Nonconference play is in the books for the Pac-12, with league play set to begin Thursday and take center stage for the next two months.
The Arizona Wildcats open their Pac-12 slate Saturday night at home against rival ASU, with the other 10 schools getting started on Thursday night.
The league finished nonconference action with a 114-40 record, a vast improvement from last year’s 92-58 mark. The .740 win percentage is the Pac-12’s best in non-league competition since the 12 schools won 78 percent of their out-of-conference games in 2015.
Arizona will play each of the other 11 Pac-12 schools at least once over the next 10 weeks. To help you get better acquainted with those squads, we’ve highlighted something notable about each.
Arizona State Sun Devils (9-4)
ASU comes to McKale Center on Saturday night, the beginning of a three-game road trip for the Sun Devils to open Pac-12 play. That’s a daunting start, but coach Bobby Hurley has managed to get the most out of his team in true road games this season.
The Devils have wins at Princeton and San Francisco and have won four consecutive road games, tied for the third-longest in Division I. That streak includes a 72-64 victory at Arizona last March.
California Golden Bears (6-7)
Former Georgia and Nevada coach Mark Fox is Cal’s third different coach in the past four seasons. The Golden Bears only won eight games last season, so improvement is already being seen despite a challenging schedule that has seen them face (and lose to) Duke, Saint Mary’s and Texas.
Cal has the worst offense and defense in the league, based on KenPom ratings, yet it excels in two distinct areas on offense: making threes and not committing live-ball turnovers. The Bears shoot 37.8 percent from outside, albeit taking a league-low 13.8 threes per game, and only 6.1 percent of their offensive possessions result in steals.
Colorado Buffaloes (11-2)
Picked to finish second in the Pac-12 behind Oregon, though each received nine first-place votes, Colorado so far is playing as expected thanks to an experienced team that returned more than 85 percent of its minutes from last season’s 23-win team.
That continuity is really bearing out on the defensive end, as the Buffaloes are holding opponents to 39.1 percent shooting. Their adjusted defense is tops in the conference, per KenPom, and the 60.5 points per game they’re allowing would be the program’s best since 1962-63.
Oregon Ducks (11-2)
The Ducks have won 21 of their last 24 games since sitting at 15-12 in late February last season. They reached the Sweet 16 as a No. 12 seed but then, like most years under coach Dana Altman, saw massive roster turnover with very little experience coming back.
So how has Oregon managed to beat top-50 teams Houston, Memphis, Michigan and Seton Hall and lose by a combined five points to Gonzaga and North Carolina in the Bahamas? There are many reasons, but the main one is Payton Pritchard.
The senior guard is averaging 18.5 points and 6.2 assists, the latter tied with Nico Mannion for the Pac-12 lead, and is shooting 51.2 percent overall and 39.7 percent from three.
Oregon State Beavers (10-2)
Oregon State is the most-experienced team in the Pac-12, starting two seniors and three juniors. Forward Tres Tinkle and guard Ethan Thompson are the most notable Beavers, and not just because their fathers are on the coaching staff, yet it’s center Kylor Kelley that may be their most important player.
A 7-foot senior, Kelley leads the Pac-12 with 4.3 blocks per game, his 52 swats 14 more than anyone else in the league. His 18.4 percent block rate leads Division I and it’s helped OSU limit foes to 44.2 percent shooting inside the arc.
Stanford Cardinal (11-2)
Stanford was off to its best start since 2007-08 before losing to Kansas at home on Sunday. That and their one-point loss to Butler in Kansas City in November were the Cardinal’s only major challenges, as their nonconference strength of schedule was among the weakest in the country.
And that lack of competition has kept Stanford’s biggest flaw from being more of a problem yet. The Cardinal turn the ball over 15.5 times per game, most in the Pac-12, and in their last four games they’ve given it away 75 times.
UCLA Bruins (7-6)
First-year coach Mick Cronin inherited a pretty crummy roster from Steve Alford, and it has showed during non-league play. The Bruins have six losses prior to Pac-12 play for the second consecutive season.
There are many reasons for this rough performance, but the most glaring issue is UCLA’s inability to defend the three-point line. Opponents are shooting 40.1 percent from beyond the arc, hitting more than eight per game, with three foes shooting 50 percent or better from three.
USC Trojans (11-2)
USC’s highly ranked recruiting class is paying instant dividends, with freshmen leading the team in scoring, rebounding, assists and blocks. Onyeka Okongwu is responsible for three of those categories, as the 6-foot-9 forward is averaging 17.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game.
Okongwu’s scoring average is sixth-best in Division I freshmen, and if he keeps it up he would be the first freshman to average 17, 9 and 3 since Seton Hall’s Eddie Griffin in 2000-01. No Trojans player has averaged those figures in last least 28 seasons.
Utah Utes (9-3)
Sophomore wing Timmy Allen had a strong freshman season in 2018-19, averaging 12.2 points per game. He’s nearly doubled that this year, leading the Pac-12 in scoring at 21 per contest.
The 6-foot-6 Allen, who is shooting 53.3 percent and also leads Utes in rebounding (7.4), has had some of his best performances in Utah’s biggest wins. He scored a career-high 27 against rival BYU, 25 against Kentucky in Las Vegas and 23 in the season-opening victory at Nevada.
Allen averaged 12.5 points on 72.7 percent in two games against Arizona last season.
Washington Huskies (10-3)
With games in Alaska, Toronto and Hawaii, it’s fair to say the Huskies have been road warriors this season. Those three trips accounted for more than 12,000 miles of travel, which will make Washington’s Pac-12 voyages to Arizona, California and the Rocky Mountains seem like day trips.
And Washington has navigated those journeys with a much faster tempo than it did last season, its average possession length of 15.2 seconds fastest in the conference. It helps that coach Mike Hopkins has a stud frontcourt duo in the form of 6-foot-9 freshmen Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels, who have combined to average 33.5 points and 14.3 rebounds.
Washington State Cougars (9-4)
A perennial Pac-12 doormat, Washington State will still likely finish at or near the bottom of the conference. But at least the Cougars are heading into league play with some momentum, winning six in a row for the first time since the start of the 2017-18 season, and their nine nonconference wins are their most since 2010-11.
First-year coach Kyle Smith faces an uphill battle rebuilding out of the rubble Ernie Kent left behind, but he secured a big win in the spring when forward CJ Elleby opted to return for his sophomore year after testing the NBA Draft waters. Elleby is averaging 20.1 points per game, third-most in the Pac-12.