ASU Basketball: 2018 Pac-12 Week 6 Power Rankings

TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 19: (L-R) Romello White
TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 19: (L-R) Romello White /

Thanks to a surprising sweep for Washington and a rivalry win for UCLA, four teams now sit on the bubble through the first week of February.

If anything, the odds just got slimmer.

Two months ago, it appeared that two teams would be locks for the NCAA Tournament: Arizona and Arizona State. Now, the same can only be said for one of those schools.

The Sun Devils, who haven’t yet won the front end of a week in conference play, dropped another close game on the road, this time at the hands of the Washington Huskies. The Huskies, who also defeated Arizona on Saturday, have become the hottest team in the Pac-12, with Mike Hopkins picking up steam as a Coach of the Year favorite in the conference.

After winning six straight, the USC Trojans dropped a key road game against their rivals in UCLA. Coming back from a late second half deficit, the Bruins rode five points in the final minute from Thomas Welsh to cap off a run that helped them remain in top third of the league standings.

Both Oregon and Utah failed to triumph last week, falling by double digits in games necessary for their hopes of making the NCAA Tournament. Now, they’ll follow Stanford in turning to the conference tournament for a final shot of hope.

According to ESPN’s “Bubble Watch,” the Pac-12 now holds four teams that have “work to do” in order to find a spot in March Madness. For those teams, this fact provides a lot of tension.

For the fans, it’s all that they could ask for.

Let’s take a look at where each team stands with the most crucial week in conference play approaching.

12. Washington State Cougars (9-13, 1-9)

The rough season continued for Ernie Kent‘s Cougars last week, as they dropped two home games against the Arizona schools by double digits.

Against the Wildcats, the Cougars were clearly outmatched on the interior, as DeAndre Ayton tallied 25 points on 11-for-12 shooting in just 25 minutes of action.

Despite coming back from an 11-point deficit in the second half against the Sun Devils, the effort came short, as costly turnovers allowed Tra Holder and Remy Martin to seal the game with easy opportunities in transition.

Although Robert Franks, Malachi Flynn and Carter Skaggs contributed solid individual performances, defensive struggles once again proved to be the Achilles heel of this team. Combined, the Wildcats and the Sun Devils shot an average of 59 percent from the floor.

The Cougars will now look to find the win column this week on the road against Oregon and Oregon State.

11. California Golden Bears (8-16, 2-9)

The Bears’ bigs finally put it together in their second conference win.

Although Wyking Jones‘ squad lacks depth, 7-footers Marcus Lee and Kingsley Okoroh have helped the Bears become the best offensive rebounding team in conference play with 14.4 per game.

Against Oregon State, the two bigs were finally able to take over the low-post, combining for 28 points and 19 rebounds in their four-point victory against the Beavers.

Justice Sueing added 11 points in the win, while freshman Darius McNeill tied a season high in conference play with 16 points.

Although much can’t be changed about this season’s fortune, positives from his young players have to keep Jones pleased with where the future lies in his program.

The Bears will now hit the road to take on the Mountain schools this week, where they’ll look to build on their promising victory from Saturday night.

10. Oregon State Beavers (11-11, 3-7)

Things haven’t been right in Corvallis.

Since their upset victory against UCLA two weeks ago, the Beavers have responded by dropping four straight, including two losses on the road last week against Stanford and California.

The Cardinal dominated the first half of Thursday’s game, utilizing Reid Travis‘ presence in the low post to create mismatches against the Beavers’ smaller guards. Due to foul trouble for the Thompson brothers and Seth Berger, the Beavers were unable to overcome a 15-point deficit by halftime.

Against Cal, the theme of foul trouble remained the same. Five Beavers recorded four fouls in the game, while two more recorded three. As a result, Wayne Tinkle‘s squad gave up an average of 77 points last week, their highest total in a week of conference play this season.

Once the conference’s top scoring defense, sloppy play and excessive aggression have kept the Beavers from returning to the level of defensive prowess they had once reached.

They’ll look to rebound from their four-game skid this week, as they return home to take on both Washington and Washington State.

