Skip to content

Conference Catchup: Arizona at the head of the class in Pac-12

Jan 2, 2013, 1:30 PM EST

San Diego St Arizona Basketball AP

Conference play is right around the corner, so to help you get out of that post-holiday haze, we’ll be catching you up on all the happenings in the country’s top 12 conferences. Here’s our Pac-12 Conference Catchup:

Favorite: Arizona 

This one is pretty simple, as Sean Miller’s Wildcats have the conference’s best resume to date and are ranked 3rd in the country. The debate as to whether or not Mark Lyons is a “true” point guard rages on, but the fact of the matter is that the senior is exactly what the Wildcats need from the position this season. Nick Johnson has been Arizona’s most consistent player this season and wings Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom have been factors as well. None of those three are “take charge” figures when it comes to scoring, meaning that the Wildcats need an attack-minded player like Lyons to run the show.

But there are two big questions for Arizona as they enter conference play: can they cut down on the turnovers, and will those three talented freshmen inside mature to the point where they can be consistent factors on both ends of the floor? Before tallying just eight turnovers in their win over San Diego State on Christmas night Arizona racked up at least 16 turnovers in three straight games, and there’s also that 27-turnover outing in their win over Southern Miss. If the turnovers are cut down and Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski continue to develop, Arizona can get to Atlanta.

Contenders: Colorado, Oregon and UCLA

The Wildcats are the clear favorites but that doesn’t mean there aren’t capable challengers. UCLA has the highly regarded freshmen, with Jordan Adams and Shabazz Muhammad leading the way offensively. Senior Larry Drew II has been good at the point, but the Bruins are going to need to improve a great deal of the defensive end if they’re to win the Pac-12. Colorado has the league’s best rebounder in Andre Roberson and sophomores Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie are very good guards. The key for the Buffaloes: the progression of freshman Josh Scott inside. And Oregon has an experienced front court (Arsalan Kazemi, Tony Woods) and talented freshmen Dominic Artis, Ben Carter and Damyean Dotson.

Biggest surprise: Washington State 

Arizona State is an improved team thanks in large part to the addition of point guard Jahii Carson, but the Cougars being 9-4 heading into conference play is the biggest surprise. Why? Their lone point guard, Reggie Moore, was kicked off the team before the season began and left Ken Bone searching for answers. Mike Ladd and Royce Woolridge are combining to average 5.4 assists per game, and sophomore DaVonte Lacy is talented enough to play both on and off the basketball. Brock Motum leads the way for the Cougars, and with the middle of the Pac-12 being what it is maybe Washington State can win enough games to return to postseason play (reached the CBI finals last season).

Biggest disappointment: USC 

The talented transfers and returnees have yet to mesh, leaving the Trojans as the Pac-12’s only team below .500 (5-8). One issue for Kevin O’Neil’s team has been their play on the defensive end, as USC ranks 11th in the conference in field goal percentage defense and 12th in three-point percentage defense. And while their crosstown rivals have gotten away with their defensive issues USC hasn’t been as fortunate, due to the fact that they’re also having a hard time offensively (11th in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage and 9th in three-point percentage). Eric Wise is leading the way with an average of 11.4 points per game, but he’s the lone Trojan in double figures. There is talent but is USC capable of turning things around? Not too sure right now.

Player of the Year: F Brock Motum (Washington State) 

This one’s tough because the league’s best team (Arizona) has done it with balance as opposed to having one or two stars commanding games. That could open the door for a consistent veteran like Motum (or even a freshman like Muhammad) grabbing Player of the Year honors come season’s end. Averaging 19.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, Motum’s scored 14 points or more in each of Washington State’s games despite being the first line in every opponent’s scouting report. The Australian had a stretch of five straight games of 23 points or more beginning in late November, and given the Cougars’ scoring issues (DaVonte Lacy the only other player averaging double figures) Motum will need to continue to put up points.

Best freshman: Jahii Carson (Arizona State)  

Jordan Adams has been outstanding for UCLA and there are other freshmen who have played well during the non-conference portion of the schedule (Shabazz Muhammad’s been on a roll of late), but Carson is the pick here. Why? Herb Sendek tossing the freshman point guard the keys to the car has turned Arizona State into a team that enters Pac-12 play with an 11-2 record. Carson’s averaging 17.7 points, 5.4 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game, and with him running the show the Sun Devils have played at a tempo not seen at any point during the Sendek era in Tempe. His presence has led to improved play from the likes of Carrick Felix and Jordan Bachynski, which makes ASU a team more dangerous than anticipated during the preseason.

Three Predictions

- Four teams will reach the NCAA tournament. To say the least the Pac-12 has been a disappointment over the last three seasons in this regard, as the conference has received a grand total of eight bids. With Arizona leading the way, look for the Pac-12 to have four teams in the field of 68. Could the conference earn five bids? Stanford’s “worst” loss was a home defeat at the hands of Belmont, so they may be better positioned than either Cal or Oregon State when it comes to the non-conference resume.

- Arizona at UCLA on March 2 will determine the regular season champion. When the Bruins had their issues early in the season (and no one knew when Shabazz Muhammad would be cleared) there were many, myself included, who predicted doom for Ben Howland’s team. Obviously their work on the defensive end has to improve, but UCLA will play well enough in conference play to ensure that this Saturday night affair means a great deal to both teams.

- Shabazz Muhammad will win Pac-12 Rookie of the Year. That Carson pick is made to reflect what happened throughout the non-conference slate. But come March it will be the Bishop Gorman product who wins the hardware. Over his last four games Muhammad is averaging 25.0 points per game and shooting 54.5% from the field. The rust is gone, and given UCLA’s need for more scoring given their issues on the defensive end of the floor, Muhammad’s going to have plenty of chances to put up points.

