ASU Basketball: 2018 Pac-12 Power Rankings ahead of conference play

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 09: Arizona State Sun Devils mascot Sparky the Sun Devil performs during the team's quarterfinal game of the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament against the Oregon Ducks T-Mobile Arena on March 9, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Oregon won 80-57. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 09: Arizona State Sun Devils mascot Sparky the Sun Devil performs during the team's quarterfinal game of the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament against the Oregon Ducks T-Mobile Arena on March 9, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Oregon won 80-57. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /

Pac-12 play begins Sunday with the conference sporting five ranked teams in the top 20, including ASU basketball, in what should be a competitive season.

Time to buckle up. Pac-12 play is here.

Opposed to the men, the women have had a stellar non-conference season with Oregon and Stanford sporting marquee wins over top-10 teams Mississippi State, Baylor and Tennessee.

Only one team, Washington State, enter Pac-12 play with a losing record with Utah the lone remaining unbeaten at 11-0.

Five Pac-12 teams, Oregon, Stanford, California, Arizona State, and Arizona enter conference play with just one loss.

It’s going to be an insanely competitive conference season with a lot of the teams finishing in the bottom half last season markedly better this season.

Oregon and Stanford enter the Pac-12 play as the favorites thanks to an ultra-talented starting five and key additions.

They lead our Pac-12 Power Rankings.

1. Oregon Ducks (11-1)

The Ducks are currently ranked fifth in the country and dropped from their top-five position after a shocking loss to Michigan St. on Dec. 9.

Oregon bounced back two weeks later with a 82-74 victory over No. 4 Mississippi State at home. On the year, the Ducks have dominated on offense, averaging 92.6 points per game, all while holding opponents to under 62 points per game.

Oregon has five players averaging double-digit points this season with Sabrina Ionsecu leading the way with 20.0 points per game.

Ionsecu was recently named both Pac-12 and espnW player of the week after the Ducks’ victory over Mississippi St.

Alongside Ionsecu, junior Ruthy Hebard averages 16.8 points per game with an outstanding 74.1 field goal percentage on the season.

The Ducks sit at second in the Pac-12 with a 10-1 record, but are early favorites to finish back-to-back seasons as conference champions. Oregon kicks off conference play next week against Washington.

Adam Noel

2. Stanford Cardinal (9-1)

Baylor and Tennessee have a couple of things in common. First, both top-10 teams have one loss each. Second, they both fell to No. 6 Stanford.

The Cardinal’s dominance under 33-year head coach Tara VanDerveer is showing once again. They are 9-1 for the first time since 2013-2014 when Stanford made the Final Four.

Programs they were dominated by last year (lost by 24 and 12 points to Baylor and Tennessee in 2017) were beaten in back-to-back games by this season’s Cardinal.

What has been working is how sound they play and how well they shoot. Stanford averages over 18 assists per game with 14.5 turnovers, a top-20 ratio in the country.

They are shooting 40.3 percent from three (ninth-best), Stanford’s best rate since 2000.

Senior Alanna Smith has made huge strides from 2017-18. She averages 19.4 points per game (13.5 last year) while shooting over 50 percent from beyond the arc (20 percent improvement and sixth-best in the nation).

Last season, Stanford found its stride in conference play. They went 14-3 in the Pac-12 after starting 6-5.

This year, it has appeared to find its groove earlier, but the Cardinal will be continuously tested in a difficult Pac-12, especially from Jan 31-Feb 10 when they take on Cal twice, Oregon State and Oregon.

Alex Weiner

3. Oregon State Beavers (9-2)

Oregon State is a much different looking squad from last year when they put more of an emphasis on interior scoring with dynamic big Marie Gülich.

This year, the Beavers play a lot quicker and shoot from distance more. It’s a different strategy, yet the team has the same record at this point in the season as a year ago, 9-2.

Field goal percentage, assists per game, defensive rebounds, three-point percentage: Oregon State is top-10 in the country in all of these aspects, including No. 1 from beyond the arc at 43.4 percent.

Its only two losses came from Notre Dame (their only loss is to UConn) and No. 23 Texas A&M, both games on neutral courts. Redshirt sophomore Destiny Slocum leads the team in scoring (15 PPG, 43 percent from 3-point range), while junior Mikayla Pivec is still an impact player (12.9 PPG, 9.1 RPG).

– Weiner

T-4. Arizona State Sun Devils (9-2)

Arizona State was tested early this season, but it was necessary.

Two of ASU’s first four games came against currently ranked No. 7 Baylor and No. 3 Louisville. The Devils held their own during those matchups, even leading both games heading into the fourth quarter.

