Sandwiched between the Arizona Wildcats at the top and USC at the bottom of the Pac-12 are large clusters of teams who have performed comparably in the nonconference season.
That effectively means the Pac-12's unbalanced schedule is not much better or worse for anybody.
Except for the Wildcats, who don't have to play themselves and skip games against many of the conference's top-rated teams.
After plugging in the opponent Sagarin power rating for each game a team has in league play, Arizona came up with the easiest schedule of the 12 for the second straight season.
Not only do the Wildcats get to skip themselves, but they also will play the Oregon and Bay Area teams only once each - and all four of those teams are among the conference's top seven.
But no matter how things look for his 12-0 team, UA coach Sean Miller wasn't ready to call the Wildcats the clear-cut favorite.
Miller said the Wildcats have been fortunate to stay healthy and avoid distractions - both issues that affected them last season - and that "four or five" teams have the potential to win the conference.
Even before UCLA beat Missouri on Friday, Miller said he believed the Bruins had the potential to take off after big man Josh Smith and guard Tyler Lamb both left the team earlier this season.
"A team like UCLA really has the ability to put it together in a big way after Christmas, because they've gone through a number of things," Miller said.
UCLA's schedule difficulty appears fairly neutral; the Bruins will miss the Oregon road swing but also a chance for winnable home games against Colorado and Utah.
Cal and Stanford, meanwhile, are among the slight winners with this year's schedule. They miss the logistically difficult Washington trip and won't have to host Arizona, which has been historically successful in the Bay Area.
Among the slightly disadvantaged teams are Washington State, which won't get to host Cal and Stanford for potential RPI-boosters.
On StarNet: Chat with Bruce Pascoe about college hoops at noon today at live.azstarnet.com
• Who: Colorado at No. 3 Arizona
• When: 6 p.m. Thursday
• TV; radio: ESPNU; 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)
This season's Pac-12 schedule misses
Travel partners Home misses Road misses
Arizona, ASU Oregon, OSU California, Stanford
California, Stanford Arizona, ASU Washington, WSU
Colorado, Utah Washington, WSU UCLA, USC
Oregon, OSU UCLA, USC Arizona, ASU
UCLA, USC Colorado, Utah Oregon, OSU
Washington, WSU California, Stanford Colorado, Utah
Pac-12 schedule strengths
(computed with Sagarin power ratings)
1. Utah 81.76
2. USC 81.33
3. OSU 80.91
4. Washington 80.90
5. ASU 80.83
6. WSU 80.61
7. Colorado 80.58
8. Cal 80.56
9. Stanford 80.41
10. UCLA 80.43
11. Oregon 80.31
12. Arizona 79.56
Pac-12 Sagarin power ratings
(after Saturday's games)
1. Arizona 90.3
2. Colorado 87.4
3. Oregon 83.2
4. Stanford 82.1
5. UCLA 81.7
6. California 80.7
7. WSU 79.2
8. ASU 78.8
9. OSU 77.8
10. Utah 76.8
11. Washington 76.6
12. USC 73.6
Pac-12's unbalanced schedule
Under the Pac-12 basketball scheduling formula started last season, teams play 18 regular-season games by facing seven opponents twice and four opponents once.
Each team plays its natural geographic rival twice every season and then skips one two-game weekend on the road and one two-game set at home. The skipped teams are in two-year sets, with home games being missed one season and road games the next.
Arizona missed the Oregon trip last season and did not host Cal or Stanford. This season, the Wildcats will miss the trip to the Bay Area to play Stanford and Cal, and they won't host Oregon or Oregon State. Next season, Arizona will face a new set of four teams only once each for two years: the Washington and Los Angeles schools.
Over the course of a 10-year cycle, all teams but the geographic rival will be played 16 times while the rival will be played 20 times. Arizona will always play ASU in Tucson and in Tempe.