- Jason King
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It's time to stop hating on the Pac-12. Or at the very least, let's tone down the criticism. The quest for the league title is as entertaining as any conference race in the country, and the parity in the Pac-12 has produced some of the closest, most entertaining games of the season. Arizona sits atop the standings with an 8-2 record. But three teams are 7-3 and five schools are 5-5. You never know what's going to happen in this conference.
1. Arizona. The Wildcats, who have won four in a row, host Cal on Sunday before traveling to Boulder for a Valentine's Day tilt with Colorado. The game is a rematch of the Jan. 3 thriller that Arizona won in a controversial finish in which officials called off a 3-pointer by Sabatino Chen that would've won the game for Colorado at the buzzer. Instead Arizona won in overtime.
2. Arizona State. The Sun Devils have won four of their past five games, including an 18-point victory over UCLA. Jahii Carson is averaging 18 points and 5.2 assists. But Arizona State wouldn't be anywhere without Carrick Felix (14.3 points, 7.9 rebounds).
3. UCLA. Larry Drew II's jumper at the buzzer propelled the Bruins to a 59-57 win over Washington on Thursday. Drew is one of the most improved players in the country. The former North Carolina point guard is averaging 7.9 assists and only 1.7 turnovers.
4. Colorado. The Buffaloes trailed for almost the entire game before rallying in the final seconds for a 48-47 win over Oregon Thursday. The victory should do wonders for Colorado's NCAA tournament résumé. Of course, it wouldn't be as big as a victory over No. 7 Arizona on Valentine's Day.
5. Stanford. The Cardinal's overall résumé may not be very glossy, but Johnny Dawkins' squad has been one of the conference's top teams during the past few weeks. Stanford had won three in a row (including a 24-point victory over Oregon) before losing 73-66 at Arizona Wednesday. No shame in that.
6. Oregon. The Ducks are just 1-3 since losing guard Dominic Artis to an undisclosed foot injury. "Dominic spreads the floor," Oregon coach Dana Altman said. "The floor has shrunk, and it's been hard to drive to the hoop." The Ducks, who play Utah Saturday, need to bounce back in a hurry before their NCAA tournament hopes come into question.
7. Washington. The Huskies have lost five of their past six games by an average of 5.4 points. All of the setbacks have come by single digits. C.J. Wilcox averages 18.1 points for a team whose NCAA tournament hopes appear to be in jeopardy. Washington has a tough game at surging USC Sunday before hosting Oregon on Wednesday. Wins in both are crucial.
8. USC. The Trojans are playing their best basketball of the season under interim coach Bob Cantu. One week after upsetting UCLA at Pauley Pavilion, USC squeaked by Washington State on Thursday and will now face a Washington team Sunday that is struggling but still dangerous.
9. Cal. The Golden Bears won consecutive games for the first time in more than a month by beating Oregon State and Oregon. But they failed to capitalize on that momentum when they lost to Arizona State on Thursday. Allen Crabbe averages 19.3 points for a squad whose next two games are against Arizona and UCLA. Uh-oh.
10. Washington State. It would've been interesting to see how the Cougars had fared if point guard Reggie Moore hadn't been kicked off the team prior to the season. Four of Washington State's past five losses have come by single digits. Its only two wins are against Oregon State and Utah. Brock Motum averages 18.2 points and 6.6 rebounds.
11. Oregon State. At 2-8, the Beavers have probably been the biggest disappointment in the Pac-12 thus far. There is a decent amount of talent on the roster but not a lot of wins to show for it. Roberto Nelson and Devon Collier combine to average 30.8 points and Eric Moreland is snaring 10.7 rebounds per contest.
12. Utah. The Utes may be in last place, but they own a pair of quality league victories over Colorado and Washington. Utah, though, is facing a brutal upcoming stretch with games against Oregon, Arizona and Arizona State. Jarred DuBois and Jordan Loveridge combine to average 24 points.
It's time to stop hating on the Pac-12. Or at the very least, let's tone down the criticism. The quest for the league title is as entertaining as any conference race in the country, and the parity in the Pac-12 has produced some of the closest, most entertaining games of the season.