They didn’t win either, but they showed resilience against the game’s elite. In Pac-12 play, they’ll be tested on how well they can finish tougher opponents off, especially towards the end.

The final couple of weeks of ASU’s conference schedule is grueling. They go on the road to face the northern California schools and then finish with Oregon and Oregon State in Tempe.

The Devils will need to make sure they are in good position before that stretch, then, the postseason basically begins with that gauntlet.

ASU has taken care of business against inferior competition though. It has not lost a game to an unranked opponent.

Longtime head coach Charli Turner Thorne’s roster is improved from last season when ASU finished 10-8 in conference play. She lost nobody except Sabrina Haines (transfer), but she suffered a season-ending injury prior to conference play anyway.

The rest of last year’s tournament team is back, along with four promising freshmen. ASU hasn’t dominated in any specific category, but it has a team with good chemistry that moves the ball well and doesn’t turn it over much.

ASU has capable outside shooting led by Courtney Ekmark (37 percent shooter), good on-ball playmakers like Reili Richardson (5.4 APG) and capable scorers inside (Kianna Ibis leads the way with 12.2 PPG).


T-4. California Golden Bears (9-1)

Although Cal didn’t face heavy competition early in the season, the Golden Bears finally faced a true test on Dec. 22 against the top ranked team in the country, UConn.

Both teams entered the contest unbeaten, but the Huskies proved to be too much to handle. Despite losing their first game of the year, the Golden Bears were only narrowly defeated by a ten-point margin.

On the year, the Cal has held opponents to only 60.9 points per game and to 37.3 percent from the field.

Along with their stellar defense, the Golden Bears have outrebounded their opponents at a +8.5 rebound margin.

On the offensive side of the ball, Cal is shooting 44.4 percent from the field and average 5.8 made threes per game.

Leading the Golden Bears in scoring is center Kristine Anigwe, who is averaging 22.2 points per game. Anigwe, a senior, currently sits at fourth in Cal’s all-time scoring list with 1,849 career points with the program.

The Golden Bears now 9-1, wrap up non-conference with Harvard, then begin conference play against UCLA on Jan. 4.

– Noel

6. Utah Utes (11-0)

After reaching the second round of the WNIT last season, Utah enters conference play without a blemish at 11-0 looking to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2008-09 season.

With that said, Utah has played one of the easiest schedule among Power 5 teams with their best wins coming against Alabama and BYU.

Forward Megan Huff has emerged as one of the best forwards in the Pac-12 averaging 20.4 points per game and 9.0 rebounds per game on 52.6 percent shooting.

The Utes also have a two-time Pac-12 Freshmen of the Week player in wing Dre’Una Edwards. She’s averaging 12.4 points per game and 8.4 rebounds per game.

Utah begins Pac-12 play Sunday at Colorado before returning home to face the Arizona schools. Their Jan. 4 game against Arizona State will be a litmus test for Utah to see if they belong in the top half of the conference.

Sam Ficarro

7. USC Trojans (10-1)

After being on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble last season, USC hopes to crack the field of 64 in Mark Trakh’s second year as head coach.

The Trojans enter conference play 10-1 but, similar to last year, with no signature win. Their best opportunity was a road game at No. 23 Texas A&M but fell short 71-51.

USC is led by guards Minyon Moore and Aliyah Mazyck, who has missed time with injuries so far.

Moore is averaging 14.9 points per game, 6.6 assists per game and 5.4 rebounds per game. Mazyck averages 12.7 PPG.

USC has become more reliant on the backcourt this season after the graduation of center Kristen Simon, who averaged 17.0 PPG and 9.2 RPG. This season, the team’s leading rebounder is Moore.

USC will be tested early. After playing UCLA Sunday, the Trojans will play four straight games against ranked opponents against the Bay Area and Oregon schools. This stretch will be a good barometer of how good USC really is.

– Ficarro

8. Colorado Buffaloes (10-1)

The Colorado Buffaloes have started the 2018-2019 season winning 10 out of their first 11 games before heading into conference play.

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The Buffaloes have not played the top tier teams thus far in the season, but did play against two challenging teams: North Carolina and Miami.

The Buffs hosted the Tar Heels from North Carolina and were able to beat them 86-74. It was a good win for the Buffs, as the Tar Heels are usually a ranked team that has a history of being very talented.

Colorado had to travel down to Florida to take on the 20th-ranked Miami Hurricanes. Miami was able to come out on top 73-58, handing Colorado their only loss of the season so far.

