Jones: Pac-12 sets itself up for a wild ride
Arizona, the top team in the conference and No. 4 team in the country, came within a few baskets of losing twice on its home floor.
Stanford, a league contender, is in an early 0-2 hole including a loss to doormat USC.
Meanwhile, Arizona State, a doormat from last season, has two impressive wins, one over Colorado. And Utah, a year removed from its grisly six-win season, took both ASU and Arizona to the wire on the road, proving it is no longer the conference patsy.
In one opening weekend, the Pac-12 has set itself up for a long, twisting ride over the next two months, where anyone can win or be defeated on any given day. Arizona may be a favorite, along with UCLA. Utah may be picked last, along with USC and Washington State. But there appears to be no dominant team, and nobody can pretend to know how the standings will look when March rolls around.
"This league isn't going to be easy for anyone," Arizona guard Kevin Parrom said. "Teams are going to come out and give us their best shot. We have to understand that. Everyone needs to understand that. Nobody is going to give anyone anything easy in this league."
What we have is a wide-open race, which is good and bad. It's a positive that more than two teams will likely make the NCAA Tournament. At this point, Arizona, UCLA, Colorado and Oregon all appear to have a good shot at making it, assuming they don't go drastically south over the next two months.
The parity is a good thing, as long as it's good basketball. There was plenty of it last season. Unfortunately for the Pac-12, the product was mediocre at best. And starting with the Utes, the bottom of the league stunk, taking away credibility from teams like Washington, which suffered the embarrassment of being a regular-season champion from a power league without an NCAA Tournament invite.
In many ways, the league this season has proven itself in November and December. Arizona beat Florida. UCLA beat Missouri. Oregon beat UNLV. Colorado beat Baylor. Heck, even Arizona State and Utah beat Arkansas and Boise State, respectively.
And now, the competition is playing out before our eyes.
Officiating mistakes notwithstanding, we saw a good, entertaining product in the first weekend of league play. Most of the games were competitive. Utah suffered two heartbreakers, losing by a combined four points.
And now we have juicy storylines heading into this week. Is Utah really as competitive as last week suggested? Is Arizona overrated? How can Stanford be this talented and mediocre at the same time?
Lastly, has Oregon set itself up to be a prime contender to win the league? With Arizona coming to Eugene this weekend, the Ducks can make a major statement with a win. And they have the pieces to do so, with an athletic bunch, the all-around play of E.J. Singler and an impressive infusion of freshman talent.
My advice? Get ready. This will be a long two months that will somehow seem to fly by, with most Pac-12 games carrying a lot of meaning.
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