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Pac-12 MBB power ratings: The shape of the season looks like Arizona


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Two games in the same city, 48 hours apart and won by teams from the same state, helped illuminate an emerging theme.

A 100-mile stretch along Interstate 10 in the Arizona desert is the apparent epicenter of Pac-12 basketball in much the same fashion that a 10-mile stretch of I-10 in Southern California was the focal point of Pac-12 football.

Two recent games in Las Vegas provided the latest evidence:

— On Saturday, the Wildcats whacked around No. 14 Indiana for their eighth victory in nine games.

After losing three NBA Draft picks off last year's powerhouse, Arizona's regression under second-year coach Tommy Lloyd is minuscule — if it exists at all.

The Wildcats are No. 1 in the nation in offensive efficiency (according to the Pomeroy ratings) and possess one of the top frontcourts with center Oumar Ballo and forward Azuolas Tubelis.

Count the Wildcats as a frontrunner for the conference title and a threat for a deep run in the NCAAs.

— On Monday, the Sun Devils edged Creighton for their 10th victory in 11 games.

After two wobbly seasons, coach Bobby Hurley has overhauled his roster, found the right chemistry and regained the momentum of his pre-COVID tenure.

With transfers Frankie Collins (Michigan), Devan Cambridge (Auburn) and Desmond Cambridge (Nevada) manning the perimeter, the Sun Devils have been unflappable in close games and airtight on defense while building an NCAA Tournament-worthy resume.

All in all, the Wildcats and Sun Devils are 18-2 (combined), own a slew of quality wins and have been two of the few bright spots for a conference struggling through the opening months.

UCLA is undoubtedly a force, while Utah's emergence cannot be overlooked. Other teams could impact the conference race.

But the Arizona schools, which struggled for traction and attention throughout the fall — and have experienced massive disruptions off the field (and court) in recent years — will help write the Pac-12 narrative through the season, and perhaps the postseason.

To the power ratings …

(NET rankings through Monday)

1. Arizona (8-1/1-1)

Last week: 2
Result: beat Indiana 89-75
Next up: vs. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Tuesday)
NET ranking: 14
Comment: Forgive us for looking ahead, but it won't take much longer to sort out the comparative strengths of the Arizona schools. The Wildcats make their annual visit to Tempe on New Year's Eve. Tipoff is 11 a.m. (Pacific). We would have preferred 11 p.m.

2. UCLA (8-2/2-0)

Last week: 1
Results: beat Denver 87-64
Next up: at Maryland (Wednesday)
NET ranking: 13
Comment: First the Terps, then Kentucky (in New York City). How will the Bruins fare on their East Coast swing? It depends on Jaylen Clark and Amari Bailey as much as Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell.

3. Arizona State (10-1/2-0)

Last week: 3
Results: beat SMU 75-57 and Creighton 73-71
Next up: vs. San Diego (Sunday)
NET ranking: 26
Comment: The fourth key perimeter piece, guard DJ Horne, is also a transfer (from Illinois State). But unlike Collins and the Cambridge brothers, Horne has a year in Hurley's system.

4. Utah (8-2/2-0)

Last week: 4
Results: beat Jacksonville State 99-58
Next up: vs. UTSA (Tuesday)
NET ranking: 17
Comment: If the current success holds, the Utes will lock up Most Improved Team honors (unofficial but not insignificant) by the middle of January.

5. USC (7-3/2-0)

Last week: 6
Results: beat Cal State Fullerton 64-50
Next up: vs. Long Beach State (Wednesday)
NET ranking: 129
Comment: Reserving judgment on the Trojans until Sunday, when they host Auburn.

6. Colorado (5-5/0-2)

Last week: 7
Results: beat Colorado State 93-65
Next up: vs. North Alabama (Thursday)
NET ranking: 48
Comment: Probably worth noting that the nonconference losses are to teams (Grambling, UMass and Boise State) with a combined record of 22-7. That's helping keep Colorado's NET ranking afloat.

7. Washington (7-3/1-1)

Last week: 5
Results: lost to Gonzaga 77-60
Next up: vs. Cal Poly (Tuesday)
NET ranking: 101
Comment: We peeked ahead to the conference schedule: The Huskies open with the L.A. schools at home, followed by the Arizona schools on the road. So their trajectory will be set early, for better or worse.

8. Oregon (5-5/1-1)

Last week: 8
Results: beat Nevada 78-65
Next up: vs. UC Riverside (Wednesday)
NET ranking: 65
Comment: The Ducks will enter conference play with little margin for error but plenty of opportunities to err. Only a handful of opponents will carry a NET-positive impact for their resume.

9. Oregon State (4-6/1-1)

Last week: 9
Results: lost to Texas A&M 72-54
Next up: vs. Seattle (Thursday)
NET ranking: 241
Comment: On the bright side, the Beavers have already exceeded their overall win total from last season and tied their conference victory total. (Yes, they were 1-19.)

10. Stanford (3-6/0-2)

Last week: 10
Results: DNP
Next up: vs. Green Bay (Friday)
NET ranking: 125
Comment: Stanford's last chance for a quality nonconference win comes Sunday in Dallas, against seventh-ranked — and seemingly vulnerable — Texas.

11. Washington State (4-5/0-2)

Last week: 11
Results: beat Northern Kentucky 68-47, lost to UNLV 74-70
Next up: vs. Baylor (Sunday)
NET ranking: 66
Comment: The Cougars were 13-of-23 from 3-point range, which should have been enough to topple the unbeaten Rebels. Alas, WSU committed 22 turnovers.

12. Cal (0-11/0-2)

Last week: 12
Results: lost to Eastern Washington 50-48 and Butler 82-58
Next up: at Santa Clara (Sunday)
NET ranking: 350
Comment: The power ratings are easier to compile when one spot is locked up, week after week after week.

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Jon Wilner
Jon Wilner's Pac-12 Hotline is brought to KSL.com through a partnership with the Bay Area News Group.

Jon Wilner has been covering college sports for decades and is an AP Top 25 football and basketball voter as well as a Heisman Trophy voter. He was named Beat Writer of the Year in 2013 by the Football Writers Association of America for his coverage of the Pac-12, won first place for feature writing in 2016 in the Associated Press Sports Editors writing contest and is a five-time APSE honoree. You can follow him on Twitter @WilnerHotline or send an email at jwilner@bayareanewsgroup.com.

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