1. Colorado (5-0, Last week: No. 4) Welcome back to the Court Visions Power Rankings, where we actually stay up late enough to watch Pac-12 hoops. We’ve been keeping a close eye on Colorado after its finish in the 2011-2012 season. The Buffaloes have carried that momentum into this season, and two weeks in, they already have a top-20 ranking. The reason: beating a ranked Baylor team (one that ended their season last year) and Murray State to win the Charleston Classic. The Buffs’ player to watch, if you can find him, is 6-foot-1-inch point guard Askia Booker, the team’s leading scorer so far.
2. Arizona (3-0, Last week: No. 1)
Didn’t lose? Doesn’t matter. You’ll still take a fall in the Court Visions Power Rankings if you open your season like Arizona did, with three home games against mid-major opponents. The Wildcats still sit at No. 9 in the AP Poll and there’s plenty of reason to believe that they are a top 10 team. But if UCLA has taught us anything, we should save further judgment on Arizona’s stable of true freshmen and transfers until they’ve played some tougher competition. Road games against Texas Tech and Clemson loom before a late-December trip to Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic.
3. California (6-0, Last week: No. 2)
Cal had an easy time at the DirecTV Classic in Anaheim, squeaking by Drake in the first game, then soundly beating Georgia Tech and Pacific to win the tournament. Maybe the Bears’ greatest strength is the fact that they are relying on just one true freshman. The rest of the rotation is experienced, led by junior shooting guard Allen Crabbe, the conference’s leading scorer (22.0 per game) through the start of the season.
4. Oregon (5-1, Last week: No. 7)
Eugene, Ore. has somehow avoided the curse that says your basketball and football programs can’t be good at the same time. Oregon toppled University of Nevada, Las Vegas, giving the ranked Rebels squad its only loss of the year ““ in a game played in Las Vegas, Nev. no less. If the Ducks’ ability to fell a ranked squad on the road is any indication, the Pac-12 is in for a wide open season.
5. Oregon State (4-1, Last week: No. 9)
Quietly, the Beavers have had a strong start to the season. They defended their home court for the first two games of the 2K Sports Classic before heading to Madison Square Garden, where they barely lost to Alabama but beat Purdue. That’s as good a start as any of the one-loss teams in the Pac-12 have had. Signs are looking good for President Barack Obama’s brother-in-law, OSU coach Craig Robinson, to turn the program around with many of his recruits leading the team as upperclassmen.
6. UCLA (4-2, Last week: No. 4)
Remember how I mentioned that these rankings were compiled by someone who actually stayed awake to watch the games? That clearly wasn’t the case in Monday’s USA Today Coaches Poll, where UCLA somehow clung to a No. 24 ranking (ahead of Georgetown!) despite Sunday’s debacle against Cal Poly. Suddenly, the Bruins’ schedule doesn’t look so soft anymore. Will Cal State Northridge, Big West counterpart of UC Irvine and Cal Poly, challenge the Bruins Wednesday night? Can the Bruins keep up with San Diego State on Saturday? Are there more questions than answers around this team right now?
7. Arizona State (4-1, Last week: No. 11)
I mentioned last week that Arizona State’s lack of a clear-cut scorer was a concern, but I clearly overlooked the talent of Jahii Carson, who sat out his freshman year because he was academically ineligible. The highly-touted 5-foot-10-inch guard has been scoring in bunches for the Sun Devils, whose only blemish on their record is a loss to ranked Creighton. Carson went for 30 in that game, an encouraging number, but it wasn’t enough for ASU.
8. USC (3-3, Last week: No. 6)
The Trojans took the same vacation the UCLA Bruins did a season ago and returned in a similar fashion: with a 1-2 record at the Maui Invitational. This USC team still needs time to find its identity with a bevy of transfers and Jio Fontan, their leading scorer two seasons ago, back from injury. An encouraging sign came Sunday night, when USC clamped down defensively and pushed a ranked San Diego State team to the brink before the Aztecs won, 66-60.
9. Stanford (4-3, Last week: No. 5)
An encouraging start for the Cardinal was quickly tempered. They lost a home game to Belmont before taking off to the hardest preseason tournament of them all, the Battle 4 Atlantis. There, Stanford lost to a ranked Missouri team and had some late-game miscues in another loss to Minnesota. The team didn’t even get a chance to challenge the top-5 likes of Duke and Louisville, but we imagine that wouldn’t have gone so well.
10. Washington State (3-3, Last week: 10)
The Cougars have had no luck away from Pullman, Wash. so far. A trip to Kansas City, Mo. resulted in a blowout loss to Kansas and a one-point loss to Texas A&M. Before that, they barely lost to Pepperdine in Malibu. Small margins of defeat are little consolation, but if Washington State could find a double-digit scorer other than Brock Motum, they may have better showings at the end of games.
11. Washington (2-3, Last week: No. 8)
Already, the Huskies have lost two games at home to mid-major opposition. Even in a down year, it looks as though the vaunted home-court advantage Alaska Airlines Arena usually provides might be mitigated by a team in rebuilding mode. Luckily for Washington, it doesn’t face another major opponent before Pac-12 season starts. But if the start of the season is any indication, every opponent will test the Huskies.
12. Utah (4-1, Last week: No. 12)
The Utes remain in the cellar despite their strong record because of their poor early season scheduling. Major points were deducted for Utah not traveling to a preseason tournament, in addition to not traveling on the road once in five games. Utah hits the road for three out of its next four, which will be a telling stretch. If the Utes want to claim to be a Pac-12 team, they should at least schedule like one.