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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 10:23 AM

We continue our periodic review of major college basketball conferences tonight with a look at the Pac 12. That conference is known for playing a Thursday heavy schedule every season, so it's fitting that our first Thursday conference breakdown will be devoted to that league.

Note that there are 4 games in the Pac 12 tonight:
Oregon State at Arizona
Utah at Stanford
Oregon at Arizona State
Colorado at California

Four teams are idle tonight but play in rivalry games on Sunday. Washington State will play at Washington, while UCLA visits USC in games that will be televised on a Fox Sports Net cable doubleheader.

The game that jumps out on the Thursday schedule to us is Utah at Stanford. That's not because it's going to be a great game. It could well be a horrible game. What's interesting to us is that we're about to see two of the biggest pointspreads we'll see all season in major conference action. Why is that?

  • Utah is a special kind of horrible this year. Ken Pomeroy's respected computer rankings have the Utes down the in the 300's...which you don't often see for a major conference team. Even the worst major teams will be in the 250's, and even that's rare relatively speaking.

  • Stanford is the second best team in the Pac 12 right now based on computer estimates.

  • California is the top team right now.

  • Stanford and California are paired together in Pac 12 schedule sequencing so that you play them both in tandem during the weekend they pop up on your schedule. If Utah is visiting Stanford tonight, they're playing California this weekend...and those are going to be among the biggest pointspreads imaginable for major conference showdowns.

Handicappers must determine if Utah is really as bad as they've looked all year. There's actually some evidence that the team is getting better. After an embarrassing 73-33 loss to Colorado to kick off PAC 12 play, Utah posted these results last weekend:

Utah (+12) upset Washington State 62-60 in overtime
Utah (+15) lost to Washington 57-53

That's a pair of double digit covers, apparently inspired by very slow tempo's and some inspired defense. You can see how little respect Utah was getting in the numbers, as big dogs at HOME. They would have been +20 and more had those games been on the road.

If you're just getting back into the swing of basketball after focusing heavily on football...this is arguably one of the most extreme developments in the sport that you need to be on top of. Utah has had a decent basketball history in recent seasons. You may have them coupled with BYU in your head in terms of "teams from Utah who can play with anybody." Throw that out the window! Utah has become a laughingstock program during an awkward transition to a new coach. You may still make money backing them, but you'd better cover your eyes.

Here's a brief breakdown of the Pac 12 entering this week's action:

  • California and Stanford are the most respected teams, and are currently slated to play in the Big Dance. ESPN's Bracketology has them seeded 9th (Stanford) and 11th (Cal) even though Pomeroy's computer has Cal as the better team at the moment. It's a strike against the league that the powers are so far off the national pace this year. It used to be a safe assumption that the Pac 12 champ would have a great seed in the Dance, and be on the short list of potential champions. The Pac 12 may have become what the Atlantic 10 used to be in terms of the tourney.

  • Arizona and Colorado are both bubble teams right now. Bracketology has Colorado as a projected 14th seed. But, major conference teams never actually get bids that low. Arizona is among the first four out of the Dance in terms of ESPN's projections. They weren't helped at all by a loss to UCLA last weekend. Pomeroy has Arizona rated MUCH higher than Colorado because of strength of schedule.

  • Colorado is actually an interesting case. Pomeroy has them down around the 100th mark this week...which isn't even NIT caliber. What's going on? How can ESPN have them in the Dance, but a respected computer have them way off the pace? Colorado's schedule has been so weak that they don't get any credit in the field of analytics for the games they've won. ESPN looks at won-lost records, and the general respect that each conference gets in the selection process.

If you see:
Colorado 11-4 overall
Colorado 3-0 in Pac 12 play
Colorado +67 in Pac 12 scoring margin

It's easy to imagine a national power brewing. The losses were to Wyoming, Colorado State, Maryland, and Wichita State. Colorado has wins of 5 and 6 points over Texas Southern and Cal-Bakersfield. Once the Buffaloes have played a few more Pac 12 games...they're very likely to fall off the Bracketology radar based on their form this season. This week's games with Cal and Stanford will go a long way toward shaping the season. A great weekend on the road...and Pomeroy's numbers better adjust quick! A bad weekend, and the Buffs are just another Pac 12 pretender.

  • Sitting behind those four teams as possible spoilers are the likes of UCLA, Oregon State, and Washington. Either of the three could improve their level of play and become relevant. All could tread water the rest of the way. These would be the "tweeners" that you can look at in value spots but be careful with overall because they may never establish any consistency.

  • Further back are Oregon, Washington State, USC, and Arizona State...currently in the 100's in the Pomeroy rankings. Teams like this generally score one or two big upsets per year (usually as home dogs in February against favorites looking ahead to March). You can't trust them as favorites though because they don't have an effective all-around game, and they aren't sure how to protect leads when they get them!

Utah brings up the rear...the way Pluto lags in a race between Venus, Earth, and Mars.

Here are the league standings heading into the weekend:

Colorado: 3-0
California: 3-1
Stanford: 3-1
Washington: 3-1
Arizona: 2-1
Oregon: 2-2
UCLA: 2-2
Arizona State: 1-2
Utah: 1-2
Oregon State: 1-3
Washington State: 1-3
USC: 0-4

Some quick categories for you...

Arizona State: 4-11 ATS
Oregon: 4-9 ATS
USC: 6-10 ATS

Colorado, Oregon State, Stanford and Cal are all 3 games over .500 ATS

California is 4-11 to the Under
USC is 5-11 to the Under
Washington is 10-4 to the Over

Hopefully today's "catching up with the Pac 12" article will help your decision-making process this weekend and beyond. We'll be running through other major conferences in the coming days as we zig and zag around the football schedule. If you missed our Tuesday look at the Big 10, please check the archives.

The Pac 12 may or may not be a part of JIM HURLEY'S slate this evening. He finds you the best plays on the board every night. We have busy slates in the Colonial, Sun Belt, Big West, WAC, and West Coast conferences as well. And, don't forget about the NBA, where New York-Memphis and Orlando-Golden State is the TNT doubleheader.

You can purchase game day basketball a few hours before first tip right here at the website every day. Or, call us to sign up in the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Back with you Friday with some NBA notes to get you ready for Chicago-Boston and Miami-Denver in ESPN's doubleheader. Boy is that a great twinbill! Be sure you're with us EVERY DAY in the NOTEBOOK for handicapping tips...and be sure you're with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK every day for BIG JUICY WINNERS!

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