Friday, January 23, 2009

The Week That Was: Pac-10

#16 Arizona State 53, Arizona 47
Washington 78, USC 73
Oregon State 69, California 65

In my attempt to catch up on this past week, I'm going to go conference by conference. Not all of the conferences, mind you, but only the conferences with multiple important games that really changed up the standings. And the Pac-10 was one of those conferences. Arizona State followed up that great win over UCLA by taking out rival Arizona on the road. The only problem in that game was that James Harden was still on the floor after the result was decided, and fell hard on his side. It looked pretty bad live, but Arizona State officials are insisting that Harden is fine. Arizona State fans had better hope that's true, because as I've discussed here and here, that team is barely a Tournament team without his All-American play.

The other big results this week were a very under-the-radar Washington team doing a great job of taking care of business against USC, and Cal continuing to slip a little bit from their hot start with a loss to Oregon State. So the question is, after all of this, where does the Pac-10 stand as we head into tomorrow's slate of games:

First of all, UCLA remains the team to beat in the conference. Arizona State's strong play has narrowed the gap, but I still think UCLA is the heavy favorite to take the Pac-10 regular season title. If they don't repeat, however, Arizona State is obviously the most likely team to overthrow the defending champs. Of course, UCLA isn't currently tied in first with the Sun Devils... they're tied with Washington. The Huskies have come out of nowhere to get off to a great 5-1 start to their Pac-10 season. That said, their schedule really has been quite easy. Let's see what happens when they have to go play the tough part of their Pac-10 schedule, starting with a home game tomorrow with UCLA. If Washington wants to be part of the Pac-10 championship conversation, they need to beat UCLA tomorrow.

The team that had been off to the hottest start in the Pac-10, California, has now dropped two straight. I don't think they ever were as good as some people thought they were after that 4-0 start, and the bigger issue is whether they'll make the Tournament at all. Keeping their very weak out-of-conference schedule in mind, they have already slipped to fourth place in the Pac-10 standings, and could easily fall to seventh or eighth if they're not careful. Of course, the Pac-10 is full of enigmas, including Stanford, USC and Arizona. I'm not going to go into each of their resumes in depth at this point, as I'm sure I'll end up going through them the next time I recap one of their games.

It suffices to say that the Pac-10 only has two firm Tournament teams at this point: UCLA and Arizona State. After that, you've got five teams firmly in the hunt (Cal, Stanford, Arizona, Washington, USC) and a sixth team that is still hanging in there but really is in trouble after failing in their upset bid last night (Washington State). I think we can safely say that this conference will probably end up with four or five Tournament bids, so it's going to be a wild ride as these teams try to beat each other to move up the pecking order. This might be the hardest conference to predict of all of the six major conferences.

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