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Jones: Pac-12 setting itself up for wild ride

Published January 7, 2014 11:34 pm

Men's basketball • Deck_here_with_period.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If the rest of the season mirrors the first week, it will be a wild ride through the Pac-12.

If the narrative continues, the league can lay a claim to being one of the two best conferences in the country.

How many would've thought this possible three years ago when Washington won the league and didn't get a bid to the NCAA Tournament? Hint: I'm not raising my hand on this one.

In three years, the Pac-12 has gone from pauper to prince. From the cellar to the top. From prop plane to jet.

And one weekend has put it all in perspective. You had Arizona flexing its muscle as the top team in the country by holding Washington State to seven — yes seven — first-half points. You had Oregon and Utah staging one of the best games of the new year, a 70-68 overtime classic that ended in a way nobody could predict.

In Los Angeles, Steve Alford and UCLA smoked Andy Enfield and USC — scoring over 100 points and putting to rest Enfield's assertions that the Bruins play "slow." California found itself missing two starters, but went into Stanford and beat the Cardinal.

There was intriguing basketball everywhere. There were high-scoring games, and low-scoring struggles.

There were great performances like Colorado's Askia Booker, who broke out against Oregon. There were surprising upsets like Washington going on the road and stunning a good Arizona State team last Thursday night.

So what does it mean? It means that most of the conference is up for grabs. It means that we haven't learned much in one weekend.

Arizona will probably win the league. The Wildcats have a combination of size and athleticism that nobody else can match. Colorado is probably the second-best team, with a point guard in Spencer Dinwiddie who will probably be playing for NBA checks a year from now. The Ducks of Oregon will be in the mix, with a deep backcourt that can play with almost anyone.

After that, it gets muddled. Really muddled. All of which means the next two months will be must-see basketball.

There are many questions to be answered. Can UCLA stay in the top four? Can Utah win on the road and put itself in NCAA Tournament contention? Can Stanford, Washington State and Oregon State win enough games to save the jobs of Johnny Dawkins, Ken Bone and Craig Robinson? Can Jahii Carson be good enough at point guard to carry Arizona State to the Big Dance?

For the first time in a long time, the Pac-12 matters. The league is fun again. And let's be real. College basketball is a better place when the Pac-12 is a better conference. Yes, the Mountain West is good, and yes, it could lay claim to being the better league for the last few years. But does the casual basketball fan really identify with New Mexico or San Diego State? Or do they want to see UCLA or Arizona on the big stage? I think we all know the answer to that.

Welcome back, Pac-12. We missed you. The West

No. 1 Arizona (15-0)

Quite possibly the most athletic team in college basketball

No. 2 San Diego State (12-1).

You're pretty good if you can beat Kansas at the Phog

No. 3 Colorado (13-2)

Team most equipped to handle Arizona

No. 4 Oregon (13-1)

Rough trip through the Rockies

No. 5

UCLA (12-2)

Kyle Anderson may be best player in Pac-12

No. 6 Gonzaga (14-2)

Not as good as last year, but still dangerous

No. 7 New Mexico (10-3)

Faring fine without Alford

No. 8 Boise State (11-3)

Looking for second straight NCAA invite

No. 9 Utah (12-2)

Huge road games in Washington this week

No. 10 California (10-4)

Big road win over Stanford

No. 11 Utah State (11-3)

Getting Shaw back was a must

No. 12 Saint Mary's (11-4)

Have slumped, but owns a road win over Boise