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Pac-12 basketball status report: Which teams can make the NCAA Tournament?

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

As we enter 2019, we also enter the conference schedule for men’s basketball in the Pac-12. This season has been a disappointment of astounding proportions so far, to the point where no teams from the league are in the AP Poll and it’s a common half-joke that the Pac-12 is no longer a power conference.

While collectively the year has been disappointing, each team has a different recollection of the first two months of the season. I reached out to writers across the SB Nation family to recap their non-conference season, and to ask whether their team can make the NCAA Tournament.

Here’s our status report for every team in the Pac-12.

Arizona Wildcats (10-4, 1-0)

Arizona’s season has reflected the rest of the conference so far: disappointing and full of bizarre losses. The ‘Cats knew they’d need a rare rebuilding year this season, and results like a dogfight that got out of hand late with Gonzaga and a road win at UConn seemed to paint a picture of a scrappy team that would fight for a tourney bid. Unfortunately, December made the team look more suspect, with a tough loss at Alabama, the most brutal out-rebounding of all-time at home vs. Baylor and a near-miss at home against UC Davis. The issues are clear (rebounding, foul trouble, bench minutes)and fixable, but they absolutely need to be fixed if Arizona wants to make March Madness this season. I think the Wildcats do get in, but it won’t be until 2019-20 that UA gets a chance to make some noise in March. — Scott Moran

Arizona State Sun Devils (9-3, 0-1)

ASU had seen the highs and the lows. Seven days apart from each other the Sun Devils beat the top-ranked Kansas Jayhawks and fell to the Princeton Tigers at home. ASU may still be the best team in the Pac-12, but is that really saying much? The team has its flaws, they don’t shoot threes well and sometimes struggle to stop them. For how good freshman Luguentz Dort has been, he’s started to hit a wall. He’s not trusting his shot because that’s an area of his game that needs to get better; he’s getting to the rim with ease, however, the layups aren’t falling. The team has depth in Remy Martin, Rob Edwards, Zylan Cheatham, Romello White, Taeshon Cherry, none are alpha male scorers and I believe that hurts ASU at times. — Brady Vernon

California Golden Bears (5-8, 0-1)

Well, let me put it as nicely as possible: this has been year two of an obvious rebuilding period for the Cal Men’s basketball program. Cal doesn’t have a single senior on its roster, and its only junior who gets consistent playing time is transfer point guard Paris Austin. We have a young, talented core that could develop into something with the right coaching (which we are not sure that we have). As for this year, we could put up a fight in some unexpected games as we did in our 82-79 loss to a now 12-1 St. John’s team early in the season, but we really should be an easy win for most Pac-12 opponents. — Joshua Morgan

Colorado Buffaloes (9-4, 0-1)

Colorado entered the year with a young team looking up at a potential NCAA Tournament berth, a path that would require it to run through a soft out-of-conference schedule and finish around top 5 in the Pac-12. But as is customary for both CU teams and teams without much experience, they have struggled mostly with focus and consistency, particularly away from Boulder.

There’s hope for a quick turnaround, however. McKinley Wright is still kicking ass and it hasn’t even looked like he’s locked in. Tyler Bey is already one of the best defenders in the conference, and it looks like he’s figuring out the offensive end. The depth around them has been hit-or-miss, but it’s a deep roster that only lacks a secondary ball handler.

If the Buffs fix their defensive issues and bring more consistency, they could still be a top 4 team in the conference. That might not be good enough for the Big Dance — especially with sketchy losses weighing them down — but this team certainly has the potential to take advantage of a weak year for the Pac-12. If the resume isn’t good enough, Tad Boyle does have experience sweeping through Las Vegas. — Sam Metivier

Oregon Ducks (9-4)

Despite a star-studded recruiting class and high expectations for a Pac-12 title, Oregon has also stumbled out of the gates thus far. Despite a win over Syracuse in Madison Square Garden and solid play from Bol Bol, Oregon was still just 6-3 after the San Diego game. In that game Bol was lost for the season, and the Ducks have been visibly a bit weaker as a result. Still, only the losses to Baylor (post-Bol injury) and Texas Southern look truly bad, and the Ducks remain a Pac-12 contender with a clear path to the NCAA Tournament — Scott Moran

