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Saturday, November 29, 2014 | Last updated: 1:34am

Pac-12 basketball power rankings


Arizona, Oregon keeping the conference afloat



While the strength of Pac-12 basketball is still far from its glory days of the past, the sustained quality from this year’s flagship programs, Arizona and Oregon, has kept the conference afloat. Even with their strong play, though, the Pac-12 still sits right behind the Big-12 in CBSSports’ conference RPI for sixth in the nation — not overly impressive for a “Power Six” conference.

Still, the Pac-12 is miles ahead of its abysmal showing last season and No. 6 Arizona is a big reason for it.

“We deserve a lot of credit because we brought a huge nonconference resume into our conference,” head coach Sean Miller said at last Thursday’s press conference. “Just like when you don’t, you’re an anchor (to the conference). When you do, you’re able to pull everybody up. So I know we deserve some of the credit.”

With its undefeated nonconference record, the Wildcats sit second in the Ratings Percentage Index, right behind No. 1 Duke. They also have the fourth best strength of schedule.

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By Tyler Besh / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tyler Besh / Arizona Daily Wildcat Men's basketball vs ASU

Oregon’s resume isn’t quite as glamorous, with the 25th overall RPI, but the Ducks have been scorching hot since their triple overtime loss to UTEP. Seven-straight victories and three top-50 RPI wins have catapulted them to No. 16 in the AP Poll.

After Oregon’s road sweep of the Los Angeles schools, it also captured the top spot of the Power Rankings for the first time this season, and deservedly so. Now that the Ducks beat both Arizona and UCLA in their only meetings this year, the football school is in the driver’s seat for basketball as well.

With the emergence of Oregon and overall improved depth of the conference, Miller believes this is the most talented Pac-12 he’s coached in. Considering Colorado is, at the moment, firmly in ESPN’s projected NCAA Tournament field despite being 2-4 in conference and Washington is lingering just outside the bubble — Miller is probably right.

“One point that I would make is that I think our conference is really, really underrated,” he said. “[Especially] when you consider that two of our top teams (UCLA and Washington) probably aren’t getting the national credit that they deserve and the quality of their teams has really improved.

“When you take that, plus all the teams that did a great job before the conference began, I think we have one of the best conferences in the country.”

That might be a stretch, yet there’s no denying the conference has improved. No longer does the Pac-12 hold the No. 10 RPI like last season, ranking below the Atlantic 10, Missouri Valley and Conference USA. It still lacks any powerhouses besides Arizona, Oregon and possibly UCLA, but its depth has been shown throughout the first three weeks.

The conference does still contains some curious outliers — ahem, Washington — who’ve yet to decide what type of a team they are.

After a disappointing nonconference slate, with home losses to Albany and Nevada, the Huskies looked to be rounding into shape with three straight road wins. Then they beat Colorado at home by nine points Thursday and looked to be a real contender.

Until Saturday night.

Washington fell in Seattle to a Utah team that was previously winless in the conference. Despite being competitive through the first the weeks of the Pac-12 season, the Utes would be one of the aforementioned anchor teams that drag down the overall RPI.

With the Huskies’ inconsistencies, Colorado’s continued conference struggles and Arizona State exposures as a dangerous, but shallow, opponent, the Pac-12 is really reduced to only a big three. Just keep in mind the conference had a big zero last season.

Baby steps, people. Baby steps.

Rankings

1. No. 16 Oregon (16-2, 5-0) Last Week: 2
This Week: vs. WSU; vs. Wash.
Week 3: W 76-74 at USC; W 76-67 at UCLA

2. No. 6 Arizona (16-1, 4-1) LW: 3
This Week: vs. UCLA; vs. USC
Last Week: W 71-54 at ASU

3. UCLA (15-4, 5-1 Pac-12) LW: 1
This Week: at Ariz.; at ASU
Week 3: W 74-64 vs. OSU; L 76-67 vs. Oregon

4. Arizona State (14-4, 3-2) LW: 4
This Week: vs. USC; vs. UCLA
Last Week: L 71-54 vs. Arizona
5. Washington (12-6, 4-1) LW: 5
This Week: at OSU; at Oregon
Week 3: W 65-54 vs. Colo.; L 74-65 vs. Utah

6. Colorado (12-6, 2-4) LW: 6
This Week: vs. Stanford; vs. Cal
Week 3: L 64-54 at Wash.; W 58-49 at WSU

7. Stanford (11-7, 2-3) LW: 9
This Week: at Colo.; at Utah
Week 3: W 69-59 vs. Cal

8. California (10-7, 2-3) LW: 7
This Week: at Utah; at Colo.
Week 3: L 69-59 at Stanford

9. USC (8-11, 3-3) LW: 8
This Week: at ASU; at Ariz.
Week 3: L 76-74 vs. Oregon; W 69-68 vs. OSU

10. Utah (9-9, 1-5) LW: 11
This Week: vs. Cal; vs. Stanford
Week 3: L 75-65 at WSU; W 74-65 at Wash.

11. Washington State (10-8, 1-4) LW: 12
This Week: at Oregon; at OSU
Week 3: W 75-65 vs. Utah; L 58-49 vs. Colo.

12. Oregon State (10-8, 0-5) LW: 10
This Week: vs. Wash; vs. WSU
Week 3: L 74-64 at UCLA; L 69-68 at USC

-Kyle Johnson is a journalism junior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @KyleJohnsonUA.


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