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This Week In The Pac-12: Arizona Comes Up Big

In a slow week for Pac-12 basketball, Arizona made waves with easily the biggest win of the season. Is the Pac-12 back as a basketball conference?

Thanks, Wildcats. Now lose to Cal, please.
Thanks, Wildcats. Now lose to Cal, please.
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona's win over AP #5 (and RPI #3 and Kenpom #1) Florida is the biggest non-conference win for a Pac-10/12 team since at least 2008, when six teams made the NCAA tournament and three made the Sweet 16. How Arizona won the game is a mystery to me. Trying to watch a game while Cal is also playing is, admittedly, a formula for confusion. Yet every time I tuned in Florida seemed in control, until it all unraveled in the final few minutes. But how it happened is irrelevant to me. For the first time since back when Ben Howland was a good coach the Pac-12 has a legitimate elite team, and every team in the conference benefits.

Now, I'm not going to say that the Pac-12 is at the level of 2007-2009, when 60% of the conference made the NCAA tournament each year. But with 80% of the non-conference schedule completed and conference play just two weeks away (hallelujah!) here are a few facts:

  • The Pac-12 is currently 4th in the conference RPI standings (7th and 10th in 2010-11 and 2011-12)
  • The Pac-12's average RPI is closer to 2nd place (Big East) than 5th place (Mountain West) and closer to 1st place (Big-10) than 7th place (SEC).
  • Three teams (Colorado, Arizona, Cal) are in the critical RPI top-50, and five more teams (Oregon, Arizona State(!), Washington, Stanford, and Utah(!!!)) are in the RPI top 100.
  • Seven conference teams currently have RPI top 50 wins.
  • The conference has lost only two games to teams with an RPI of 200 or higher. (Washington vs. Nevada and UCLA vs. Cal Poly, in case you were wondering who to blame.)
  • Perhaps most importantly: The Pac-12 has played the toughest RPI schedule in the country.
Tempo-free stats aren't quite as entranced by the Pac-12's resume. That's what happens when you get blown out by teams like DePaul and Wisconsin and barely squeak out wins over teams like Portland State and UC Irvine. But tempo free stats don't matter to the selection committee, and it doesn't matter. And at this point it doesn't matter how many Great West teams are left on Oregon State'schedule, the non-conference book has been all but written.

The Pac-12 is back, baby! Mostly!

Good wins
Arizona 65, Florida 64
Oregon 60, Nebraska 38

Bad losses
None, though Oregon State tried very hard to play down to weak competition

Missed Opportunities
Creighton 74, Cal 64
DePaul 78, Arizona State 61

Arizona State's weak early schedule was exposed a bit against a lower tier Big East team, but otherwise it was a boffo week out west. Can things keep getting better?

Next Week

No Games

Oral Roberts at Arizona, Pac-12 Networks
Stanford at NC State, ESPN2
Southern Methodist at Utah, Pac-12 Networks
UC Santa Barbara at California, Pac-12 Networks
Long Beach State at UCLA, Pac-12 Networks

Oregon at UTEP
Howard at Oregon State, Pac-12 Networks

Cal Poly at Washington, Pac-12 Networks
UC Irvine at USC, Pac-12 Networks

Northern Arizona at Colorado, Pac-12 Networks
Stanford at Northwestern, Big 10 Network
Cal State Northridge at Utah, Pac-12 Networks
Buffalo at Washington State, Pac-12 Networks

USC at Georgia, FSN
Arizona State at Texas Tech
Houston Baptist at Oregon, Pac-12 Networks
Prairie View A&M at California, Pac-12 Networks
Northern Illinois at Washington, Pac-12 Networks
San Diego at Oregon State, Pac-12 Networks
Arizona at East Tennessee State, ESPNU
Fresno State at UCLA, Pac-12 Networks

Arizona vs. Miami (Fl) or Hawaii, ESPN2

Plenty of action this week as teams try to squeeze a few games between finals and Christmas. Lots of cupcakes dot the schedule, but there are also plenty of intriguing games. Stanford, like Cal, is looking for that marquee win and they might be able to find it on the road against a solid NC State team. Failing that they can notch a win over a Big-10 team, which is pretty much guaranteed to be valuable this year.

Arizona State and USC are both going on the road against low-end power schools, which should mean wins but doesn't always. Both games will be a good indication of how much both teams have improved from last year's disaster.

And Arizona will be at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, where they should get interesting match-ups with Miami, and potentially Ole Miss or San Diego State further down the line.

Also, Utah will complete their home-and-home with Southern Methodist, which . . . why would Utah schedule two games with SMU in one year? Weird.

If everybody can make it through this week without bad losses then we'll have essentially survived the wilderness of the non-conference and it will be time to handicap what really matters: the race for the regular season crown.