9. Utah Utes (13-9, 5-6)

That might’ve done it for Utah.

After showing signs of competing for an NCAA Tournament bid last week, the idea quickly rescinded, as the Utes posted a season-low of 55 points in their double-digit loss to Colorado on the road.

The altitude in Boulder, which has been a problem for several opponents this season, took the wind of a team once again, as the Utes shot just 35 percent with no players scoring in double digits.

With six losses in conference play and nine losses overall, Larry Krystkowiak and his team will likely have to turn to the Pac-12 tournament and wins at the end of the season in order to sustain tournament hopes that were very much alive just a week ago.

The Utes will now return home with two crucial home games against Stanford and Cal this week.

8. Colorado Buffaloes (13-10, 5-6)

The Boulder elevation took another victim.

After dropping three straight, the Buffaloes returned home and put on their finest defensive performance of the season, holding the Utah Utes to just 55 points in a grindfest.

McKinley Wright led CU with 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting, while George King added 12 and Lucas Siewart chipped in 13 off the bench.

Despite the three consecutive losses, the Buffaloes again proved that they’re capable of surprising teams on any given night. Tad Boyle has been effective in his game planning and finding ways to win big games, a feat admirable enough with a majority of the roster being underclassmen.

The Buffaloes will host two more games this week, this time against Stanford and Cal.

7. Oregon Ducks (15-8, 5-5)

What a collapse.

Going into Saturday night’s matchup against Stanford, the Ducks felt that if they were able to win, they’d be able to create momentum for a late season surge.

After a solid team victory against Cal earlier in the week, the Ducks instead laid an egg, falling victim to a 96-61 drubbing at the hands of the Cardinal.

In the loss, the Ducks allowed the Cardinal to shoot a staggering 62.5 percent from the floor, with Reid Travis and Dorian Pickens combining for 45 points in the victory. It was the highest point total that Dana Altman’s squad had given up all season.

Typically, with Payton Pritchard running the point, the Ducks have been sound in terms of taking care of the ball. In an odd change of events, they coughed up the ball 15 times Saturday while only being able to tally 10 assists.

Now, that strong end of the season the Ducks are hoping for will likely require only one or two more losses at most. The pressure is on.

They’ll now get set to revive their postseason hopes this week by taking on the Washington schools at home.

More from Devils in Detail

6. Arizona State Sun Devils (17-6, 5-6)

Just when it looked like they turned the corner, it turned out they haven’t yet.

The Sun Devils fell once again in their first conference game of the week, this time on the road against the University of Washington. In that game, the Devils were limited to their fewest points in a half this season at 27, struggling to fight through the Syracuse-oriented 2-3 zone of the Huskies.

Despite overcoming a 13-point deficit, recurring late game miscues denied ASU from closing the game. With the game tied in the final four minutes of play, the Sun Devils failed to get defensive stops, as Mickey Mitchell and Romello White were unable to keep UW’s Noah Dickerson from scoring in the low-post.

On Super Bowl Sunday, the Devils rebounded, defeating Washington State on the road while shooting above 50 percent for the first time in league play. However, it didn’t provide an indication that things were to change.

ASU lost hold of a double-digit lead late in the second half, still showing similar inconsistencies on the defensive end of the floor. As a result of the split, the Sun Devils dropped out of the AP Top 25 for the first time since November.

Will this be the spark plug that they’re looking for?

They’re definitely going to need it this week, opening their most important stretch of the season with two home games against USC and UCLA.

5. Stanford Cardinal (13-11, 7-4)

It was a week of perseverance for Stanford.

Returning home after road losses against USC and UCLA, the Cardinal rebounded by knocking off both of the Oregon schools to remain in the top half of the conference standings.

Reid Travis returned to his usual form, averaging 20.5 points and 8.0 rebounds in the two victories. Dorian Pickens continued his six-game streak of scoring in double-figures, recording 15 and 25, respectively, in the two wins over the Beavers and Ducks.

