This Week in Basketball
As the final seconds ticked off in USC's come-from-behind, closer-than-it-should-have-been win over Cal State Bakersfield, the Pac-12 Network informed us that the conference had won 18 straight games. Those 18 games include two games last Sunday (after Washington's early loss to San Diego State) and every single game in the week. True, the conference played a bunch of patsies this week, and I'm not just talking about the teams on Oregon State's schedule.
But the conference did get another three solid wins without suffering a single bad loss, and that's another positive development as the entire conference continues its 2013-14 resurgence. Let's talk about the three big wins:
Arizona 72, Michigan 70
Two early losses had taken a bit of the luster off of Michigan, but make no mistake - the Wolverines are still an excellent team and Arizona faced a plenty difficult atmosphere. The crowd fed off of Michigan's strong play, and Arizona trailed by 11 points early in the 2nd half and 8 points inside 7:00 to go. But the way Arizona closed the game out was as impressive as it was terrifying. Led primarily by two players who didn't even suit up for them last year (Aaron Gordon and T.J. McConnell), the Wildcats were calm and composed as they closed the game on a 20-12 run that didn't require any three pointers - just relentless attacks on the basket and a boatload of offensive rebounds.
At this point, the eye test and the stat sheet agree that Arizona is the heavy favorite. They scare me.
Oregon 71, Illinois 64
To be honest, I wasn't especially impressed with Oregon's performance, so the fact that they ended up winning by seven is oddly impressive. Without Dominic Artis the offense is chaotic and turnover prone, and Illinois got plenty of good looks on offense. But the Ducks are full of speedy, athletic guys who just attack attack attack, and it felt like they wore Illinois down by the end of the game. Like Arizona, Oregon closed things out with a 24-10 run that turned a 7 point deficit into a 7 point win.
Meanwhile, Oregon managed to get by without Artis and not lose a single game. He'll be back for this weekend's game against BYU, and if he immediately meshes the Ducks could be Arizona's toughest challenger.
Utah 81, BYU 64
The shocker of the week, and perhaps the year. I suspect I've been a bit more bullish on the Utes than most, but I would have been happy just to see them beat a solid BYU team, let alone record a 17 point stomping. Jordan Loveridge and JC transfer Delon Wright have both been incredibly efficient on offense, and the Utes held the same BYU team that scored 1.25 points/possession against Stanford to 0.86. I don't want to suggest that Utah is 26 points better than Stanford, but the evidence can't be denied!
If nothing else, Utah's rapid improvement means that there is one fewer bad team for the rest of the conference to beat up on. As of right now, there are four at most, and I think every team in the conference will be capable of pulling upsets on their day. It's tough sledding this year.
Bad Losses/Missed Opportunities
Obviously enough, neither in either categories!
Utah 74, Idaho St. 66
California 92, Nevada 84
Arizona 74, New Mexico State 48
Oregon State 77, Arkansas Pine Bluff 63
Colorado 80, Elon 63
Arizona State 97, Grambling St. 55
Washington 85, Idaho St. 66
California 67, Fresno St. 56
Stanford 83, UC Davis 56
UCLA 95, Prairie View A&M 71
Oregon State 98, Maryland Eastern Shore 66
Washington State 78, Pepperdine 61
USC 63, CSU Bakersfield 59
The only note of interest here is how easily the conference dispatched their assumed wins. Only one win with a margin less than eight. Granted, that's what is supposed to happen. But it's not what happened as recently as two years ago.
Next Week in Basketball
Washington at Tulane, 5:00 pm
UC Irvine at Oregon, 7:30, Pac-12 Network
Stanford at 9 UConn, 6:00 pm, ESPN2
Towson at Oregon State, 7:00 pm, Pac-12 Network
San Francisco State at Washington State, 7:00 pm, Pac-12 Network
8 Duke at UCLA, 4:30, ESPN
Southern at Arizona, 6:00, Pac-12 Network
Texas St. at Utah, 6:00 Pac-12 Network
USC at Long Beach State, 7:30 pm
Texas Tech at Arizona State, 3:30 pm, Pac-12 Network
UTEP at Washington State, 5:30 pm, Pac-12 Network
Stanford vs. Michigan, 5:30 pm, Fox Sports 1
BYU at Oregon, 7:30 pm, Pac-12 Network
7 Oklahoma State at Colorado, 8:30 pm, ESPN2
USC at Dayton, 11:00 am
9 UConn at Washington, 12:30 pm, ESPNU
Weber St. at UCLA, 4:00 pm, Pac-12 Network
California at Creighton, 4:00 pm, Fox Sports 1
Oregon State vs Akron, 4:30 pm, ESPNU
I'll go out on a limb and predict that the Pac-12 will not go undefeated next week, if only because four games will see Pac-12 teams against top 10 ranked opponents. Beyond that, Stanford, Cal and USC all have tough road tests at Michigan, Creighton and Dayton respectively. The conference could lose 4 or 5 games and still have a pretty decent week considering the level of difficulty.
The best game of the week is either Duke's visit to UCLA on Thursday or Oklahoma State's visit to Colorado. The Buffs have already proven themselves against Kansas, but Duke would represent UCLA's first kenpom top 50 win if the Bruins could grab it. Meanwhile, Cal and Stanford both should desperately want to earn top 50 wins of their own before conference play starts, and this week is their last chance. Who comes up big this week?