The Pac-12 lacks a lot of things, like an elite team, but parity isn’t one of them.
Five schools currently sit atop the league standings with three losses, setting up for an exciting final month of conference play in which seemingly anything can happen.
You can thank the Oregon Ducks and USC Trojans for contributing to this madness. Both entered Saturday with two Pac-12 losses and a chance to create some separation heading into the second half of the conference season. Then they lost to Stanford and Colorado, respectively.
Now those four teams, along with the Arizona Wildcats, who became the first in the conference to get a road sweep, round out the three-loss club.
Right on their heels are three teams—UCLA, ASU and Cal—with four losses.
“That is the consequence of a balanced conference from top to bottom where your bottom is better, your middle is stronger, and your top is what it is,” said Arizona coach Sean Miller. “It’s exciting, it’s not a detriment. It’s not. On any given night, anybody can beat anyone and road wins are hard to come by. Those home sweeps are coveted. That’s where we’re at as a conference right now. And I think our Pac-12 conference is very healthy, and it’s going to continue to be healthy because we have some really good leadership right now.”
But who will emerge from pack and claim the conference championship?
Well, if you believe in KenPom’s analytics, it will be the Wildcats, who are projected to finish 13-5 in the conference, a game higher than Oregon and Colorado, two games better than Stanford, and three games up on USC and ASU.
Arizona’s remaining schedule is pretty soft, with only two games against KenPom Top 50 teams (Stanford and Oregon).
Arizona’s lowest win probability is Feb. 15 when it faces Stanford in Palo Alto (54 percent). The next toughest game is Feb. 27 when it plays USC in Los Angeles (66 percent win probability).
However, the most crucial game will likely be on Feb. 22 when the Wildcats host Oregon (71 percent win probability). Thursday’s tilt vs. USC is big too, though KenPom gives Arizona an 84 percent chance of winning.
The Wildcats have the No. 2 offense and No. 3 defense in the Pac-12, the most balanced team in the conference. They have seemingly shored up their biggest deficiency—rebounding—and have won four of their last five, making them arguably the hottest team in the conference in addition to the most talented.
This helps too: Six of Arizona’s last 10 games are at home, where they are 10-1 compared to 2-4 on the road. Throw in the fact that two of UA’s three conference losses are by a combined two points, and they really do look like the team to beat.
Then again, the way the Pac-12 has played out this year, it’d be foolish to expect anything to go to script.
“I never really felt when we lost a couple close games that the bottom was falling out,” Miller said. “It’s so important for us not to get too carried away with what we just did. I think the one thing that we’ve done so far is we’ve tried to take a very balanced approach and keep working on those things that have helped us win, rebound. I know it’s not fun to talk about turnovers and rebounding, but for our team, when we rebound the ball, and keep that team away from getting second shots, and we really take care of the ball, which I think is our team’s best attribute, that’s when we’re at our best.
“So that’s what gives me the most optimism as I look forward. I feel like our team is getting better on defense and our offense has stayed steady for a couple of months now.”