After a couple of weeks off, the Weekly Wrap is back. I wish I could say that a lot has changed in the three weeks since I wrote the last one of these, but unfortunately it hasn't. The Pac-10 did finally pick up a quality out-of-conference win -- from the most unlikely of sources in USC -- but it did little to offset the perception that this is a weak Pac-10 after numerous missed opportunities.
It's a perception that's not likely to change, despite the conference now being ranked the fifth strongest nationally by kenpom.com (just ahead of the SEC, if you can believe that). If you look at the standings, it's pretty easy to see why. The conference has about five good to really good offensive teams, about five good to pretty good defensive teams, but only two that combine the two (Washington, Cal and ASU). Everyone else is good at one or the other, leading to some pretty uneven performances.
There are some big games on the slate tomorrow night: Cal at Kansas, UW vs. Texas A&M, WSU vs. LSU, and Stanford at Texas Tech. If the Pac-10 is going to get more than just a couple of bids come March, it needs to plant a seed in the minds of the committee that it's just a young conference that is getting better as the season moves along. Winning most or all of those would do wonders for the perception of the conference.
If Cal can beat Kansas -- or, at least, lose a thriller -- all of a sudden, beating Cal in conference means something.
On to the rankings! There hasn't been a lot of movement the past couple of weeks, but I have a feeling that might change by this time next week.1. Washington
Rank last week: 1
The Huskies are still on top, but I sure would feel a lot better about it if they'd actually beat someone away from Hec Ed during the nonconference season. The loss to Texas Tech was a toss-up, but losing in Los Angeles to Georgetown -- in the manner they did -- raises some serious questions about Washington's toughness without Jon Brockman in the middle.
There have been hints of it against other opponents (Montana, Cal-State Northridge), but the Huskies have been able to overwhelm those opponents with their athleticism. Not so against the Hoyas. They've got a tough one against Texas A&M tomorrow, but again, it's at home. In fact, the Huskies don't leave Hec Ed again until Jan. 8.
Bright spot: Quincy Pondexter is finally, truly, unequivocally delivering on the promise he held as one of the top recruits on the west coast lo these many years ago. (Just take a look at his individual stat rankings over at kenpom.com.) That he's not receiving more pub nationally probably is due to the lack of a signature game in a signature win for the Huskies. But if he keeps this up, it won't stay that way for long.
Question mark: Pop quiz time: Where do the Huskies rank in the Pac-10 in adjusted offensive efficiency? First? Third? Try fifth -- behind (in order) Cal, Arizona State, WSU and Oregon. This team has just frankly not been that great offensively, exceeding 1.10 points per trip just three times this year. This is something to keep an eye on, because while the Pac-10 has been bad, there are some really good defensive teams in there. USC showed this week what a great defensive team powered by a fluky shooting night can do to a good team.
Rank last week: 2
The Bears have played three games in three weeks -- their tilt with Kansas tomorrow will be their first in 13(!) days. They started off with a loss on the road to New Mexico -- certainly not a bad loss, per se, but not great for a team that many thought could be the dominant team in the Pac-10 -- then finished up with dominant wins over Iowa State at home and Pacific on the road. They haven't been on TV much in these parts, so I don't have much insight to add; I will be catching the ESPN360 replay of tomorrow's game on Wednesday, since I'll be at the WSU/LSU game.
Bright spot: Theo Robertson is back. Need I say more? An offense that's already very good will get even better -- if he can stay on the floor.
Question mark: Tomorrow night is bigger than big for Cal. If they can hang with -- or outright beat -- the Jayhawks, the Bears' ceiling likely becomes a No. 2 seed. If they get blown out? Maybe a No. 3, but more than likely a No. 4 or No. 5, since there just don't remain any chances for great wins on their schedule. (Sorry, Huskies -- you no longer qualify.)
3. Arizona State
Rank last week: 3
The Sun Devils just keep chugging along, showing that experience just might be the difference maker for this team. They did lose to Baylor at home, but only by three while giving up 69.0 effective field goal percentage. It's a loss that smacks of the kind of loss that teams featuring zone defense suffer from time to time. Of more import to me is the nice win against a good San Diego State team. Still pretty clearly the third best in the conference, and the Pac-10's best chance for a third at-large bid if they can separate themselves from fourth place once league play starts.
Bright spot: Derek Glasser has been doing his best Taylor Rochestie on steroids impersonation this year. They're similar in so many ways, but Glasser's shooting has been insane -- his offensive rating is currently 130.5 with a high assist rate. He's been better than I ever thought he could be.
Question mark: There's a saying in football that the defenses often start out in front of the offenses at the beginning of the year. Well, in college basketball it seems experience starts out in front of inexperience, and that's the case with ASU. Which makes me wonder: Will this team continue to get better? Or will they get passed by other teams that would seemingly have more talent as they gain more experience?
4. Washington State
Rank last week: 4
Well, the Cougs missed an opportunity at Gonzaga, got whipped by K-State and soundly beat Idaho and Portland State. The funny thing is that we all thought this was going to be a roller coaster. While there aren't any "good" wins on the slate, there aren't any bad losses, either. That's a pretty enormous testament to what Ken Bone is doing. If the Cougs cap the nonconference slate with a win over LSU, it has to be considered a rousing success. The Cougs are a solid No. 4 in these rankings.
