clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Ranking Pac-12 men’s basketball teams entering conference play

pac12-college-basketball-mens-standings-rankings-projections-arizona-wildcats-ucla-asu-utah-2023 Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

The Pac-12 Conference slate technically began a few weeks back, with all 12 teams cramming a pair of games into their nonconference schedules. But for all intents and purposes, league play really starts this week and continues for the next 11 weekends.

Arizona fans are well aware of how the Wildcats are doing, having watched them post a 12-1 overall record (that includes a 1-1 mark in the Pac-12) and a No. 5 ranking in the Associated Press Top 25. But what about the rest of the league?

Despite a lack of ranked teams—Arizona and UCLA are the only ones to stay in the AP poll all season—the Pac-12 has managed nine wins over Top 25 opponents. ranks the Pac-12 as the fifth-best league among 32 Division I conferences, wedged between the Big East and ACC.

Here’s our assessment of how the Pac-12 shapes up going into the rest of conference play, as well as KenPom’s projected league record for every team:

12. Cal

Current record: 1-12, 0-2

Projected Pac-12 record: 3-17

Had it not beaten UT-Arlington last week, it was very possible Cal could have been the first power-conference team to go winless in a season in quite a long time. Going without a victory in Pac-12 play is very possible, though, especially if the Golden Bears keep having the injury luck they’ve had to this point.

Cal has only had five guys play every game, with projected starters Jalen Celestine and DeJuan Clayton yet to make their season debuts because of injury. Coach Mark Fox, who has 15 conference wins in 3-plus years, is very likely to be fired after the season.

11. Oregon State

Current record: 7-6, 1-1

Projected Pac-12 record: 5-15

If the Pac-12 gave an award for Most Improved Team, the Beavers would be runaway frontrunners. They’ve already more than doubled their 2021-22 win total of three, and their 1-point win over Washington on Dec. 1 snapped a 18-game skid against conference opponents.

Oregon State still isn’t a particularly good team, as evidenced by two losses to Portland State. But with a plodding offensive style that draws a lot fouls—the Beavers get nearly 24 percent of their points on free throws—they could muck up a few games and pull off an upset or two.

10. Washington State

Current record: 5-8, 0-2

Projected Pac-12 record: 8-12

Kyle Smith seemed to have things moving in the right direction in Pullman after winning 22 games last season, producing the Cougars’ first winning conference record since 2008 and reaching the NIT semifinals. But a mixture of roster turnover and injuries (mostly the latter) has resulted in a very disappointing start that included going 1-2 at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii over Christmas.

TJ Bamba is second in the Pac-12 in scoring, while Mohamed Gueye has the most offensive rebounds in the league and Jabe Mullins is tops in 3-point shooting. The pieces are there, WSU just hasn’t put it all together yet.

9. Stanford

Current record: 5-7, 0-2

Projected Pac-12 record: 10-10

Stanford was picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12, but one of 33 media voters had the Cardinal at the top of their poll. Probably because of the return of Freshman of the Year Harrison Ingram as well as wing Spencer Jones and the addition of guard Michael Jones from Davidson, Stanford’s first-ever graduate transfer.

But all that promise on paper hasn’t been there on the court. Stanford has yet to win consecutive games, starting 0-2 in the league for the first time in four years, and Ingram has regressed.

8. Oregon

Current record: 7-6, 1-1

Projected Pac-12 record: 11-9

It’s not uncommon for Dana Altman’s teams to go through growing pains during the early part of a season, particularly since Oregon regularly overhauls its roster from year to year. That’s not what’s happening this time, however, as the Ducks just look lost.

Fifth-year guard Will Richardson is still solid, and big man N’Faly Dante has managed to stay healthy, but overall Oregon lacks cohesiveness. Turnovers on more than 20 percent of possessions and a 65.5 percent free throw accuracy have made for some shaky offensive performances (and three home losses). That’s as many first-place votes as the Ducks got, the same number as Arizona.

7. Colorado

Current record: 8-5, 0-2

Projected Pac-12 record: 10-10

Congrats to Tad Boyle for becoming Colorado’s winningest coach, with 262, but it’s the losses the Buffaloes have suffered this year that stand out. Despite beating Tennessee in Knoxville, they’ve also lost to Grambling and UMass, as well as starting 0-2 in the league.

