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Pac-12 Power Rankings: Can Colorado compete for the conference title?

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What do we know about the Pac-12?

NCAA Basketball: Oregon at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Tier 1: National Contender

1. Oregon Ducks

Oregon is the cream of the crop so far, even with a loss at Colorado. They’re the deepest, most talented team in the conference and they’re still learning how to play together. They have three Top-15 wins already and their only three losses have come on the road to likely NCAA Tournament teams Gonzaga, North Carolina (with Cole Anthony) and Colorado. With the next tier still figuring things out.

Tier 2: Pac-12 Contenders

2. Arizona Wildcats

According to KenPom.com, Arizona is actually rated higher nationally (#12) than Oregon (#15). I don’t really understand why that is. Arizona has played two elite teams in Baylor (#10) and Gonzaga (#9), but they lost those and a neutral-site game to St. John’s (#73). Their best win is over Illinois (#33) and they blew out Arizona State (#91). This is a very talented but very young team that is still growing together. Nico Mannion and Josh Green will figure it out, but teams will adjust to Zeke Nnaji and realize this team has no interior defense.

3. Colorado Buffaloes

Colorado would have had an argument for #1 in these power rankings but they couldn’t figure out Oregon State’s 1-3-1 zone. That highlights Colorado’s fundamental problem of having only one capable ball handler. If teams can get the ball out of McKinley Wright’s hands, the Buffs are prone to turnovers and offensive stagnation. CU will still win plenty of games on the strength of their defense — they shut down Dayton and Oregon, two elite offenses — but the Beavers may have found the blueprint to short-circuiting their offense.

4. Washington Huskies

Like Arizona, the Huskies are loaded with talented freshmen who have yet to click. Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels are as good as anyone in the conference and will get their own buckets. The defense, however, doesn’t quite look the same after Matisse Thybulle graduated. Even worse, they lack depth on the perimeter and are capable of losing to UCLA at home (yes, actually) if one of their starters misses extended action.

Tier 3: NCAA Tournament Hopefuls

5. Stanford Cardinal

Stanford has stood out in this tier because they decimated bad teams and hung tight with Butler (#5). Even if their best win is over Oklahoma (#48) on a neutral site, beating up bad teams is usually a good sign of things to come. The Cardinal play excellent team defense and contest everything without fouling; they’re also quite skilled offensively and make the most of open looks. They have a difficult schedule — they face Washington, Colorado and Oregon twice over — but they are the Pac-12’s best bet at a fifth tournament team.

6. Oregon State Beavers

Oregon State proved against Colorado that they can beat anyone at any venue. Defense and isolation scoring travel. The Beavers ride Tres Tinkle and Ethan Thompson on offense, then center various zone defenses around Kylor Kelley. Even if they’re thin beyond that trio, it’s a damn good trio and their style is quite malleable. Oregon State probably won’t make the NCAA Tournament, but they’re likely to go giant killing this season.

7. USC Trojans

USC has an impressive 12-3 record, but they haven’t played nobody, and have been blown out in their few chances against quality competition. The latest blowout was a 72-40 loss at Washington, which is, uh, yeah. Still, this team has a lot of talent. Onyeka “Big O” Okongwu has been excellent all season. Nick Rakocevic and Jonah Matthews are as solid as ever. The issue is that their guard play is sketchy, they lack shooting and the defense isn’t as good as it should be considering their length and athleticism.

Tier 4: Could Upset You

8. Utah Utes

Utah beat Kentucky and has lost to Coastal Carolina and Tulane. They are as high-variance as anyone in the country. Part of that is how young they are, the frenetic pace they play at, and that they shoot a ton of threes. They even have a star in Timmy Allen, a do-it-all wing who should scare everyone in the Pac-12. This is a very scary team who will also drop a lot of easy-ish games. Just hope they don’t hot against you.

9. Arizona State Sun Devils

I thought Arizona State would be better, but apparently losing Zylan Cheatham and Luguentz Dort was too much to cope with. Remy Martin is still cool and fun, but no one else is capable of creating shots. Even worse, no one is hitting any shots, including Martin. This team is better than they have shown so far, so they should improve as the season progresses.

Tier 5: Cover Your Eyes

10. UCLA Bruins

11. Washington State Cougars

12. California Golden Bears

These were the basement dwellers heading into the season, although it’s not hard to see which team doesn’t belong here. UCLA hiring Mick Cronin was strange then, it’s strange now, and it’s going to be a weird rebuild for them. I would bet on Cal getting back into contention at some point as well, but they’re year-one in their post-Wyking Jones rebuild, so it’s going to take some time. Washington State is what it is, it just has to hurt seeing Malachi Flynn turning into a star.