The offensive production has came from a variety of players this season. Only two players are averaging double-digits in scoring.

Senior guard Kennedy Leonard and sophomore guard Mya Hollingshed are averaging 13.9 and 12.0 points per game respectively.

The Buffs’ defense has been a big key to their success so far this season. They are holding their opponents to 56.8 points a game on 34.6 percent shooting.

Heading into conference play the Buffs hope to finish better than 5-13 like they did last season in the Pac-12. Their first conference game will be on Dec. 30 when they host the Utah Utes.

James Malamas

9. Arizona Wildcats (10-1)

The University of Arizona women’s basketball team has started their season off on the right foot.

The Wildcats finished non-conference play with a 10-1 record and are currently tied for third in the Pac-12 based off record alone.

Although the record is impressive, the teams that the Wildcats have played so far, is not. They have not played a ranked team yet, and their only loss came against Loyola Marymount on their own floor.

Despite the tough home loss, the Wildcats showed some flashes of excellence in games winning 100-51 against Montana and 73-32 vs South Carolina State.

The Pac-12 is one of the best conferences in women’s college basketball and the competition will be a lot tougher than teams like Loyola Marymount, Montana and South Carolina State.

Arizona’s best two players is redshirt sophomore Aari McDonald and freshman Cate Reese. McDonald is a 5’7” guard who is leading the team with 24.2 points per game and even adds 6.3 rebounds to go with it.

Her season-high came in the loss against Loyola Marymount when she dropped 39 points. Reese is the second leading scorer on the team averaging 14.5 a game.

The talented freshman is almost averaging a double-double as she also pulls in 9.5 rebounds per game.

When conference play starts, the Wildcats are going to need more production out of other players than McDonald and Reese. No one else on the team is averaging double-digits.

Arizona starts conference play at home against their in-state rival Arizona State Sun Devils. Arizona will surely look to improve from their 2-16 conference record from last season, but it will be a real test.

– Malamas

10. UCLA Bruins (6-5)

The UCLA Bruins have had a rough start to their season. After finishing last season 24-7 and ranked No. 9 in the nation, the Bruins already have five losses leading to a 6-5 record.

They lost some of their best players from last year including Jordin Canada and Monique Billings who both got drafted into the WNBA.

UCLA was projected to finish sixth in the Pac-12 this season in the preseason rankings, but currently sit in 11th place only in front of Washington State.

The difficulty of the Bruins’ schedule thus far in the season is not that impressive. They have only played one ranked team that was Kentucky, and they took them to overtime before losing 75-74. They have had some bad losses against Loyola Marymount and South Florida.

There is one more non-conference game remaining for the Bruins against Cal Poly on Dec. 28 before the start of Pac-12 play. The Bruins will travel to face USC for their first conference game on Dec. 30 as UCLA is determined to turn their season around.

– Malamas

11. Washington Huskies (7-5)

Head coach Jody Wynn’s second season in Seattle is off to a better start after snagging Power 5 wins against Duke and Ohio State.

Guard Amber Melgoza continues to be one of the most under-appreciated players in the Pac-12 as she ranks seventh in points per game (18.5).

For Washington, it’s all about having a supporting cast around Melgoza so she doesn’t have to bear the scoring load. Sophomore guard Missy Johnson is the only other Husky averaging double-digits (10.4 PPG).

Washington will look to carry over their non-conference success into Pac-12 play, where they finished at the bottom of the conference with a 1-17 record last season.

It’ll be a tough start for Washington as they’ll begin Pac-12 Sunday against Washington State before hitting the road to face No. 5 Oregon and No. 11 Oregon State.

– Ficarro

12. Washington State Cougars (5-6)

It has been a bumpy start to the season to say the least for the Cougars. The team sits last in the Pac-12 with a 5-6 record and have only faced one ranked opponent to this point of the year.

Some of the positives for the group include a 44.7 field goal percentage from the field, along with a 36.7 mark from three.

On the bad side of things for Washington State, the Cougars average over 15 turnovers a game and have been outscored 212-168 in the fourth quarter of games this season.

Leading the way for the Cougars is redshirt junior Borislava Hristova, who’s averaged 21.8 points per game on 47.4 percent shooting.

Although recently the team has started to turn things around winning five out of their last seven games.

Next. ASU Basketball: Sun Devils defeat Fresno State, finish non-conference 9-2. dark

In the final game of non-conference play the duo of Alexys Swedland and Hristova combined for 54 points in a 85-59 victory over Wichita State. On Dec. 30., the Cougars open Pac-12 play against in-state rival Washington.

– Noel