Submitted by Jim Feist on Tuesday, February 28, 2017 at 12:00 AM
by Jim Feist
There's the Big 3 in Pac 12 in basketball with a string of teams battling for the top spot, Arizona, Oregon and UCLA. Here's a look at the strengths and weaknesses of some of college basketball's best teams in the Pacific 12.
Arizona: The Wildcats are a Pac 12 and national powerhouse with exceptional balance, top five in the conference in scoring and points allowed. 7-foot freshman Lauri Markkanen (15 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and fellow 7-footer junior center Dusan Ristic (11.5 ppg, 6 rpg) are a handful in the low post.
Freshmen guards Rawle Alkins (11.8 ppg) and Kobi Simmons rounds out a fabulous group on a team with five players in double-digits in scoring. They opened the season with a defensive victory over Michigan State and haven't stopped since. They even won at UCLA (96-85) showcasing their talent and versatility. Arizona is outstanding defensively and is even tops in the Pac 12 from the free throw line (79%). It's hard to find any weaknesses with this deep, young team.
Oregon: The Ducks are not shy about running, almost 80 ppg in conference play, but are also No. 2 in points allowed. Five players are in double-digits in scoring, led by 6-7 junior Dillon Brooks, sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey, plus a strong frontcourt with 6-10 senior Chris Boucher (12 ppg) and 6-9 Jordan Bell (10 ppg, 8 rpg).
After starting the season 2-2 with losses to Baylor and Georgetown, the Ducks have been on a tear, including an 85-58 whipping of Arizona. They end the regular season with three straight road contests before Pac 12 tourney play.
UCLA: What a difference a year makes! The Bruins were 15-17 last season, but an influx of young talent has turned things around during a 19-1 start. That included a 97-92 win over Kentucky. UCLA is tops in the Pac 12 in scoring by a wide margin, third in free throws and fourth in field goal shooting defense.
6-10 freshman T.J. Leaf (16.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg) does it all along with fellow freshman 6-6 guard Lonzo Ball (15 ppg, 6 rpg, 7.6 apg). Senior guards Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton (14.5 ppg) provide veteran leadership, a big plus in March. Even the future looks bright: UCLA added to its No. 2-ranked recruiting class with the commitment of four-star forward Chris Smith. Should they get another banner prepared for Pauley Pavilion?
Cal: The Golden Bears do things the old fashioned way, with a powerhouse defense, tops in the Pac 12 in points allowed and field goal defense (41%). The Big 3 on offense are 6-11 sophomore Ivan Rabb (15 ppg, 11 rpg), senior guard Jabari Bird and freshman guard Charlie Moore. Stepping up in competition has been a concern, though, with losses to Virginia, Arizona, UCLA and Oregon. They wind up the regular season with two straight road games at Utah and Colorado, part of a season ending stretch playing five of seven away.
Utah: The Utes have been winning with great defense for a while under Coach Larry Krystkowiak. Utah is on a sizzling 37-14-2 ATS spread run behind 6-5 senior Delon Wright (14.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 5.9 apg), 5-10 junior Brandon Taylor (11 ppg, 3.4 apg) and 6-6 junior Jordan Loveridge (10.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg).
Krystkowiak demands defense and they have a strong low post presence in 7-foot Jakob Poeltl (9 ppg, 7.6 rpg). Utah is 40-17-1 ATS against the Pac-12. They came up short in a loss to No. 10 Kansas (63-60) as +4 home dog and lost at No. 16 SDSU (53-49). They are looking forward to a rematch with rival Arizona this week, after losing 69-51 in the first meeting last month. The under is 17-5 in the Utes last 22 road games.
USC: The Trojans parlayed an easy early schedule into a 14-0 start before dropping four of six conference tilts. 6-11 sophomore Chimezie Metu (14 ppg, 7.5 rpg) teams with junior guard Elijah Stewart (13.7 ppg). USC is in the middle of the pack in many Pac 12 team stats. The jury is still out on how good this group is, winning 21 games last season, though they finished on a 3-8 run.
Utah: The Utes have great balance, No. 3 in the Pac 12 in scoring, No. 4 in points allowed, tops in shooting. 6-9 junior Kyle Kusma (15.8 ppg, 10 rpg) is the star, and has good support with 6-8 junior David Collette (14.6 ppg) and senior guard Lorenzo Bonam. They have the kind of experience and defense teams covet at crunch time. One weakness: Utah is dreadful from the free throw line, 63% in conference play. Think that will hurt in March?