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Ranking Pac-12 men’s basketball teams ahead of conference play

arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-pac12-conference-rankings-nonconference-ncaa-tournament-2023-2024 Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The final season of Pac-12 Conference men’s basketball begins Thursday night, and Arizona is the preseason favorite to take one last title. Based on how the league’s 12 schools have fared to this point, that seems like a fairly safe bet.

The Wildcats are the only team ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, at No. 4, while only two others (Colorado and Utah) are even receiving votes. Overall, the league is ranked as the sixth-best in Division I, according to KenPom.com, and the most recent NCAA Tournament projection by ESPN has the Pac-12 getting four teams in.

Maybe the most telling stat for the league so far: Pac-12 schools are 1-3 against Santa Clara, the No. 116 team in the country per KenPom.

Ahead of this weekend’s opening games, here’s how the league stacks up (opponent rankings and projected records via KenPom):

1. Arizona Wildcats

Record: 9-2

Best wins: No. 7 Duke (road), No. 8 Alabama (neutral), No. 14 Wisconsin (home), No. 21 Michigan State (neutral)

Worst loss: No. 11 Florida Atlantic (neutral)

Projected Pac-12 record (finish): 18-2, 1st

Arizona played the 15th-toughest nonconference schedule in the country, per KenPom, with only three other power-conference teams facing more difficult slates. The opening-week win at Duke is one of only five true road victories for the conference in non-league play, with two of the others coming at SWAC schools. Despite losing two of the last three, including that double-overtime heartbreaker to FAU, the Wildcats are clearly in a class by themselves.

2. Washington Huskies

Record: 8-3

Best wins: No. 20 Gonzaga (home), No. 43 Xavier (neutral)

Worst loss: No. 37 Nevada (home)

Projected Pac-12 record (finish): 11-9, T-4th

Washington has the same record after 11 games as a year ago, but in 2022 that included a home loss to Cal Baptist and one at Oregon State. Losing to Nevada in Seattle isn’t ideal, but the Wolf Pack are 12-1, and beating Gonzaga more than makes up for that. The Huskies have doubled up on ex-Kentucky players, with Sahvir Wheeler making an early case for Pac-12 Player of the Year at 15.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game.

3. Utah Utes

Record: 9-2

Best wins: No. 4 BYU (home), No. 16 Wake Forest (neutral), No. 50 Saint Mary’s (road)

Worst loss: No. 43 St. John’s (neutral)

Projected Pac-12 record (finish): 13-7, 3rd

Utah has the conference’s best overall win in terms of KenPom rating and joins Arizona in having a top-50 road victory. Both of its losses are to top-50 teams, including No. 1 Houston, a 10-point margin that is the third-closest win for the Cougars. The Utes are a veteran team, with their top four scorers seniors, and with two 7-footers starting they are the tallest team in the country.

4. Colorado Buffaloes

Record: 9-2

Best wins: No. 64 Miami (neutral), No. 99 Richmond (neutral)

Worst loss: No. 97 Florida State (neutral)

Projected Pac-12 record (finish): 14-6, 2nd

Colorado has a couple decent wins and no really bad losses, though it hasn’t really been tested on its home court. Tad Boyle put together the second-easiest nonconference slate in the league and its enabled his team to build confidence. The Buffaloes are the top 3-point shooting team in the Pac-12, making 40.7 percent of their perimeter shots, and also a solid rebounding team.

5. Washington State Cougars

Record: 9-2

Best win: No. 72 Boise State (neutral)

Worst loss: No. 116 Santa Clara (neutral)

Projected Pac-12 record (finish): 10-10, 7th

WSU played by far the easiest schedule among Pac-12 teams, with only two top-100 opponents and its lone win against one coming last week in a pseudo-home atmosphere in Spokane. This light slate made sense for a team that returned less than 25 percent of its minutes from a team that went 17-17. The Cougars will hang their hat on defense, with only two opponents scoring more than 70 points.

