ASU Basketball: 2018 Pac-12 Week 1 Power Rankings

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 08: Shannon Evans II /

A wild opening weekend that saw ASU basketball gave further evidence that the conference crown will have to be snatched from the state of Arizona. Some surprise teams proved they may be up to the task.

Going into Pac-12 play, all eyes were focused in on the highly-anticipated matchup between Arizona and Arizona State Saturday night. With both teams being ranked for the first time since 1995, national audiences craved to learn which team would prove their claim not only for a conference title, but for a deep tournament run in March.

The battle exceeded all of its preseason hype, and after producing an early candidate for the conference’s game of the year, we learned that both teams have the necessary firepower to reach the Final Four.

Outside of Tucson, some other teams quietly established a call to change that predetermination of conference dominion. UCLA put together two dominant performances at home, while Larry Krystkowiak’s Utah Utes subsided some non-conference struggles by sweeping their opening road trip.

Meanwhile, USC and Oregon failed to provide some clarity on where they stand in the mix. Poor offensive outings for both teams were shunned by dominant performances that personified what many expected out of the two groups at the beginning of the season.

With one week of conference play ringing in the new year, let’s take a look at how all teams stand going into 2018.

12. Stanford Cardinal (6-8, 0-1)

Seven losses in non-conference play were somewhat understandable for the Cardinal, as they went through the brunt of their schedule without freshman Kezie Okpala and senior sharpshooter Dorian Pickens.

Despite both returning to the lineup, Stanford was unable to put together a victory at home against a Cal team that struggled mightily against non-Power Five opponents.

In that game, the Cardinal shot a dismal 29.4 percent from the three-point line, and hurt themselves even more by making just 17 out of their 33 tries from the free-throw stripe.

Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey have had to compile the majority of the scoring for a Stanford team that averages 73 points a game, and when they’re off, the result typically goes in a negative direction.

11. Colorado Buffaloes (6-8, 0-2)

Things have gone just as expected for Tad Boyle’s young squad in Boulder, as they opened up conference play with two tough road outings against the Oregon schools.

In those two games, the Buffaloes struggled mightily on the defensive end of the floor, allowing their opposition to shoot 51.5 percent from the floor while shooting just under 39 percent on the offensive end.

CU has found a bright spot for the future, however, in freshman guard McKinley Wright IV. Wright leads the team with 16 points per game, and can rebound and dish the ball out efficiently by tallying five rebounds and assists per game.

Expect the learning curve to continue for CU this week. The Buffaloes will be at home against No. 4 Arizona State and No. 14 Arizona, where they’ll have to learn how to manage the contrast of speed and size in a span of three nights.

10. California Golden Bears (7-7, 1-0)

Wyking Jones’ squad has struggled mightily with inconsistent efforts in his first season as head coach.

In their fourth game of the year, the Bears nearly upset then-ninth ranked Wichita State at the Maui Invitational, where junior guard Don Coleman proved to be a nightmare matchup for the Shockers. He finished with 35 points in that game, and even though Cal was unable to hold on to a double-digit lead, things looked promising for the team going forward.

That promise ended the next night.

The Bears lost to Chaminade by 24 points, where their offensive prowess and defensive pressure from the night before seemingly went out the window.

Since then, the peculiar case of this team has pursued, with a blowout loss to Central Arkansas being met with a thrilling comeback victory on the road against San Diego State.

Cal took their first game of non-conference play against Stanford, but it didn’t provide any sense of promise for this team going forward. Home games against USC and UCLA this week may tell us more about this team’s identity.

9. Washington State Cougars (8-6, 0-2)

Just a few weeks ago, it seemed that the Cougars were becoming the breakout team of the Pac-12. The team had an impressive showing at the Wooden Legacy Tournament, where junior forward Robert Franks and sophomore guard Carter Skaggs lead their team to upset victories over Saint Mary’s and San Diego State to win the tournament and extend a 6-0 start.

