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The Morning Dish – Monday, January 4, 2016

January 4, 2016 The Morning Dish No Comments

With Sunday’s slate featuring plenty of Pac-12 games, we almost have to revisit it after taking a look a couple of days ago. And what we come away with is a conference that will be a lot of fun to watch all the way through.

The conference has some good strength, noted by five teams in the RPI top 30, eight in the top 50 and ten in the top 60. What it doesn’t have is a clear favorite, or a team whose play thus far puts them head and shoulders above everyone else. So while at first glance it may not appear that the conference has a national title contender, it has a lot of other things going for it right now.

After the first weekend of play, Oregon, who has the best RPI, is 0-1 in Pac-12 play after Oregon State beat them 70-57 in Corvallis. The Beavers are the upstart in the conference, a team whose best basketball is to come, though they also have Gary Payton II for senior leadership. Oregon is once again proof of how good a coach Dana Altman is, as they have a new look but just keep on winning.

In keeping with the rivalry theme, Arizona won at Arizona State 94-82. The Sun Devils could also be put in the “upstart” category given that they have a new head coach (who got ejected on Sunday), but this is actually a veteran team. They played well in non-conference, but now comes the true test.

Speaking of Arizona, the Wildcats probably have the most talent in the conference, and while they have just one loss – to a very good Providence team in the Wooden Legacy – they haven’t looked like a powerhouse team as they often do. Much of their best talent is young, so as the young players get better, so will the Wildcats. Just how good remains to be seen.

The team that could top the Wildcats in the talent department is California, who beat Utah 71-58 on Sunday to go to 2-0 early on. The Golden Bears have super freshmen Ivan Rabb (19 points and 10 rebounds on Sunday) and Jaylen Brown (nine points, seven rebounds), but also all-conference-caliber players in Tyrone Wallace and Jordan Mathews, as well as Jabari Bird, who came to Berkeley with some fanfare. California’s non-conference was good, but perhaps a victim of expectations as the feeling is they could have done more. Can they do much more defensively? Opponents are shooting under 37 percent from the field against them and they’re out-rebounding teams by 9.5 per game.

Utah, on the other hand, has started out 0-2, which doesn’t mean it’s time to dismiss them. Both losses were on the road, and thus far they seem to have found a way to have life after Delon Wright work out just fine. Just where they fall in the grand scheme of things after being in contention for the regular season title last year is tough to figure. This is a good team, but at first glance, not a regular season title contender like last season’s team was.

UCLA may be the enigma of the conference. The Bruins started with a loss to Monmouth, one that now doesn’t look as bad as first thought, then soundly beat Kentucky and later beat Gonzaga. They went to Washington to start Pac-12 play, and will return 0-2 after a tough overtime loss to Washington on Friday night and an 85-78 loss at Washington State on Sunday. With Isaac Hamilton (27 points on Sunday), Tony Parker, Bryce Alford (nearly a hero on Friday), Thomas Welsh and Jonah Bolden among others, UCLA doesn’t lack talent. But the Bruins thus far have looked really good or really disappointing, depending on the day.

The surprising team in the RPI is USC, who nearly went 2-0 in Washington but dropped an 87-85 decision in Seattle. It’s a game they should have won, as they led by 22, but the Huskies stormed back and won it with clutch play by Andrew Andrews. The Huskies are one of the two teams outside the top 60 in RPI, but this team has enough young talent to beat a top team later in the season. USC is in a crucial year for Andy Enfield and his staff, and progress is apparent; it’s anyone’s guess how that will translate in Pac-12 play, which is the bigger measuring stick.

Last, but not least, Colorado went to Stanford and held off the Cardinal 56-55 after nearly blowing this one. They were seemingly in control for a lot of the second half, then Stanford mounted a furious rally. Colorado looks to be bouncing back, and the return to health of big man Josh Scott (14 points and 14 rebounds on Sunday) has a lot to do with that. The Buffaloes are one more team to watch.

In all, the Pac-12 appears to have quite a race ahead. This is one time the preseason prognostications truly mean nothing, which we had an idea of beforehand. Reality has borne out that prediction, at least, up to this point.


Side Dishes

Wake Forest once again gave Louisville all they could handle, but as was the case last year the host Cardinals held off the Demon Deacons 65-57 in the ACC opener for both teams.

Ohio State improved to 2-0 in early Big Ten play by beating Illinois 75-73 behind 27 points from Marc Loving, including two late free throws that provided the margin. Illinois is 0-2, and 8-7 overall, and you wonder if this Illini team will again be very competitive but struggle to turn that into enough wins.

Oklahoma State‘s season may be about to get a little more challenging. ESPN.com reported that guard Phil Forte may be done for the season due to an elbow injury, though head coach Travis Ford told them it is not officially decided yet. Forte, the team’s leading scorer at the time of the injury, hasn’t been back on the court in the six weeks since the injury, and would apply for a medical redshirt if he is indeed done.


Tonight’s Menu

It’s a light slate in total, but there are a few featured matchups on tap that help make it a pretty good day.

  • The heavyweight battle is Oklahoma traveling to Lawrence to play Kansas in another early Big 12 showdown. Earlier, in other Big 12 action, TCU hosts West Virginia.
  • The ACC has Florida State hosting North Carolina, then arch-rivals meeting with Virginia traveling to Virginia Tech.
  • The “Best of the Rest” category for the night might be highlighted by a Canisius team that has won four straight traveling to Monmouth as part of a busy night of MAAC action.

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