As conference play begins, Pac-12 has been promising and perplexing


Pac-12 men’s basketball teams veer into league play Friday night, and they do so off a pre-conference performance that was both promising and perplexing.

“People have had some good wins; the league’s good, there’s no doubt,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “But we’ve also had some bad losses as well.”

The November-December results were decidedly mixed. For every victory like Stanford’s breakthrough at No.

11 Texas, there’s a clunker like Cal’s home loss Sunday night to Cal State-Bakersfield.

A year ago, the league forged six teams into the NCAA tournament, tying its record high, but it seems questionable that will be repeated. Four of those six — Arizona State, UCLA, Colorado, and to some extent, Oregon — have played like lesser squads than last season, and only Utah and Washington look decisively improved among those who didn’t crash the bracket last March.

Chris Nicoll | USA TODAY Sports Images
Delon Wright is averaging 15.8 points per game

Eighth-ranked Arizona, which narrowly missed the Final Four last year, is generally seen as the favorite, but its only loss recently to UNLV had its own quirky quality. The Rebels’ three losses came by a combined 64 points to other Pac-12 teams — Stanford, Arizona State and Utah.

The No. 10 Utes have a victory against Wichita State, one of the league’s best players in guard Delon Wright, and Austrian 7-foot freshman Jakob Poeltl, whom coach Larry Krystkowiak bills as having a 7-3 wingspan and a 36-inch vertical jump.

“Heck, yeah, I’ll put our name in the hat,” Krystkowiak said, referring to Utah’s chance to contend for the title.

Washington turned heads with wins against San Diego State and Oklahoma, but whiffed against Stony Brook on Sunday night. Still, the Huskies (11-1) look like a solid contender to reach the NCAA for the first time in four seasons.

The perceived midsection of the league looks contentious, with a handful of NCAA hopefuls.

Speckled throughout the Pac-12 are teams that have faced serious rebuilding: UCLA had to replace five of its top eight scorers, Oregon State its top five, Arizona State its top three.

“I think the majority of teams in the Pac-12 don’t look to be very deep,” said UCLA’s Steve Alford, who has one of those teams. “So, trying to find those first-year players that can play with not just good health, but with good consistency, those will be keys for a lot of teams.”

Oregon, meanwhile, is 10-3 with a reshaped roster after the dismissal in the spring of three players accused of sexual assault in a messy episode in which the UO administration was roundly criticized and president Michael Gottfredson eventually resigned.

Asked about the healing process among various constituencies, Ducks coach Dana Altman said, “I’m not sure how some people feel. But I think it’s been a pretty quick process.”

Says Arizona coach Sean Miller, “To me, the coach of the year, before we ever play one conference game, is Dana Altman. I can’t believe the number of wins they have.”

This week in #pac12hoops, Conference play begins:

— Pac-12 Conference (@pac12) December 30, 2014