Bright spot: Marcus Capers. Come back this afternoon to find out why. (We call that a teaser in the news biz!)
Question mark: The Cougs are one of those teams that feature a very good offense, but so-so defense. Hence, all the attention we pay to the defense -- it really could be the difference maker in terms of getting this team to the postseason. Signs point to the defense getting better, although some of that might be explained by simple regression in terms of opponents' 3-point shooting. We'll learn more tomorrow against a team that's as athletic as we are.
Rank last week: 9
Too big of a jump here after whipping Tennessee at home, you say? Too much value placed on one very good shooting night from a bad offensive team, you say? Well, at least they've shown that they can do it, which is a heck of a lot more than we can say for most other teams. After all, look at five through 10 in this conference and tell me who deserves to be higher than USC.
That's what I thought.
Bright spot: It's not a total fluke the Vols shot just 2-of-22 from 3-point range against the Trojans -- they're 23rd nationally in effective field goal percentage allowed (although it has been built mostly on stingy 2-point defense). Kevin O'Neil is following the Bennett rebuild blueprint to a T: Play superlative defense until the offense catches up.
Question mark: Will the offense ever catch up this year? It has been positively horrendous at times, and one good night doesn't make us believe everything is OK.
Rank last week: 6
They can't beat a decent team on the road (Mizzou, Portland) and can't beat a decent team at home (Montana, St. Mary's). I guess they get credit for nearly beating the Gaels, but I know most people were expecting a lot more out of this team -- especially Duck fans. There have even been rumblings that it's time for Ernie Kent to go. I'd like to take this moment to remind everyone that I said I thought the Ducks wouldn't be very good until next year, and I stand by that statement.
Bright spot: Freshman Jamil Wilson has a knack for rebounding (14.1 OR% and 19.3 DR%) and blocking shots (3.5%). So that's nice.
Question mark: Will Kent's job status become a distraction? Especially if they win their last two nonconference games (as they should) and then start off Pac-10 play 0-2 coming through UW and WSU on New Year's weekend (as they might)?
Rank last week: 5
The Wildcats have played the second-toughest nonconference schedule in the Pac-10, and it shows. These guys needed a patsy-filled schedule as bad as anyone, and instead they've played the likes of Wisconsin, Vandy, UNLV, Oklahoma and San Diego State -- all losses. They played tough in Maui and play well at home, but their last two games on the road have been convincing losses (OU and SDSU).
Bright spot: Jamelle Horne is rebounding like a power forward (21.3 DR%), despite being roughly the size of Klay Thompson. It's part of the reason the Wildcats have been surprisingly effective on the glass despite none of their actual big men rebounding like big men.
Question mark: Five times this year, the Wildcats have scored less than .92 points per possession (1.0 being average). Four of those five were against the good teams on their schedule. That's a scary thought heading into conference play.
Rank last week: 7
We know moral victories don't really count. But losing by one at home to Oklahoma State and by eight on the road at Northwestern -- two teams that should be in the top half of their conferences -- says something about the way Johnny Dawkins has his Cardinal fighting. They are not going to be an easy win for anyone once Pac-10 play starts.
Bright spot: Landry Fields is really good -- so good that I'd probably place him in the No. 2 spot behind Pondexter in the Pac-10 POY race at the moment.
Question mark: Will the Cardinal keep bringing their A-plus effort if they don't soon get a favorable result? They've got a chance to get one tomorrow against Texas Tech.
9. Oregon State
Rank last week: 8
No shame in losing on the road to Nebraska. But Illinois-Chicago? Really? It seemed like the Beavers finally had some things figured out after beating George Washington and Colorado. Then the pitiful effort on the defensive glass against the Flames. They now possess arguably the two worst losses in the Pac-10. This is a tough, tough team to figure.
Bright spot: The offense seems to be coming around -- above 53 effective field goal percentage in five of the last six games. That's pretty good.
Question mark: Now that the Beavers have kissed any chance of an at-large bid goodbye -- and make no mistake, that was the goal heading into the season -- will they pull it together enough to be consistently tough in the league?
Preseason rank: 10
The Bruins are yet another victim of aggressive scheduling. Normally, that's not a problem for the Bruins, but it's led to them losing six of their last seven, five of those by double digits. I'm tempted to say this could happen to anyone with enough early defections, but can you honestly picture North Carolina or Duke or Kansas sinking to these depths under their great coaches? That's what's so weird about this.
Bright spot: The Bruins really do seem to be getting better, even if it's not reflected in the win column. I watched them play Notre Dame on Saturday, and while the Irish aren't exactly a great team, they're a solid Big East squad, and the Bruins competed. They do seem like they still care.
Question mark: Just how much potential is there for the Bruins to improve? Certainly, they're not as bad as they've shown. But I just don't see the kind of talent on the floor I once did. Unless Ben Howland knows something I don't know, this is a bottom half of the conference team, even if they start playing significantly better.