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That early-season momentum, however, was met with utter collapse.

The Cougars finished 1-4 through the remainder of their non-conference schedule, with blowout losses against Idaho and UC Davis. After putting out as low as 75 points in their opening six games, the Cougars averaged just 66 points per game in their four losses, where Ernie Kent’s inside-out offense failed to mask his team’s clear defensive struggles.

The Cougars have failed to right the ship in their first two Pac-12 games, as they suffered two more pummeling defeats at the hands of UCLA and USC. Defense has continued to be an issue, as Bruins guard Aaron Holiday and Elijah Stewart of USC combined for 50 points on WSU’s guards.

Righting the ship won’t get any easier for the Cougars this week, as they take on a hot Washington team at home this Saturday.

8. USC Trojans (10-5, 1-1)

USC is starting to get back on track.  

Since giving up 103 points in a home loss against Princeton, the Trojans have gone 4-1 in a span that’s included a neutral floor victory against Middle Tennessee State and a blowout win at home against Washington State.

Despite a loss at home against Washington in their Pac-12 opener, the Trojans have as much talent in their starting lineup as any the country, and their leading quartet of Chimezie Metu, Bennie Boatwright, Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart is averaging 60 points a game.

Still, that doesn’t forgive them for their past struggles.

As of right now, the Trojans are a fringe NCAA Tournament team at best. They don’t have any wins inside the RPI top-40, and their lack of motivation on the defensive end has to be concerning for a team that started out being ranked No. 10 in the AP Poll.

It’s going to take a huge conference season for the Trojans to have any chance at making the tournament, and unless they maximize the full capabilities of their talent level, their season will continue to be a disappointment.

7. Washington Huskies (11-4, 1-1)

The Huskies continue to provide a pleasant surprise to the Pac-12 this season.

After losing Markelle Fultz to the NBA and firing star recruiter Lorenzo Romar, it seemed like the Huskies would be in for a tumultuous season that would mirror last year’s team that just amounted nine total wins on the year.

Instead, Mike Hopkins’ squad has already surpassed last season’s win total and hold upset victories over Kansas and USC that have been promising for a team aspiring to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011.

Not all has been bright for the Huskies, however. They’ve had two meltdowns against quality opponents in Gonzaga and UCLA, games they lost by an average of 24 points.

Instituting the lockdown 2-3 zone from Jim Boeheim in Syracuse, Hopkins’ team has shown to be proficient in games that flow in a low-scoring, half-court pace. If teams have the ability to get out and run on the Huskies, however, it breaks down their flow and they often get winded trying to keep up with a fast-pace style.

6. Oregon Ducks (11-4, 1-1)

All is well in Eugene, as the Ducks rebounded from a 1-3 span toward the end of November to reel off five straight victories at the end of non-conference play.

Freshman Troy Brown is finally starting to assimilate into the offense, averaging 17 points and six rebounds over his past three games. Standout guard Payton Pritchard has bumped up his production to 15.4 points per game and 4 assists per game on the year, proving to be one of the top point guards in the conference.

However, without Pritchard’s production, the Ducks haven’t been able to find offense from other resources. In their conference opener against Utah, he was just limited to seven points and four turnovers, and the Ducks were limited to just 56 points on the night.

As conference play continues, it’ll be essential that the Ducks find ways to incorporate Pritchard on off-shooting nights. Reserving himself as a distributor rather than a scorer will keep the Ducks in games on a nightly basis.

5. Oregon State Beavers (9-5, 1-1)

The Beavers have one of the best combinations of front-court and back-court play in the Pac-12, and the beginning of conference play has shown just how capable each of their team can be.

Head coach Wayne Tinkle’s son, Tres, is continuing to establish himself as one of the premier players in the conference, averaging 18.2 points and just under seven rebounds per game. Tinkle’s production is matched by the output of the Thompson brothers, Stephen and Ethan, who are pouring in an additional 27 points per game to give teams a plethora of concerns on the defensive end.

