Pac-12 Power Rankings: Conference cannibalism is already starting

The calendar has flipped to 2023 and for college basketball that signals the official end of the nonconference season and the start of conference play.

For the Pac-12, it represents an opportunity for teams that underperformed outside the conference to right the ship and earn their way into the at-large conversation for the NCAA Tournament or do enough to win the Pac-12 Tournament and earn an automatic bid.

The Pac-12 is extremely top heavy this year. Tommy Lloyd’s Arizona Wildcats and Mick Cronin’s UCLA Bruins are two of the 10 best teams in college hoops.

Meanwhile, no one else in the league is even guaranteed a spot in the big dance. Arizona State, Utah, Oregon and USC are hanging on to aspirations of making a run and earning their way into the madness that is March.

Without further ado, here is a look at the updated Pac-12 power rankings here in the first week of 2023:

California Golden Bears (2-11) Last Week: 12

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

KenPom: 231

Next: vs. Stanford 1/6

The Golden Bears have won two of their last three games, a monumental accomplishment for a program that lost the first 11 games of the season.

Regardless, Mark Fox’s program isn’t going to be remotely competitive in the Pac-12 this year – even after defeating Colorado on New Year’s Eve.

Oregon State Beavers (7-7) Last Week: 11

Syndication: The Register Guard

KenPom: 217

Next: at Utah 1/5

Wayne Tinkle’s Oregon State squad has played competitive basketball all season, narrowly losing to USC and even defeating Washington. But this is one of the worst teams in the Pac-12 and probably will not win more than a handful of games in conference play.

Washington Huskies (9-6) (Last Week: 8)

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KenPom: 116

Next: at Arizona 1/5

Washington heads into a really tough matchup against Arizona on a three-game losing streak, having played Auburn, USC and UCLA over the last week. Mike Hopkins’ squad still has plenty of work to do, but it has a winning record despite a challenging schedule so its prospects are looking up.

Stanford Cardinal (5-9) Last Week: 10

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

KenPom: 77

Next: at Cal 1/6

Stanford is 0-4 in conference play, with losses of three, four and five points to Colorado, Arizona State and Utah, respectively. Better days may be coming for Jerod Haase’s club, but they are still on the outside looking in for an NCAA Tournament bid.

Washington State Cougars (6-9) Last Week: 9

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KenPom: 70

Next: at ASU 1/5

Wazzu lost a heartbreaker to UCLA, 67-66, before rebounding to defeat USC for its first Pac-12 victory of the season.

The Cougars have been spinning their wheels the past few years under coach Kyle Smith, but perhaps a nice win over the Trojans will give them some momentum heading into the new year.

Colorado Buffaloes (9-6) Last Week: 7

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KenPom: 65

Next: vs. Oregon 1/5

Tad Boyle’s team remains the most mystifying team in all of college basketball. An early season win over Tennessee continues to look more baffling as this team falters against mediocre opponents, including a really rough loss to Cal in their most recent contest.

They get Oregon and Oregon State next, and how they look in those contests is anyone’s guess at this point.

Oregon Ducks (8-6) Last Week: 5

Syndication: The Register Guard

KenPom: 52

Next: vs. Colorado 1/5

The Ducks are 6-2 since that three-game losing streak earlier in the season, but injuries and inconsistency plague Dana Altman’s team as it tries to get back into the NCAA Tournament at-large conversation – starting with a game against the Buffs on Thursday.

USC Trojans (11-4) Last Week: 6

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KenPom: 67

Next: at UCLA 1/5

The Trojans are 3-1 in conference play, although that record looks less impressive when looking at their opponents: wins over Cal, Oregon State and Washington, and a loss to Washington State.

Still, USC beat No. 19 Auburn a few weeks ago — and it has the talent to be very disruptive in Pac-12 play for the remainder of the season.

Arizona State Sun Devils 11-3 (Last Week: 3)

Alex Gould/The Republic

KenPom: 58

Next: vs. WSU 1/5

Arizona State’s nine-game winning streak was abruptly halted when it was boat raced by San Francisco, losing by 37 points to a team that is 0-2 in West Coast Conference play.

Bobby Hurley’s team nearly redeemed itself with a win over Arizona, but instead sits 11-3 with a precarious hold on an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.

Utah Utes (11-4) (Last Week: 4)

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

KenPom: 41

Next: vs. OSU 1/5

Utah is one of two undefeated teams in Pac-12 conference play. While three of the wins are against Washington State, Cal and Stanford, the other came against No. 4 Arizona, proving Craig Smith’s squad is well on its way to becoming a force in the conference.

As of now, they look like a team that could find themselves in the big dance if they can avoid a significant cold streak over the next few months.

UCLA Bruins (13-2) Last Week: 2

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

KenPom: 4

Next: vs. USC 1/5

UCLA has a strong argument for the top spot on this list after rattling off an impressive 10-game win streak that includes victories over Maryland and Kentucky.

The Bruins have as good a chance as anyone to get a top two seed in the NCAA Tournament and make another deep run in March Madness, much like they did in 2021.

Arizona Wildcats (13-1) Last Week: 1

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KenPom: 7

Next: vs. UW 1/5

Tommy Lloyd’s Arizona Wildcats remain at the top of my power rankings, with only a Pac-12 opening loss to Utah standing in their way of an undefeated season.

Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo each look like dark-horse player of the year candidates, and Lloyd and his squad could be well on their way to an Elite Eight or Final Four appearance this season.

Story originally appeared on Ducks Wire