6. Oregon Ducks

Record: 8-3

Best wins: No. 47 Michigan (home), No. 82 Georgia (neutral)

Worst loss: No. 116 Santa Clara (neutral)

Projected Pac-12 record (finish): 11-9, T-4th

Oregon has the kind of resume that could get it back to the NCAA Tournament if it finishes in the top four in the Pac-12, but the big question is whether it has a team capable of that happening. Injuries have once again wreaked havoc on the roster, with big men Nathan Bittle and N’Faly Dante combining to play just four games. Bittle and guard Jesse Zarzuela are both out for the season, leaving Dana Altman once again in a position of having to field patchwork lineups on a nightly basis, with the kind of uneven results you’d expect.

7. USC Trojans

Record: 6-5

Best wins: No. 69 Kansas State (neutral), No. 79 Seton Hall (neutral)

Worst loss: No. 124 Long Beach State (home)

Projected Pac-12 record (finish): 11-9, T-4th

Another year, another batch of talent wasted by Andy Enfield. That’s how it’s looking for USC after an abysmal pre-conference run that featured two home losses to Big West teams and only two victories over top-150 squads that are borderline NCAA teams. The recent debut of Bronny James after his scary medical situation in the summer has only added to the attention being brought on a program that has massively underutilized its roster the last few years, and 2023-24 looks no different.

8. ASU Sun Devils

Record: 6-5

Best wins: No. 51 SMU (home), No. 52 San Francisco (home)

Worst loss: No. 216 San Diego (road)

Projected Pac-12 record (finish): 7-13, 10th

ASU played the second-toughest schedule behind Arizona, with more than half its games against top-100 opponents, but went 2-4 in those matchups with all of them blowouts. And props to Bobby Hurley for being willing to play on the road against a mid-major, but losing to a sub-200 team hurts no matter where the game is played. The Sun Devils play solid defense but have no offensive flow, though getting Adam Miller eligible could help with that over time.

9. UCLA Bruins

Record: 5-6

Best win: No. 244 UC-Riverside (home)

Worst loss: No. 237 Cal State-Northridge (home)

Projected Pac-12 record (finish): 9-11, 8th

When UCLA fell to Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 it was its sixth loss of the 2022-23 season, the same number it has this season before Pac-12 play has begun. It’s been an absolute disaster of a start for the Bruins, who in addition to close losses to Marquette and Gonzaga in November also had its 29-game home win streak snapped by a sub-200 team. Mick Cronin’s team, which last picked up a top-100 win in March, has no go-to scorers and can’t defend without fouling.

10. Oregon State Beavers

Record: 8-3

Best win: No. 95 Appalachian State (home)

Worst loss: No. 44 Pittsburgh (neutral)

Projected Pac-12 record (finish): 4-16, 12th

Gill Coliseum in Corvallis is far from the most imposing place in the Pac-12 to play, but so far no one has been able to beat Oregon State on its home court. Despite needing five overtimes, the Beavers are 8-0 at home while their losses have all been by at least 16 on a neutral court. Wayne Tinkle has another young team that probably won’t win many league games, but at least they’re showing more competitiveness.

11. Stanford Cardinal

Record: 5-5

Best win: No. 171 Eastern Washington (home)

Worst loss: No. 105 Northern Iowa (neutral)

Projected Pac-12 record (finish): 8-12, 9th

Stanford hasn’t beaten anyone good and hasn’t lost to anyone that is terrible, though a 22-point neutral-court loss to a middle-of-the-pack Missouri Valley Conference team isn’t ideal. The Cardinal are just sort of there, not really standing out much in any area, though the combined 31.2 free throw attempts in their games is among the lowest in the country so at least their games don’ttake long.

12. Cal Golden Bears

Record: 4-7

Best win: No. 116 Santa Clara (home)

Worst loss: No. 348 Pacific (home)

Projected Pac-12 record (finish): 5-15, 11th

That Cal’s best win is against a team that three other Pac-12 schools have lost to is very telling both of the league and that the Golden Bears are much better than a year ago. Though that’s not saying much, since the final Mark Fox team went 3-29 and only had 11 losses decided by single digits. First-year coach Mark Madsen is much better on offense but Cal is still terrible on defense.