Stanford and Oregon both just won BCS bowls, both teams return their head coaches, and both teams are full of returning talent. I'm starting to get a sense of how Mississippi State fans feel every year. I hate you football.
Meanwhile, when this column was last published, UCLA was still something of a joke. Their best win was over a Texas team that lost to Chaminade and USC (on a side note, which one of those losses is more embarrassing?). But the Bruins finally started beating bad teams the way they were supposed to, and their improved play culminated in a thrilling win over Missouri. Then UCLA showed that the win perhaps wasn't a fluke by sweeping Cal and Stanford without any real difficulty.
Despite two more transfers and a very limited rotation, Howland appears to have UCLA playing like the 2nd best team in the Pac-12. And, as always, he's the coach I continually fail to comprehend. After four years of receiving the benefit of the doubt from me, I finally gave up my belief that he would turn UCLA around after watching an inept team struggle with LA area mid-majors. Which means it's a perfect time to suddenly resurrect the Bruins, who now have a top 40 RPI and are receiving AP votes again.
The resurrection has been led by a suddenly fearsome offense led by Shabazz and Jordan Adams and facilitated by an unbelievably efficient Larry Drew, who has the best assist rate in the Pac-12 by a country mile. A suspect defense and a thin rotation will likely cost UCLA a shot at the conference crown, but if they keep up their current level of play they will make the NCAA tournament easily.
Now I just wonder what Howland will do when Muhammad, Adams and Anderson all declare for the draft and he's left with a roster that's 50% Wears.
Last Week In The Pac-12
Game of the Week: Arizona 92, Colorado 83. What's weird about this latest Pac-12 ref related controversy is that I've seen gifs and TV image captures from both sides used as evidence that the refs were either right or wrong. Which means I'll respond how I usually respond to these types of controversies: I have no clue if the basket should have counted or not. My puny human eyes couldn't tell, even with an assist from slo-mo instant replay. This is why I'm glad college basketball teams play 30+ games, not 12.
Upset of the Week: It's a close contest between Arizona State's surprising 9 point win over Colorado or USC's squeaker over Stanford. Neither is a huge upset, but after the Buffs played so well in the toughest game on any Pac-12 team's schedule, it was odd to see them get suffocated in Tempe. Colorado needed to hit 10 three pointers just to send the game against Arizona into overtime, but then hit just 2-19 against ASU. Bet they wish they could've transferred some of those makes to the ASU game.
Next Week In The Pac-12
Washington State at Stanford
Washington at Cal
Arizona at Oregon
UCLA at Utah
USC at Colorado
Arizona State at Oregon State
UCLA at Colorado
Washington State at Cal
USC at Utah
Arizona at Oregon State
Washington at Stanford
Arizona State at Oregon
The game of the week is Arizona at Oregon, and although it's obvious that they're the class of the Pac-12, the Wildcats really haven't been tested on the road. Oregon is significantly better than any team Arizona has faced away from McHale, and it looks like the unbeaten season has a 50/50 chance of surviving.
Meanwhile, lots of teams will be looking to avoid falling into early holes in the conference standings, particularly Stanford and Colorado. Both teams will be back at home, but neither Washington school is a pushover and Colorado will have to end UCLA's hot streak.1-3 would be a very tough way to start the season for two teams that expected to see themselves finish in the top half of the conference standings.