We are heading down the home stretch of the Pac-12 season, and, except for Washington and Cal, we still can't tell which teams are good and which are bad.
Here's a look at how things shake out after seven weeks of conference play.
---1. Washington – The Huskies seem to be coasting a little now that the regular-season Pac-12 title apparently is in hand. They had to rally to beat Washington State and avoid their second straight loss.
---2. Arizona State – No other Pac-12 team can match the Sun Devils’ best wins – Mississippi State, Kansas, Washington -- so they stay up here despite their confounding inconsistency.
---3. Oregon State – Beating Oregon for the second time this season says something about the Beavers.
---4. Colorado – The Buffaloes are the hottest team in the conference at the moment. Credit coach Tad Boyle and guard McKinley Wright IV.
---5. Stanford – Look at Stanford’s starting lineup. Looks pretty good, doesn’t it?
Teams on the Rise
---Stanford – The Cardinal has won five of its last six games, and it demonstrated in its 24-point win over UCLA what it can do when all its key players are healthy. Stanford was without at least one important player in eight of its previous 12 conference games.
---Colorado – The Buffaloes have won five in a row, their longest Pac-12 winning streak since becoming a member of the conference in 2011-12. They have done it without much perimeter scoring. Colorado is shooting 50 percent from the field during their five-game run, but shot under 28 percent on three-pointers in three of those games.
Teams on the Skids
---Arizona – The Wildcats have lost seven in a row, their longest losing streak since 1982-83, the year before Lute Olson became head coach.
---UCLA – he Bruins’ only win in their past five games was an overtime victory over last-place Cal -- and they were happy to get that one.
Pac-12 player-of-the-year standings through seven weeks
---1. Jaylen Nowell, Washington – Nowell’s 20 points were crucial to the comeback win over Washington State, and he leads the presumptive Pac-12 regular-season champ in scoring (16.5) and assists (3.3) and is second in rebounding (5.3). He is shooting 51.5 percent from the field and is second in the Pac-12 in three-point shooting (45.1 percent).
---2. Tres Tinkle, Oregon State – Tinkle is second in the conference in scoring (20.1), fifth in rebounding (7.6), 11th in assists (4.1) and second in steals (1.7) for the second-place team.
---3. Bennie Boatwright, USC – The 6-foot-10 forward is on fire from long range, ranking third in the conference in both scoring (18.4) and three-point percentage (42.8). If the Trojans can right the ship, Boatwright will be a serious contender.
---4. Matisse Thybulle, Washington – The national leader in steals (3.29 per game), Thybulle is also second in the conference in blocks (2.1) for a team that wins with defense. However, he has only scored 12 points while shooting 2-for-10 on three-pointers in his last two games combined.
---5. KZ Okpala, Stanford – There is a reason Okpala is projected to be a first-round NBA draft pick, and there is a reason Stanford is moving up the Pac-12 standings.
Pac-12 Player of the Week
---Winner: Bennie Boatwright, USC – The 6-foot-10 forward collected 19 points (on 6-for-11 shooting) and six rebounds in the three-point loss to Stanford, then had 36 points (on 12-for-19 shooting, including 10-for-13 on three pointers) to go along with five rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal in just 29 minutes of court time in a 33-point victory over Cal.
---Runnerup: Josh Sharma, Stanford – The Cardinal’s 7-footer averaged 18.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in the sweep of USC and UCLA. By the way, Sharma was the official Pac-12 player of the week, but we'll excuse the conferene's error.
Home Is Where the Heart Isn’t
---Another confounding aspect of Pac-12 basketball this season is that the home court has not been much of an advantage. Home teams have a 42-34 record in Pac-12 games, and the 55.7 percent winning percentage is well below 66.7 percent, which is the historical winning percentage of home teams when a Division I team faces another Division I team.
Utah is the most mystifying example. You would think the Utes would have a distinct home court advantage with its elevation of 4,226 feet providing about 17 percent less oxygen than the air at sea level. But the Utes are just 3-4 at home compared with 5-1 on the road.
