Throughout Pac-12 play, the Star’s Jon Gold will check in with other beat reporters to break down the best, worst and most interesting storylines in the conference. This week, he checks in with The Arizona Republic’s Doug Haller, Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com, Percy Allen of The Seattle Times and David Woods of Bruin Report Online.
Given Oregon’s collapse and Spencer Dinwiddie’s injury — and the fact Arizona has already won at UCLA — where do you put the percentage of Arizona going undefeated, and why?
Haller: “No doubt, the Pac-12 landscape has shifted over the past few weeks, but I don’t think Arizona’s chances of going undefeated have changed much. It still will be a difficult chore simply because there’s not an easy road game on the schedule. Colorado without Dinwiddie still will be tough in Boulder, just as Oregon, despite its defensive shortcomings, still will be tough in Eugene.”
Moseley: “Better than it was, but still not above 50 percent. Things happen: Like the examples cited above, chemistry issues can happen, injuries can happen, heck, just general strangeness can happen. Winning is incredibly difficult. Doing it every single time out is incredibly improbable.”
Allen: “Initially I was going to say no way, but upon further review I give Arizona a good chance to run the table. Look at the Wildcats’ schedule the rest of the way. They don’t play the dreaded Thursday-Saturday format in their final three road trips. That’s a big deal, especially when Arizona travels to the mountains to play Colorado and Utah. So I say the Wildcats chances to go undefeated is a coin flip.”
Woods: “The percentage is certainly climbing, but I’d put it at 10 to 20 (percent). You have to remember, Arizona still has to play at Stanford, at California, at Utah, and at Arizona State. In each of those games, the Wildcats will be favored, but winning all of those games is a tall order. It seems pretty obvious, though, that unless there are significant injuries, the Wildcats have the Pac-12 all but sewn up.”
What’s more surprising, Cal’s 4-0 conference start or Oregon’s 1-4?
Haller: “Oregon’s offense overshadowed its defensive shortcomings during the non-conference season, but it wasn’t hard to see that the Ducks gave up a lot inside. Cal’s start was harder to see. The Golden Bears struggled in Maui, even though they weren’t 100 percent healthy. Then just before Christmas, Creighton just ripped them apart. I figured they would improve enough to sneak into the NCAA tournament, but nothing more, which was a mistake. Rule No. 1: Never underestimate Mike Montgomery.”
Moseley: “Oregon. Having seen them in Eugene, Cal has a lot of pieces. Great point guard, guys doing the dirty work down low, athletic wings. Ducks are missing a couple of those, so perhaps the last couple weeks should have been anticipated. But after a 13-0 start, you wonder if a team has learned to compensate. Apparently not.”
Allen: “Not sure why folks continue to underestimate Mike Montgomery. The guy has only won 600-plus games. Oregon was 13-0, 10th in the polls and a virtual lock to make the NCAA tournament three weeks ago. After four defeats, the Ducks are a mess.”
Woods: “Oregon’s 1-4 start, by far. It’s like the entire team forgot how to play defense, which is surprising because Dana Altman is a good coach. It makes you wonder if there are chemistry issues. Cal’s 4-0 start isn’t as shocking simply because Mike Montgomery is also a very good coach.”
Which Pac-12 player is the most important to his team?
Haller: “T.J. McConnell. Last year Arizona assisted on 50.9 percent of its field goals in Pac-12 games. This season, the Wildcats are at 63.2. Credit the point guard.”
Moseley: “I should pass on this one, because I haven’t seen the whole league yet, but that’s not what you’re not paying me to do. Kyle Anderson of UCLA continues to fill up the stat sheet in impressive fashion. But I’ll go with (Justin) Cobbs from Cal. Such a difference-maker.”
Allen: “Without DaVonte Lacy, Washington State is relying on Que Johnson, a first-year guard, to carry the team. WSU isn’t very good, but at least with Lacy the Cougs are relatively dangerous offensively.”
Woods: “Kyle Anderson. If Anderson went down for any length of time, UCLA’s season would be toast. Bryce Alford is not ready to run the show for 25+ minutes per game, and Anderson is also UCLA’s leading rebounder.”
How many Pac-12 teams will ultimately end up in the NCAA tournament?
Haller: “Six. Arizona, California, UCLA and Colorado. And then two of these three: Stanford, Arizona State and Oregon.”
Moseley: “I’ll go with six. The five teams already at 14 wins, and then Oregon or ASU gets its act together. Banking on Colorado keeping its head above water without Dinwiddie.”
Allen: “Right now, I say four. Arizona is a lock. The other three? Who knows.”
Woods: “Tough question. It’ll be interesting to see how Colorado rebounds from the loss of Spencer Dinwiddie. Right now, I’d lean toward five, but it could be four.”