Pac-12 update: Bruins among nation’s biggest busts

Perhaps no conference in the country has been tougher to figure out than the Pac-12.

UCLA was a trendy preseason pick to win the conference, yet the Bruins instead have devolved into one of the nation’s most disappointing teams. Stanford, picked to finish sixth in the league, currently has the best RPI of any team in the league.

UCLA’s demise likely assures that the Pac-12 once again will be the weakest of the six major conferences. But you shouldn’t take anything else for granted regarding this conference. The first month of the season has taught us to expect the unexpected.

Things are looking up for Mike Montgomery and Cal so far this season.
(US Presswire)
Team rankings so far
1. Arizona*
2. California*
3. Stanford*
4. Washington
5. Oregon
6. Oregon State
7. UCLA
8. Colorado
9. Washington State
10. USC
11. Arizona State
12. Utah
*—projected tournament team

Here’s a look at where the Pac-12 stands as we head into the holiday season.

You’re better than we thought you’d be: Stanford. After finishing with a losing record in each of the past two seasons, Stanford arguably is off to the hottest start of any team in the conference. Stanford opened some eyes with its wins over Oklahoma State and North Carolina State. Stanford also led Syracuse until the final three minutes of their NIT Season Tip-Off championship game matchup.

You’re in more trouble than we thought you’d be: UCLA. This one’s a no-brainer. Picked to win the conference in a preseason media poll, UCLA opened the season with double-digit losses to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee State. UCLA is 5-5 and already may have knocked itself out of any consideration for an NCAA tournament at-large bid.

We’re still not convinced: Oregon State. The Beavers are off to a nice start that includes an overtime win over Texas and a two-point loss to Vanderbilt, but we’re still not ready to say they’ve turned the corner. Not after they lost 74-60 at home to Idaho on Dec. 9. Oregon State has an outstanding turnover margin, but its poor 3-point shooting is cause for concern. The Beavers went 3-of-23 from beyond the arc against Idaho.

Top freshman so far: Washington G Tony Wroten. Wroten, a 6-foot-5 guard, is a consistent double-figure scorer who also ranks among the Pac-12 leaders in steals. Wroten needs to improve his free-throw shooting and reduce his turnovers, but he otherwise has been a huge addition for the Huskies. Wroten’s recent 23-point performance in an 86-80 loss to Duke showed glimpses of his enormous potential.

[Related: The nation’s leading scorer is no match for Cal’s Jorge Gutierrez]

Where did he come from? California G Justin Cobbs. After averaging just 10.7 minutes per game as a freshman at Minnesota, Cobbs transferred to California and sat out last season. Even though Cal’s backcourt returned first-team all-conference pick Jorge Gutierrez and 2011 Pac-10 freshman of the year Allen Crabbe, Cobbs has established a niche. He has posted a scoring average in double figures while ranking among the conference leaders in 3-point percentage, assists and assist-to-turnover ratio.

Where did he go? UCLA F Reeves Nelson. Last season, Nelson led the Bruins in scoring (13.9) and rebounding (9.1). This season, he isn’t even on the team. After being suspended from the team twice this season for insubordinate behavior, Nelson was kicked off the team for good on Dec. 9. His ongoing issues played a major role in UCLA’s dismal start.

Best non-conference win: Oregon State beat Texas 100-95 in OT. Others: Stanford beat North Carolina State 76-72, California beat Georgia 70-46.

Worst non-conference loss by an NCAA tournament contender: UCLA lost 69-58 to Loyola Marymount.

Conference play begins: Dec. 29. Oregon State at Washington, USC at California, Oregon at Washington State, UCLA at Stanford.

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Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. Follow him on Twitter. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.
Updated Sunday, Dec 18, 2011