Utah acted on that trend by wearing its dark road uniforms in home games against Arizona and Arizona State last week. Coach Larry Krystkowiak even had the team stay at a hotel on Friday night between the games like it would on a road trip. Alas, the Utes merely split, beating slumping Arizona on Thursday but losing to Arizona State on Saturday.
Luckily for Utah, it heads back on the road this week, although its destination is Washington, which has not lost a home game all season.
---Stanford shot 51.9 percent in the first half on Saturday against UCLA, which made just 39.4 percent of its shots. Then at halftime, it was determined the rim at which Stanford shot was too loose, and both baskets were replaced. Hmm, seems a little fishy that the Cardinal got to shoot at the soft, forgiving rim, which was removed before the Bruins got a chance to target that basket.
Uh, never mind.
Stanford shot 52.3 percent in the second half, and the Bruins made just 34.4 percent.
Stat of the Week, Long-Range Department
---USC’s 6-foot-10 forward Bennie Boatwright made 10 of 13 three-point shots against Cal on Saturday. He is the only Division I player taller than 6-foot-5 who has made at least nine three-pointers in a game this season.
Stat of the Week, Short-Range Department
---Stanford center Josh Sharma made 17 of 20 field-goal attempts in the sweep of UCLA and USC. He had seven dunks while making 10 of 11 shots against UCLA, and 48 of his 98 field goals this season have been dunks.
Ugly Player Stat of the Week
---UCLA center Moses Brown made just 3 of 10 field-goal attempts and 5 of 16 free throws in last week’s games against Cal and Stanford. The 7-foot-1 freshman is shooting 35.3 percent from the foul line for the season.
Ugly Team Stat of the Week
---Arizona and UCLA, the long-time powerhouses of the conference, both have losing Pac-12 records at the moment. The last time both finished with losing conference records in the same season was . . . well, never. Since Arizona joined the conference in 1978-79 to form the Pac-10, either UCLA or Arizona (and usually both) finished with winning conference records every year.
Quotes of the Week
---“I was hoping you guys did.” – Utah guard Parker Van Dyke, when asked by the media if he had an explanation for the Utes’ inconsistency this season.
---“It’s just mental toughness. It’s a physical sport. We all experience contact. We gotta keep our minds strong and get treatment, try to stay healthy. I just try to see how my body feels, try to get as much treatment as possible. It’s not a small injury so I gotta take care of it.” – Colorado guard McKinley Wright IV, who suffered a partially torn labrum early in the season and a dislocated shoulder in mid-January that will require surgery after the season but has missed just one game and averaged 19.3 points (on 63.8 percent shooting), 5.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists over the past three games – wins over USC, Arizona State and Arizona.
Upcoming Games of the Week
---Wednesday, February 20 – Stanford (14-11, 7-6 Pac-12) at Arizona State ( 17-8, 8-5) – The Cardinal is healthy now and playing as well as anyone in the conference. You can never tell what you will get from the Sun Devils, who are squarely on the bubble for an NCAA Tournament berth.
---Thursday, February 21 – Cal (5-20, 0-13 Pac-12) at Arizona (14-12, 5-8) – The Bears have lost 14 in a row, and the Wildcats have dropped seven straight. Presumably, somebody will win on Thursday.
---Saturday, February 23 – Colorado (16-9, 7-6 Pac-12) at Washington (20-5, 11-1) – The team with the conference’s longest current winning streak (Colorado, five in a row) plays the only Pac-12 team that is unbeaten at home (Washington, 12-0).
Cal High Point of the Week
The Bears limited UCLA to 39 percent shooting last week, the first time this season Cal held a conference opponent under 42 percent from the field and just the third time it kept a Pac-12 foe under 50 percent. Nonetheless, Cal lost to the Bruins in overtime, and the Bears are still the only Division I team allowing opponents to shoot better than 50 percent for the season.