As conference play starts, a look at the Pac-12's bests and worsts

2013-12-31T00:00:00Z As conference play starts, a look at the Pac-12's bests and worstsBy Jon Gold Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

With a collective strength-of-schedule that deserves an unenthusiastic meh, the Pac-12 wasn’t particularly tested during non-conference play.

But heading into the conference tilt with three teams ranked in the top 20 – including the No. 1 Arizona Wildcats – and with UCLA on the outside looking in, the league has the chance to help solidify its standing for March Madness seeding.

Here’s a brief look back at the best and worst from the league’s non-conference games:

Best team: Arizona

Obviously. It’s hard to argue against the top-ranked team in the country. Oregon has been great, and Colorado has been very, very good, with losses to two tough squads and one of the nation’s hardest schedules. But Arizona is No. 1. ’Nuff said.

The Wildcats were undefeated in non-league play last year, too, though, before a so-so conference run.

“I can only go on so far, and I would say at a similar time, we’re much more focused, sharper, mature for what’s to come,” UA coach Sean Miller said.

Worst team: Oregon State

At this point, the Beavers should be better under sixth-year coach Craig Robinson, particularly with the conference’s leading scorer in Roberto Nelson. But they’re not. An 8-4 record isn’t the worst in the conference, but losses to Coppin State (?), DePaul (??) and Akron (???) are confounding.

MVP: Oregon’s Joseph Young

Dana Altman was dealt the kindest of hands when Young, a transfer from Houston, was granted immediate eligibility after his father, Michael, was to be reassigned from his Director of Basketball Operations post with the Cougars. Young is ranked third in the conference in scoring, 10th in steals, fourth in three-point percentage and 12th in free-throw percentage. Talk about immediate dividends.

Least valuable: UCLA’s David/Travis Wear

The one-time big-time North Carolina transfers have regressed completely in their senior years. In a combined 43.8 minutes per game, the brothers are averaging 13.9 points and 6.7 rebounds. Travis seems almost afraid of the glass, as the 6-10 forward is collecting just 2.4 boards per game. Against Missouri, the team’s first real test, they combined for four points and five rebounds in 44 total minutes.

Most improved: Arizona State’s Jordan Bachynski

The nation’s leading shot-blocker has diversified his game, upping his scoring to 12.5 points per game and his rebounding up to 9.8 per game. He’s also shooting better than 60 percent.

“It’s not that I see everybody or I’m sort of authority, but it would be my contention that Jordan has to be the most improved player in college basketball over the course of 3½ years,” ASU coach Herb Sendek said. “We look in rearview mirror then fast-forward to today, it really is an amazing transformation in every stage.”

Best win: Colorado 75, Kansas 72, Dec. 7

All due respect to Arizona’s 72-66 win over Duke in the preseason NIT, but Duke fell to the Jayhawks by 11, while the Buffaloes’ upset of Kansas was particularly surprising. And clutch, as an Askia Booker buzzer-beater won the game.

Worst loss: Long Beach St. 72, USC 71, Dec. 19

There have been some other mid-major losses in the conference, but none like the Trojans’ failure at the 49ers. LBSU is 2-9, and that’s not acceptable for USC, even for Andy Enfield’s young team.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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