Three weeks into the Pac-12 season and the league is already taking shape. Some teams are thriving, some scuffling and some doing exactly what we expected.
Oregon is in first place after beating Arizona and UCLA.
In reality I believe that UCLA or Arizona will win the league, but as of now the favorite is Oregon. Due to the schedule the Ducks control their own destiny and do not have to face the Wildcats or Bruins again. In fact, of the five teams that currently boast winning records in the league, the Ducks only have to face Washington (twice). They are done with UCLA, Arizona and ASU and obviously cannot play themselves.
How good is Oregon? Pretty darn good. They are currently 16-2 (5-0) in league and have just a handful of tough games left. Assuming no upsets (and you can’t really do that) then their toughest games appear to be the road games in the Bay Area, at Washington and at Colorado. My guess is that we are looking at a team that probably won’t lose more than four games the rest of the way.
Washington had been impressive…until they lost to Utah at home. After struggling in the preseason, the Huskies won their first four league games, including three on the road. Lorenzo Romar has transformed this team from an up-tempo run and gun offense, to a defense-first team that is more comfortable playing in the 60’s. So far the move has worked. Washington lacks polished scorers, but has long, rugged athletes. I don’t expect them to be a tournament team, but those three road wins, and five of their last seven at home, probably mean a top half finish is likely.
It’s a toss-up between Colorado and Cal. I’d actually pick Cal, because at least Colorado has looked good at times. The Buffs have played four of the top five teams in the Pac-12, losing all four and seemed to struggle mentally after the controversial loss to Arizona. The Buffs looked really good against Arizona and UCLA, while Cal has been blown out in their three league losses and also have a loss to Harvard on the books. I can still see Colorado turning things around, but Cal looks too flawed to make a run.
Although they have both lost to Oregon, UCLA and Arizona both pass the eyeball test. They have the most talent 1-10 and are among the deepest teams in the league. Although Oregon is the team to beat, the Bruins and Wildcats are the best built for deep tournament runs.
Oregon State may have the worst record, but Washington State and Utah have the least amount of talent.
KO has already been shown the door, but he probably won’t be the only one. Although many feel Ben Howland and Lorenzo Romar are coaching for their jobs, but both UCLA and Washington are thriving during the early part of league play. Oregon State’s Craig Robinson may be in big trouble. The Beavers are 0-5 in league play and in my opinion have too much talent to be in last place. Washington State’s Ken Bone and Stanford’s Johnny Dawkins are also needing a strong finish to ensure their returns. Before the season I would have also though ASU’s Herb Sendek was on the list, but between his extension and year ago and strong start, the Herbivores will have their leader back another year.
Player of the Year
A lot will depend on who ends up winning the league, but right now Shabazz Muhammad, Solomon Hill, Jahii Carson, Mark Lyons and maybe Allen Crabbe, would seem to be the leaders. Interestingly enough, Oregon may have too much balance to have a player get serious contender.
Newcomer of the Year
If we are talking top freshmen, then this is a battle between Muhammad and Carson. If transfers are also considered, then add Lyons and maybe Oregon’s Arsalan Kazemi to the list. I’d give it to Muhammad. Not only is UCLA a better team, but he is a true freshman, while Carson was a redshirt a year ago thanks to academic issues.