This week in the Pac-12: Non-con wrap up

Joseph Young: Pretty good, like, for a transfer - Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Where do we stand with conference play starting this week? Which teams have impressed and which have disappointed?

Way back in October, CGB released its ‘official' pre-season poll for men's basketball. In case you don't want to read our justifications, here it is as a reminder:

Pre-season media poll

Pre-season CGB poll

Current Kenpom rating

Current RPI rating

Arizona

1

1

1 (4)

3 (12)

Arizona State

7

6

5 (39)

6 (71)

California

5

2

7 (60)

7 (73)

Colorado

3

3

3 (28)

2 (9)

Oregon

4

4

2 (22)

1 (6)

Oregon State

10

10

10 (119)

11 (151)

Stanford

6

7

6 (41)

4 (56)

UCLA

2

5

4 (31)

8 (78)

USC

11

9

9 (100)

5 (70)

Utah

9

11

8 (67)

10 (145)

Washington

8

8

12 (138)

12 (171)

Washington St.

12

12

11 (123)

9 (136)

On the left, you've got pre-season projections. On the right, you've got two measures of what a team has actually accomplished so far, with the numbers in parenthesis representing national rankings beside each team's conference rankings.

The media and CGB got plenty of things right. Turns out, Arizona is really good! Oregon State and Washington State are likely to struggle this year. Stanford is firmly middle of the pack, and will end the season somewhere between 5th and 8th, which shall henceforth be known as the ‘Dawkins Zone.'

But it's not very interesting to talk about teams that most have accurately pegged. Let's instead talk about teams that have over or underperformed relative to expectations, and try to figure out what we missed.

Washington

What we said

[Romar's] biggest recruit is point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who will look to replace Abdul Gaddy. While that helps shore up the perimeter, there are major questions about Washington's interior option, with USF transfer Perris Blackwell as likely the top option. If Williams-Goss and Blackwell are both ready to contribute at a high level, UW could ride Wilcox to a better than expected season.

The reality

They weren't ready. Neither Williams-Goss nor Blackwell have been disastrous offensively, but neither has been nearly good enough to make up for the fact that Washington has been the worst defensive team in the conference by a significant margin. But I think it might be less of a personnel issue and more of a coaching issue. Romar's best defenses used extreme ball pressure to harass offenses and force turnovers. That strategy isn't viable, either because of limited depth or because of the new rules, and UW's defense has suffered drastically, to the point that they are the single worst team in the Pac-12 by Kenpom's metrics.

The return of Desmond Simmons from injury might help shore up the defense, but he'd have to be an NBA level talent defensively to turn UW's defense around.

California

What we said

Last year's late season run didn't happen because Allen Crabbe went off and carried the team. Last year's run happened because something clicked defensively. The Bears transformed themselves into one of the best defensive teams in the conference about midway through the year.

The reality

The defense just hasn't been very good, and hopes for contending in the Pac-12 rest on that changing, and quickly. I think if Cal could play their best defensive lineup (Solomon, Kravish, Kreklow, Wallace, Cobbs) 100% of the time, their defense would be as good or better than last year's defense. But Richard Solomon has missed two games, and Ricky Kreklow will miss significant time.

And the reality is that Cal's freshmen haven't been able to play defense at the same level as their veteran teammates. The Bears simply don't have anybody to replace what Solomon and Kravish can do, and they can't both play 40 minutes. It was probably unrealistic to expect Cal to continue playing the same defense they played last year without more defensive depth.

That said, would anybody be surprised if the light went on for Cal's freshmen in the next two weeks? Underestimate Monty at your own risk.

Oregon

What we said

As per usual, it might take some time for all of the new Ducks to learn to play with each other, but if they do they might have enough talent to compete with anybody else in the conference.

The reality

Boy did they learn to play together quickly. When Dominic Artis was suspended for nine games to start the season, the Ducks lost what little continuity they had and I think some (myself included) suspected they might struggle to start the season. Instead, they're sitting undefeated. Why? They're playing some of the best offense in the nation. When Artis was out last year, the Ducks couldn't stop turning the ball over. But Johnathan Loyd has played capably in Artis' absense and Joseph Young almost never turns the ball over.

Young deserves a paragraph all his own, because he's currently producing at a rate that would easily qualifying him for all-conference honors. He's averaging 19 points per game . . . while attempting only 12 shots per game. He's shooting the ball at an unbelievable clip.

Now, Oregon's strength of schedule has been iffy, particularly in regards to the defenses they've faced. It seems unlikely that Young could better his numbers from last year after moving to a more challenging conference. And with two overtime wins, the Ducks are somewhat fortunate to still be undefeated. But even if they take a step back they'll still be playing at an elite level, and they're still integrating Artis back into the rotation. They haven't reached their ceiling yet.

Last Week in the Pac-12

Good wins/Bad losses

None

Missed opportunities

Hawaii 79, Oregon State 73

Expected wins

Oregon State 58, George Mason 54
Arizona 77, Northern Arizona 44
Washington 95, Mississippi Valley State 80
Arizona 74, UC Irvine 61
Utah 124, St. Katherine 51
California 90, Furman 60
Washington State 85, Mississippi Valley State 48
Colorado 84, Georgia 70
UCLA 75, Alabama 67
Oregon 97, Morgan St. 76
USC 82, Howard 60
Stanford 79, Cal Poly 62
Washington 73, Hartford 67
Oregon State 76, Quinnipiac 68

Basically, nothing interesting happened this week. Oregon State couldn't close out their Diamond Head Classic trip with a win, but it was otherwise plenty of meh. If I were being generous I could call UCLA's home win over Alabama a good win, as Alabama has a decent chance to finish the season in the RPI top 100. But it's a game that a team like UCLA should win without too much difficulty, although they had their challenges.

This week didn't help the Pac-12's middling out-of-conference strength of schedule (thanks, Utah and Oregon State!) but at least nobody lost a game they shouldn't. Thank goodness conference play is upon us.

Next Week in the Pac-12

Thursday

Oregon at Utah, 5:00 pm, Pac-12 Network
Washington at Arizona State, 5:00 pm, ESPNU
California at Stanford, 6:00 pm, Fox Sports 1
Washington State at Arizona, 7:00 pm, Pac-12 Network
Oregon State at Colorado, 7:00 pm, ESPNU

Saturday

Washington at Arizona, 11:00 pm, Pac-12 Network
Oregon State at Utah, 1:00, Pac-12 Network

Sunday

USC at UCLA, noon, Fox Sports 1
Oregon at Colorado, 2:00 pm, Fox Sports 1
Washington State at Arizona State, 3:00 pm, ESPNU

The Oregon schools head for the mountains, the Washington schools head for the desert, and it's rivalry week in California. The best game of the week has to be the Sunday afternoon clash between Oregon and Colorado, but both California rivalry games should be interesting, and I'm curious to see how Utah defends their home floor after a decent non-conference showing against a very, very weak slate.

The home team should be favored in every game but one this week. Will anybody step up to grab a big road win? And if so, at whose expense?

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