Having more depth than last year’s team, the Beavers can go big or small, and their dominance proved to be too much for Colorado and almost enough for a surging Utah team.

As conference play ensues, don’t be surprised if the Beavers find themselves in the midst of a few upset opportunities due to their added versatility.

The Beavers will take on in-state rival Oregon this Friday.

4. Utah Utes (10-3, 2-0)

Maybe we shouldn’t have counted out Larry Krystowiak.

After losing All-Pac-12 forward Kyle Kuzma and three transfers in the offseason, it seemed like the Utes would be in for a year of rebuild.

Instead, Utah just stole two road games against the Oregon schools to open up conference play, where the Utes continued to show their top scoring defense in the conference by holding the two teams to 56 and 64 points respectively.

On the offensive end, the Utes have shown a similar consistent approach to the past, with five players scoring in double figures to keep an effective attack on the perimeter and inside the paint. The Utes are also at the top of the conference with a 78 percent clip from the free-throw line.

Expect the length of Utah’s defense to continue to keep them in games on a nightly basis. Krystkowiak is known to be a huge motivator for his team in big-time games, and if they continue to disrupt high-powered offenses, they could continue to find themselves atop the conference standings.

3. UCLA Bruins (11-3, 2-0)

If Bobby Hurley didn’t get Arizona State off to the start their record-setting start, Steve Alford would certainly be the lead favorite for Coach of the Year in the Pac-12.

The fiasco in China now seems to be a small blimp on what’s been a successful season on the court for the Bruins this season. After a neutral floor victory against Kentucky, the Bruins rolled in their first two Pac-12 games, crushing the Washington schools by an average of 17.5 points.

Aaron Holiday posted a career high of 33 points against the Huskies, and is continuing to exceed expectations in a spectacular breakout season. Senior big men Gyorgy Goloman and Thomas Welsh continue to lead the way down low, while freshmen Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands have shown a surprising level of maturity to exceed with additional minutes.

This week, the Bruins take on two struggling teams in Stanford and Cal, two games which they should take to remain unbeaten in conference play. Expect this team to only get better and better as time goes on. 

2. Arizona State Sun Devils (12-1, 0-1)

The hot start for the fourth-ranked Sun Devils finally came to an end Saturday night, falling in an instant classic on the road against Arizona.

Despite the loss, nothing signaled a sign of decay for the Pac-12’s biggest story this season. Tra Holder continued his case for conference Player of the Year honors with 31 points and five rebounds, while the Sun Devils showed poise to fight back after being down 12 points twice despite shooting just 38 percent on the road.

With Kimani Lawrence set to return to the rotation this week against Colorado, ASU will get another boost that they can use to bolster an already improved frontcourt. Thursday’s matchup against Colorado should give ASU the ability to tryout new lineups, but Sunday’s game against Utah will be a tough test that the Devils will have to be wary of.

1. Arizona Wildcats (11-3, 1-0)

After all the early-season drama, the 14th-ranked Wildcats are back right where everyone expected them to be in this week’s power rankings.

Their three straight losses in the Bahamas now seem to be just a blimp on the radar, as they’ve now won eight straight against the likes of Texas A&M, Alabama, Connecticut and now the last unbeaten team in college basketball in Arizona State.

Rawle Alkins’ return to the lineup has been huge for the Wildcats, as they haven’t had to rely on DeAndre Ayton and Allonzo Trier to score every single possession. Dusan Ristic is starting to match Ayton’s presence in the low-post, and the team finally seems to be getting consistent bench play out of Brandon Randolph and Dylan Smith.

Next: ASU Basketball: No. 3 Sun Devils’ burst isn’t enough against No. 17 Arizona

Although question marks lie around the backcourt and the lack of production from Emmanuel Akot, Arizona is finally starting to crack into their potential that everyone saw in the early-season. If they can reach that ceiling, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they continued to have their way through conference play.