With their NCAA Tournament hopes likely lying in the hands of a conference tournament championship, the Cardinal took the right step forward, remaining in the top half of the league standings. They’ll have to sustain last week’s level of play likely for the remainder of the season in order to keep moving up.

This week, the Cardinal will face their second-to-last road trip of the year, traveling to the Mountain area to take on Utah and Colorado.

4. Washington Huskies (17-6, 7-3)

Now, that was impressive.

With two games at home against the Arizona schools, most gave Mike Hopkins’ Huskies no chance of beating either team. It was an attack at their legitimacy.

Their two wins helped them earn it.

In both victories, the Huskies showed poise in their execution, rebounding from losing double-digit leads in both first halves to make big plays and close two tight games.

Albeit, they had a bit of luck on their side too.

With the game tied at 75 against Arizona, DeAndre Ayton rejected a  last-second drive from Jaylen Nowell back to the three-point line, where Dominic Green happened to be standing. He picked the ball up, let a fadeaway three fly, and it hit all net at the buzzer to give the Huskies a home swep.

Junior Noah Dickerson was named both the NCAA and Pac-12 Player of the Week, averaging a double-double with 23 points and 11.5 rebounds per game in the two victories.

Now, with already an eight-game improvement over last season, Hopkins may have just locked up Coach of the Year honors in the conference.

The Huskies will look to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive as they travel to take on the Oregon schools this week.

3. USC Trojans (17-7, 8-3)

Sometimes, rivalry games can end in the worst way possible.

Thus was the case for USC last week, being unable to hold on to a late lead and having their six-game win streak snapped in a 82-79 loss to UCLA Saturday night.

Leading by one with just over a minute remaining, it looked like the Trojans, who had held the lead for the majority of the second half, would use their recent conference momentum to close a tight game, something that they had been unable to do earlier in the season.

Instead, a missed layup and two three-pointers fell off the mark for USC in the final minute of action, walking away deprived of another game they felt they should have won.

Now, with seven games remaining, the Trojans enter a stretch crucial to their hopes of making the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season.

It’ll open up with two road games this week against the Arizona schools, who are also fighting for positioning in the big dance.

2. UCLA Bruins (16-7, 7-4)

It took guts, resiliency and promise for the Bruins to extend their hopes of keeping up in the conference standings.

Thomas Welsh delivered all of it on his birthday.

Down one with 54 seconds remaining, Welsh buried a three off a pick-and-pop to give the Bruins a three-point advantage. A few plays later, Welsh buried two free throws to keep his team’s lead at three, forcing USC into two desperation attempts on offense that led to no avail.

Since dropping three in a row, the Bruins have now responded by winning three straight, finding themselves only two games back of first place in the conference standings.

This week, they’ll have the opportunity to inch a game closer, as they’ll take on Arizona in the McKale Center Thursday night followed by Arizona State in Tempe on Saturday.

1. No. 13 Arizona Wildcats (19-5, 9-2)

In a sense, it could be attributed to bad luck. By looking at it closely, it’s easy to tell that it’s not.

Sean Miller‘s latest blast against his team’s defense came this week, as he stated that this year’s squad is the worst defensive team he’s had in his 14 years of coaching. Although it may sound exaggerated, he’s not necessarily wrong.

After Saturday’s loss to Washington, the Wildcats dropped to 106th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. In Miller’s coaching career, only his first teams at the Xavier program (2004) and the Arizona program (2010) have ranked worse in defensive efficiency.

Still, in a relatively weaker conference, the Wildcats have proven that their talent alone can overwhelm a majority of the teams. They scored 100 points in their win against Washington State, making it look like the Cougars were going up against the Monstars from Space Jam.

But, that doesn’t mean it’ll translate to their national championship hopes. The Wildcats will have to execute on defense if they want to advance far in the NCAA Tournament, and if they don’t, it’s likely that they’ll face an early exit like last year’s team.

Next: ASU Basketball: 2018 Pac-12 Week 5 Power Rankings

The pressure on Arizona to fix their defensive struggles will only grow this week, as they’ll take on two of the top three scoring offenses in the Pac-12 in two home games against UCLA and USC.