Power Rankings (* – NCAA tournament team) 

1. Arizona *
2. Colorado *
3. Oregon *
4. UCLA*
5. Stanford
6. California
7. Arizona State
8. Oregon State
9. Washington
10. Washington State
11. Utah
12. USC

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Latest Posts
  1. Pregame Shootaround: No. 6 Arizona looks to avenge lone conference loss, ‘Ivy League Friday’

    Jan 30, 2015, 2:47 PM EST

    Siyani Chambers, Anthony Thompson Siyani Chambers, Anthony Thompson

    Having already lost one game in Ivy League play, Harvard looks to bounce back with a win at Princeton.

  2. Iowa front court dealing with injuries ahead of Saturday’s game against No. 5 Wisconsin

    Jan 30, 2015, 12:50 PM EST

    AP Photo AP

    Aaron White suffered a stinger in Iowa’s loss to Purdue, and Gabe Olaseni is dealing with a sprained ankle suffered Monday.

  3. Michigan State receives $3 million gift for men’s basketball program

    Jan 30, 2015, 11:43 AM EST

    Tom Izzo AP

    The donation will be used to improve the basketball offices and practice facility, with leftover funds being used for any improvements that may need to be made down the line.

  4. Resume boost: Kansas claims final No. 1 seed

    Jan 30, 2015, 11:00 AM EST

    Bill Self AP

    Kansas’ incredibly rigorous schedule moves them to the top line in the latest update.

  5. Sluggish performance, Norman Powell drop No. 11 Utah out of Pac-12’s top spot

    Jan 30, 2015, 10:35 AM EST

    Delon Wright, Isaac Hamilton Delon Wright, Isaac Hamilton

    Thursday’s loss was a reminder of the fact that these current Utah players are still getting used to being the “hunted.”

  6. D’Angelo Russell wasn’t the only freshman to step forward for Ohio State Thursday night

    Jan 30, 2015, 9:50 AM EST

    Morehead State v Ohio State Getty Images

    While D’Angelo Russell gets most of the attention (and rightfully so), another freshman has stepped forward in the last two games for the Buckeyes.

  7. Weekend Preview: Duke-Virginia, an MVC showdown and UNC-Louisville

    Jan 30, 2015, 9:02 AM EST

    Justin Anderson AP

    The Super Bowl isn’t the only high-octane action we’ll see this weekend.

  8. Former Oregon signee JaQuan Lyle verbally commits to Ohio State

    Jan 30, 2015, 12:19 AM EST

    Kelly Kline/Under Armour Kelly Kline/Under Armour

    With Shannon Scott being a senior and D’Angelo Russell considered to be a possible lottery pick if he goes pro, JaQuan Lyle’s commitment is a nice insurance policy moving forward.

  9. POSTERIZED: Ike Nwamu’s emphatic dunk was originally called a charge (VIDEO)

    Jan 29, 2015, 10:57 PM EST

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwvjyjbiodlizwnmy2q0oge3yzm2zwrmyjq1zti2ndiw AP

    Ike Nwamu scored 20 points in the Bears’ 75-72 overtime win over Chattanooga, but should he have two (or three) more points to his credit?

  10. Thursday’s Snacks: Ohio State rolls past No. 16 Maryland

    Jan 29, 2015, 9:38 PM EST

    D'Angelo Russell, Dez Wells AP

    Providence’s Kris Dunn posted the program’s first triple-double since 2006, and UMass held off Dayton in Amherst.

  11. Big 12/SEC Challenge to be a one-day affair next season

    Jan 29, 2015, 8:44 PM EST

    Champions Classic: Kansas v. Kentucky Getty Images

    The third year of the event means an improved schedule, with all ten games being played on one day.

  12. Bradley’s leading scorer one of three players facing disciplinary action following incident Thursday morning

    Jan 29, 2015, 6:57 PM EST

    Bradley v Memphis Bradley v Memphis

    Warren Jones is averaging a team-best 13.8 points per game for Bradley, which has lost six of its last seven games.

  13. Brown’s leading scorer and rebounder decides to leave program

    Jan 29, 2015, 5:46 PM EST

    Brown v American Brown v American

    Leland King led Brown in scoring and was also tied for the team lead in rebounds per game.

  14. Duke dismisses reserve shooting guard from program

    Jan 29, 2015, 4:42 PM EST

    Duke v Louisville Getty Images

    Rasheed Sulaimon played 12 minutes in the Blue Devils’ loss at No. 8 Notre Dame Wednesday night.

  15. Chase for 180: Already a good shooter, Tyler Harvey’s been even better in 2014-15

    Jan 29, 2015, 4:15 PM EST

    Troy Williams, Tyler Harvey AP

    The Eastern Washington guard has received more attention nationally in recent weeks, and it’s well-deserved.

  16. Film Session: The case for Jerian Grant as National Player of the Year

    Jan 29, 2015, 3:28 PM EST

    Jerian Grant (AP Photo) AP

    At the very least, he’s the most valuable player in the country.

  17. Reports: Two Southern Miss players ruled ineligible by NCAA

    Jan 29, 2015, 2:30 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Donnie Tyndall’s trail of destruction in Hattiesburg continues to grow.

  18. Pregame Shootaround: A terrific matchup of talented, freshmen point guards

    Jan 29, 2015, 1:09 PM EST

    Melo Trimble Melo Trimble

    Melo Trimble vs. D’Angelo Russell will be worth the two hours.