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Pac-12 Review: Title still goes through Arizona

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The Wildcats crush their biggest title contender rivals, Oregon and Washington State both play fast, and Colorado still can't win on the road.

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Team of the week: Arizona

Arizona rarely gets direct praise in these parts because their success can't ever really be considered surprising. But Utah had been so good over the first few weeks that they were impressing humans and computers alike with their blowout wins.

Now, losing at McKale by itself isn't necessarily ironclad proof that Utah is worse than Arizona. But an 18 point win, in that fashion? Impressive, and a reminder that Arizona is still full of talent, and talent that will likely improve as the season continues.

Two items in particular impressed me: 2 point defense and offensive rebounding. Utah actually shot the ball really well from 3 (9-19) and still got crushed. That's because Arizona's defense stifled them inside the arc. Utah only made 7 two point shots, in part because Arizona's defense was so good that they struggled to even get shots off.

As for rebounding, Arizona had 17 offensive rebounds to Utah's 15 defensive rebounds (and a pure 40-19 total rebounding advantage). I think it was an intelligent strategy on Sean Miller's part to crash the boards, knowing that the not-so-running-anymore Utes probably wouldn't or couldn't push the ball in transition. And quite frankly, Arizona showed that they could physically dominate Utah in the paint. I'll be interested to see how Utah responds at the end of February when the Wildcats visit SLC.

Player of the week: Robert Upshaw

I doubt Upshaw will win the weekly award from the conference, but I just want to highlight the type numbers he's been putting up. Against Oregon and Oregon State, he averaged 12.5 points (on 50% shooting), 13.5 rebounds, and 5.5 blocks. Both Oregon schools averaged 41% shooting from 2. In the right hands, Upshaw could be an unbelievable two-way force.

Sure, his offensive game is raw. But he's a rebounding monster, and his block rate is currently the highest major conference block rate in the history of Kenpom ratings. As it is, his contributions are carrying a flawed Washington team that should be so much better. God, how much I wish that Cuonzo had him in the middle of his defense.

Game of the week: Washington State 108, Oregon 99, OT

If your only interest as a fan of Pac-12 basketball is entertainment, then you should be so, so happy that Ernie Kent is back on the sidelines. Kent joins Dana Altman, Lorenzo Romar, Steve Alford, and Andy Enfield as coaches very much wanting to play up-tempo basketball. The result? This goofy game. Five different players scored 20+ points. Wazzu went 14-24 from three and very nearly lost. Oregon averaged 1.21 points/possession and DID lose. There were only 21 turnovers in 164 possessions!

It's a shame that Oregon State hired Wayne Tinkle to go along with boring ole Larry Krystkowiak and Tad Boyle, or this conference would be really, really fun. Hey, at least the Pac-12 is the 2nd fastest major conference by adjusted tempo?

Disappointment of the week: Colorado

We've talked before in this space about Colorado's road woes, and linked to that Kenpom post that provides figures that suggest Colorado might have the biggest home/road disparity in basketball. Let's talk about it some more!

The Buffs have now lost three in a row, all away from Boulder. Granted, losing at Arizona and at Utah is entirely expected from every team in the conference. But losing to ASU, and giving the Sun Devils their first conference win? That's something a team with pre-season tournament expectations shouldn't be doing. And it brings up a larger issue.

This is Colorado's 4th year in the Pac-12. In that time, they have gone 23-6 at home. That's almost as good of a home record as Arizona over the same time frame. However, the Buffs have been 10-20 at home. That's barely better than Oregon State over the same time frame.

I don't want to suggest that this is some sort of impassible problem. Boulder sits at 5,430 feet above sea level. The Utah Utes play in Salt Lake City, at 4,327 feet, and that hasn't seemed to stop Utah from playing well on the road so far this year (although maybe that result in Tucson might prompt some skepticism?). But Colorado's situation does, to a certain extent, remind me of the situation the Colorado Rockies face trying to build a successful baseball team at altitude.

Next Week

Wednesday

Washington State at Utah, 6:00, Pac-12 Network

Thursday

Arizona at Stanford, 6:00, ESPN2
UCLA at Oregon State, 6:00, Pac-12 Network
Washington at Colorado, 6:30, Fox Sports 1
USC at Oregon, 8:00, Pac-12 Network
Arizona State at California, 8:00, Pac-12 Network

Saturday

UCLA at Oregon, 1:00, CBS
USC at Oregon State, 3:00, Pac-12 Network
Washington State at Colorado, 5:00, Pac-12 Network
Arizona at California, 7:30, Pac-12 Network
Arizona State at Stanford, 9:00, ESPNU

Sunday

Washington at Utah, 5:30, ESPNU

It's our first week of the season with every team playing two games! And the headlining game of the week is . . . Arizona at Stanford. Sigh. Believe it or not, this is probably the 2nd toughest game left on Arizona's schedule. The Wildcats of course still have to play Utah on the road. But Stanford, coming off their win over UConn, is pretty clearly the 3rd best team in the conference. I hope Arizona crushes them.

UCLA's trip to both Oregon schools should be interesting. Has UCLA turned their season around, or will they fall flat again now that they are on the road?

Also, there are enough mediocre-to-bad teams in the conference this year that it's really hard to find multiple games matching up likely NCAA tournament teams each week. I think there's only one this week unless Washington gets it together immediately. Which won't happen.