Oregon State Beavers (8-4)

After losing 43 games over the past two seasons combined, Oregon State’s current 8-4 record may not look all that bad from the outside looking in. The Beavers have mostly taken care of business at home — outside a tough loss to Kent State — and in their biggest national display at the Paradise Jam the squad finished in a respectable third place after a semifinal loss to Missouri. However, even with the chaos surrounding so many teams in the Pac-12 potentially working to their advantage, it seems unlikely that Oregon State has a realistic shot to make the NCAA Tournament, unless it can rattle off a string of victories somewhere in the upcoming months. — The_Coach

Stanford Cardinal (7-6, 0-1)

Stanford has 11 underclassmen, and it shows. It had Kansas on the ropes in Allen Fieldhouse, yet trailed at the half against two Big Sky schools. All in all, they’ve won every game in which they’ve been favored, and lost every game in which they were the underdog.

Losing two-time all-conference forward Reid Travis was obviously significant. Still, this team is brimming with potential. KZ Okpala and Daejon Davis run the show, but coach Jerod Haase often goes 11 deep. This seems to be a team that will get better with time. They aren’t likely to cobble together a tournament-caliber resume, but could be a sleeper come conference play. — Grant Avalon

UCLA Bruins (7-6, 1-0)

UCLA’s struggles have been perhaps the most dramatic among the traditional Pac-12 powers this season. Four-star forward Shareef O’Neal underwent heart surgery that meant he’ll likely never wear a UCLA jersey. A 7-2 start and great play from Moses Brown seemed to show that the Bruins were legit contenders in the conference, before a four-game losing streak including losses to Belmont and Liberty put the Bruins at 7-6 and cost coach Steve Alford his job. The Bruins will need a special turnaround under Murray Bartow to make the tournament, and even then, winning the conference tournament probably would be the only safe bet. — Scott Moran

USC Trojans (7-6, 1-0)

The USC basketball team has been what you could say disappointing. The Trojans came in with a talented roster and a challenging non-conference schedule. They were also projected to be one of the Pac-12 teams to get into the NCAA Tournament, however since the season started the Trojans disappointed with collapses against Nevada and Texas Tech and embarrassing performances against Oklahoma and TCU. They also dropped a game against Santa Clara which was one game they couldn’t afford to lose. Half of the struggles are due to injuries sustained to talented freshman Kevin Porter Jr., sophomore Charles O’Bannon Jr., and freshman Elijah Weaver. It also comes from USC just playing poor defense and struggling to make shots from the field. Heading into conference play USC must find a way to turn it around before it gets any worse for them. — Matthew Lowry

Utah Utes (7-6, 1-0)

Uneven is the best way to put the season to date. This is a very young, inexperienced Utah team with a ton of new players on the roster. There are some moments where you’ll see the potential show up, but it’s been inconsistent at best this season. This is a .500 ball club this year, and they’ll have plenty of learning pains as well. They’re missing a go to guy too, at least one that has consistently shown up. If Utah can find their alpha, they’ll take a step forward. As for NCAA Tournament chances, they’re virtually zero. The Utes will have to win the Pac-12 tourney to get it. This is a classic rebuild year, with the hopes they can continue to gel and get another guy or two in the next class. — Shane Roberts

Washington Huskies (9-4)

Washington has had perhaps the least discouraging non-conference schedule among those expected to contend for the conference title. The Huskies have only lost to good-to-great teams (Auburn, Minnesota, Gonzaga, Virginia Tech), and haven’t lost in Seattle yet. Unfortunately, they also haven’t beaten anybody very good, with their best wins being Texas A&M and Western Kentucky. Against a soft schedule (playing the Arizona and LA schools just once), UW is still in the hunt for the Pac-12 title, and has a decent chance of dancing come March. — Scott Moran

Washington State Cougars (7-6)

One of the weaker programs in the conference this decade, Wazzu is having another year in the doldrums under Ernie Kent. The Cougars have lost to Seattle, Montana State, Santa Clara and San Diego and an admittedly solid New Mexico State twice. None of their wins pop off the page, and it’s been hard to generate excitement for the team on the Palouse. Washington State would need to go something like 16-2 in conference to make the tournament, and I don’t think anybody will be betting on that to happen in Kent’s fifth season. — Scott Moran