When UCLA is down, when Oregon has dismissed half their team, when USC, Oregon State, Arizona State and Washington State are all deep in the rebuilding process, at least the Pac-12 has Arizona.
Last year the Wildcats kept the Pac-12 afloat by going undefeated against a very difficult non-conference slate, then losing a few games to Pac-12 teams. This year, Arizona is again undefeated against non-conference opposition, and look very likely to stay that way. The Pac-12 has, collectively, a mediocre computer profile and currently ranks 6th in conference RPI. But Arizona, with the help of a few other teams, has done enough to prevent this year from being like 2012, when the Pac-12 ranked 10th and the regular season champion Washington Huskies failed to reach the NCAA tournament.
Arizona kept things rolling this week with a thorough beat down of Michigan that propelled them into the RPI top 10. The game was an absolute showcase of everything that makes the Wildcats scary. Stifling defense against a usually potent offense? Check. Unrelenting athleticism that translates into offensive rebounds and easy looks inside? Check. They will be a tough, tough out all year long.
On to a quick run through last week's results:
Utah 65, BYU 61
California 45, Wyoming 42
Oregon State 59, Mississippi St. 49
Arizona 80, Michigan 53
Oregon 77, Illinois 70
Washington 81, Eastern Washington 77
Lots to like here. Utah needed another solid win to burnish their credentials, and presumed bottom feeders at Oregon and Oregon State both got unexpectedly good wins. Admittedly, wins over Wyoming and Miss. St. might not be very valuable come March. But for now they look like decent value wins.
Washington is easily the surprise story of the Pac-12 so far. The Huskies were picked in a virtual dead heat with Cal for 6th in the conference, distantly behind Arizona, Utah, Colorado, UCLA and Stanford. The human and computer polls now seem to agree that they are the 3rd best team in the conference. Excellent contributions from Nigel Williams-Goss isn't surprising, but Fresno St. transfer and interior monster Robert Upshaw might be. We'll see if it lasts.
Colorado St. 62, Colorado 60
Gonzaga 81, Washington St. 66
Kansas 63, Utah 60
Gonzaga 87, UCLA 74
On the bright side, 6 good wins vs. 4 missed opportunities! On the downside, Utah missed a chance for an early signature win, only Arizona is capable of playing with Gonzaga, and Colorado can't beat Mountain West teams.
Utah's game against Kansas was a thriller that saw the Utes come back from 21 points down before failing on multiple opportunities to tie the game and force overtime. Losing close to Kansas probably did more for them in the court of public opinion than a win over BYU.
Colorado'd loss is easily the most damaging because they were supposed to be one of the stronger teams in the conference (and might be by the end of the year) but have blown every opportunity for a decent non-conference scalp. Their best win is over . . . a really bad Auburn team? USF? They won't have an RPI top 100 non-conference win, that's for sure.
Santa Clara 76, Washington State 67
Army 85, USC 77, OT
Washington State is going to struggle all year long and is almost certainly the worst team in the conference, so that type of result isn't really surprising. But USC was supposed to be at least not horrible this year. Falling to Army is a strong indication that Andy Enfield is at least one year away. If USC's AD was expecting a quick turnaround, they have to be disappointed.
Arizona over Utah Valley
UCLA over UC Riverside
Arizona State over Pepperdine
Colorado over Northern Colorado
Stanford over Denver
California over Princeton
UCLA, Cal and Stanford all struggled with a few teams they probably shouldn't have, but no harm no foul.
All games airing on the Pac-12 network unless otherwise noted
Grambling St. at Oregon St.
Oakland at Arizona
Arizona St. at Marquette, Fox Sports 1
Loyola Marymount at Stanford
Grambling St. at Washington
CSU Northridge at Oregon
DePaul at Oregon State
Eastern Washington at Califonia
Arizona at UTEP, Fox Sports 1
Delaware St. at Oregon
UCLA at Kentucky, CBS
Oklahoma at Washington, ESPNU
Lehigh at Arizona St.
Stanford at BYU, ESPNU
UNLV at Utah, ESPN2
Oregon State at Quinnipiac, no TV
USC at Boston College, ESPNU
SJSU at Washington St.
The Pac-12 team will be favored in every single week night game except ASU at Marquette, which is a virtual toss-up. Odds are that somebody will lose, so Cal, Oregon St. and Arizona State should all be on alert.
The weekend is much more interesting. UCLA/Kentucky should be a schadenfreude-laced blood-bath. Washington fill face their stiffest test of the season, while Stanford and Utah both face interesting mid-major teams. Sunday is less exciting, but USC/Boston College isn't the worst game.
Also, for reasons unknown, Oregon State is playing a road game against Quinnipiac in Connecticut. They play DePaul at home on Thursday, fly 3,000 miles across the country for a Sunday game, then come all the way back for a home game on Tuesday night against a solid UCSB team. That is a criminally negligent scheduling practice, and I can only assume that Craig Robinson is at least partly to blame. Kenpom has Quinnipiac as slight favorites to win at home.