A 4-game win streak entering the holiday break might signal a turnaround, but as long as KJ Simpson and Tristan Da Silva are the only consistent scorers—and the team as a whole shoots horrendously at the line—Colorado will be hard-pressed to contend for the top half of the league.

6. Washington

Current record: 9-4, 1-1

Projected Pac-12 record: 8-12

It seems like Washington has pretty much the same opening 13 games of every season, dating back to the Lorenzo Romar days: beat most teams, including one or two decent ones, but also lay a couple eggs (while coming close a few other times). This time around the “good” wins included knocking off Saint Mary’s and holding serve at home against Colorado, while the “bad” losses were at home to Cal Baptist and at Oregon State (along with halftime deficits at home to North Florida, Utah Tech, Seattle and Cal Poly).

The Huskies’ offense continues to be uninspiring, though Kentucky transfer Keion Brooks has been fun to watch. The loss of big man Franck Kepnang to a season-ending injury will really impact things on the defensive end as conference play resumes.

5. USC

Current record: 10-3, 2-0

Projected Pac-12 record: 10-10

The Trojans have won six in a row, including a victory over a ranked Auburn team a week before Christmas, and since the ugly season-opening loss to Florida Gulf Coast the only blemishes were hard-fought games against Tennessee and Wisconsin in the Bahamas. All in all, a pretty solid start.

Boogie Ellis has become the go-to scorer he never managed to be at Memphis, while Drew Peterson is one of two Division I players (along with Penn State’s Jalen Pickett) averaging 13 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. If USC can learn how to rebound better as a team, as well as take care of the ball, it should finish in the top four.

4. Utah

Current record: 9-4, 2-0

Projected Pac-12 record: 12-8

The Utes have been the biggest surprise in the league, and not just because of how easily they handled Arizona. Craig Smith’s second squad is two wins shy of matching last year’s total, and they’re off to their first 2-0 start in Pac-12 play since 2017-18.

But Utah also heads into the break having lost its last two, to BYU and TCU, so some regrouping might be necessary. 7-footer Branden Carlson can be a matchup nightmare with his ability to hit 3s, but take out his 5-of-9 performance against Arizona and he’s only made 13 in 12 games, though as a team the Utes are shooting 37.2 percent from deep.

3. Arizona State

Current record: 11-2, 2-0

Projected Pac-12 record: 11-9

Which is the real ASU? The one that nearly opened the season with a home loss to Tarleton State and a few days later lost at Texas Southern; the one that then ran off nine wins in a row including neutral victories over Michigan and Creighton; or the one that lost by 37 at San Francisco last time out?

The Sun Devils have been very impressive on defense, the 97 points just allowed notwithstanding, which has helped make up for very poor offensive numbers. Four starters average double figures, but only one shoots better than 41 percent, which naturally means ASU will come out on fire offensively on New Year’s Eve against the UA.

2. Arizona

Current record: 12-1, 1-1

Projected Pac-12 record: 15-5

Arizona is the highest-ranked team in the conference, has arguably the most impressive resume to this point, and has maybe the best offense in the country. So why No. 2? Because that’s where the Wildcats were picked to finish this season, and until they face UCLA in three weeks they’ll probably stay in that spot unless the Bruins slip.

The loss at Utah could have been an anomaly, an off night, but since that’s Arizona’s only true road game to this point and it looked horrible the result carries a lot of weight. The potential is there to win another Pac-12 title, but even the most bullish UA fan has to admit there’s at least a little more uncertainty about this team than there was a year ago.


Current record: 11-2, 2-0

Projected Pac-12 record: 17-3

The preseason pick to win the league lost two straight in mid-November, causing it to fall out of the Top 10, but those were to ranked Illinois and Baylor teams in Las Vegas. Since then, the Bruins have been on a roll, winning their last eight including an impressive road/neutral sweep of ranked Maryland and Kentucky squads in a 4-day span.

This might be Mick Cronin’s best defensive squad, and the offense is clicking thanks to the combo of guards Jaylen Clark and Jaime Jaquez. The only blemish has been an inability to get to the line—UCLA’s season high in attempts (22) is three fewer than Arizona averages—which could be an issue if it has a game where the jumpers aren’t falling.