and home court advantage - allowed both squads to end the weekend with a cushion on everybody else in the conference. It sets up an intriguing end of the season in which both teams will face tough road challenges during a high stakes game of chicken. But who will blink first?
If you're inclined to trust the computers, Washington is the more likely answer. KenPom gives the following chances for Cal and Washington over the next three games:
I tend to think that these numbers are more favorable to Cal than they should be, in part because Washington's computer numbers are still being held down by their rather ugly non-conference performances. As much as Cal fans dismiss Lorenzo Romar's coaching ability, his teams have had the tendency to play much better basketball at the end of the year than the beginning, something that wouldn't get reflected by KenPom. The Huskies have won nine of ten including the only two losses Arizona has suffered in their last eight games.
My prediction? Both teams won't go undefeated. Road games in Boulder, Los Angeles, Palo Alto and Pullman looks like a list of tough places to win. There will be at least one stubbed toe, possibly two or three.
Meanwhile, a few other teams scramble to put together an at-large resume that the selection committee won't immediately dismiss. Towards that end it was another week of hoops devoid of upsets as the team with the better conference record won in all 10 games this week. But that doesn't mean there weren't exciting games as Cal/Oregon, Arizona/WSU and Arizona/Washington were all well played, important contests. The Ducks, Wildcats and Buffs all remain vaguely on the bubble, depending on how big of a Pac-12 homer you are.
Conference Player of the Year Debate
Jeff Nusser of CougCenter made a solid argument in favor of Brock Motum. To that, I say: lead the Cougars to victory over Washington and I'll be all about Motumentum. Having said that, I would be shocked if Motum wins the award because a) he received zero pre or even mid-season hype b) he plays for a team that will almost certainly finish below .500 in conference and even overall. Politics!
So, who might actually have a chance of knocking off Jorge Gutierrez? Probably only Terrence Ross and maaaaybe Tony Wroten. Arizona and Colorado are two teams with lots of solid players that don't depend on one or two standout individuals. Oregon's Devoe Joseph probably deserves some support but suffers from the same hype issue that Motum suffers from. That leaves Ross and Wroten, Washington's two most important players and the two guys most likely to put together 20+ point outings over the next two weeks to capture the attention of coaches.
The simple reality is that Jorge will win if Cal wins the title (or a share of the title) and Ross or Wroten win if UW takes the title outright. Were you looking for an argument for who should win? Well, I'd guess that numerous 1,000+ epic poems in Jorge's honor that have, and will continue to appear on this website over the next few weeks will make that argument directly or indirectly.
UCLA at Arizona St., 5:30
USC at Arizona, 5:30
California at Utah, 6:00
Stanford at Colorado, 7:30, CSNBA
UCLA at Arizona, 11:00, CBS
USC at Arizona St., 5:00
Washington at Washington St., 5:00, ROOT
Stanford at Utah, 5:30, CSNBA
California at Colorado, 2:30, FSN, CSNBA
Oregon at Oregon State, 4:30, CSNBA
Thursday is another inconsequential day because Utah, USC and Arizona St. are all prominently involved. If Stanford were to somehow reverse the slow implosion of their season they could deal a death blow to Colorado's slim conference championship hopes, but I doubt that the struggling Cardinal will be the first Pac-12 road team to earn a win in Boulder.
The weekend is much juicer. UCLA and Arizona is a game Arizona needs if they want an at-large berth, and UCLA is still plenty feisty. Washington and Washington St. has secretly been the best rivalry match-up in the conference over the last few years, and Cal's trip to Colorado is probably the single most important game left in the Pac-12 this season. You shouldn't miss any of them . . . except you may not be able to watch UW/WSU unless you have ROOT. Enjoy Stanford at Utah!