Welcome to the Hotline’s assessment of Pac-12 basketball at the midway point of the conference season …
Top story I: March headwinds
The Pac-12’s poor non-conference showing predictably has led to a bleak outlook for Selection Sunday. Arizona and UCLA are the lone locks while a handful of teams are on various sides of the bubble. This could be a two-bid league, folks, unless Arizona State, Utah, USC, Oregon or Colorado — or a combination therein — gets hot down the stretch. Meanwhile, both the Big Ten and Big 12 are on pace for at least eight bids.
Top story II: Offensive offense
Only three teams rank in the top-50 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency (i.e., points per possession), according to the respected analytics site KenPom.com: No. 11 Arizona, No. UCLA and No. 44 Oregon. That’s the worst showing, by far, of any Power Six conference. We have watched more than enough action to conclude the missed shots and wasted possessions are not solely the result of good defense.
Top story III: Hot seats
At least three coaches are facing uncertain futures based on performance to date: Cal’s Mark Fox, Stanford’s Jerod Haase and Washington’s Mike Hopkins, with Oregon State’s Wayne Tinkle also struggling for wins and momentum. It’s tough to imagine a quiet spring on the coaching carousel, but Pac-12 schools have surprised us before with their willingness to accept a bad situation, particularly in the Bay Area.
Top team: UCLA
The Bruins hold a two-game lead in the loss column but stand as the clear frontrunner for the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 tournament. No other team can approach their consistency — Arizona has lost three games by double digits — or their balance. They are solid on both ends of the court and equally capable of scoring inside and outside.
Worst team: Stanford, Cal and Oregon State
It’s difficult to pick just one — they have all looked helpless at times. But our suspicion is the Bears will end the season in last place and wear the badge of dishonor (the No. 12 seed) in Las Vegas.
Top coach: Utah’s Craig Smith
The Utes were 4-16 in the Pac-12 last season — Smith’s first in charge after replacing Larry Krystkowiak — and picked to finish 10th this year in the preseason media poll. But Smith has crafted a lineup that plays stout defense and does just enough offensively to feast on the bottom half of the conference. At the halfway point, Utah is tied for second place (in the loss column), two games behind UCLA. Also considered: ASU’s Bobby Hurley
Top player: Arizona F Azuolas Tubelis
The sophomore continues to thrive in coach Tommy Lloyd’s system, leading the conference in scoring (19.9 points per game) and rebounding (9.5 rpg). And despite the high volume of shot attempts, his efficiency has been off the charts: Tubelis is shooting over 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range. Add contributions on defense, and he’s doing it all. Also considered: Utah C Branden Carlson and UCLA F Jaime Jaquez Jr.
Top defensive player: UCLA G Jaylen Clark
No player disrupts the game with his defense as consistently as Clark, who is superb in man-to-man situations, averages seven rebounds per game and leads the conference in steals with 2.7 per game. (Nobody else is even close.) We can think of at least one Pac-12 secondary that could use his coverage skills. Also considered: USC C Kobe Johnson and ASU G Frankie Collins
Top freshman: UCLA F Adem Bona
Bruins guard Amari Bailey would have been the choice if not for his ongoing absence resulting from a foot injury. Bona’s impact has been impressive, especially with the length and athleticism he brings to the frontcourt rotation. Overall, this is the least impressive Pac-12 freshman class we can remember. Also considered: Oregon State G Jordan Pope and UCLA G Amari Bailey
Top transfer: Washington F Keion Brooks
The former Kentucky starter has been as productive as anticipated for the Huskies, averaging 17.3 points and 7.2 rebounds for a team lacking in quality support options. Opponents know Brooks is the No. 1 option and have still struggled to stop him. Also considered: ASU’s Desmond Cambridge
Arizona F Azuolas Tubelis
Utah C Branden Carlson
UCLA F Jaime Jaquez Jr
Washington F Keion Brooks
USC G Boogie Ellis
Arizona C Oumar Ballo
UCLA G Tyger Campbell
Colorado G KJ Simpson
UCLA G Jaylen Clark
ASU G Desmond Cambridge
Oregon C N’Faly Dante
WSU F Mouhamed Gueye
Colorado F Tristan da Silva
USC G Drew Peterson
WSU G TJ Bamba
USC C Kobe Johnson
Utah F Branden Carlson
Arizona G Courtney Ramey
UCLA G Jaylen Clark
ASU G Frankie Collins
Washington F Keion Brooks (Kentucky)
UCLA F Adem Bona (freshman)
ASU G Desmond Cambridge (Nevada)
Cal G Devin Askew (Texas)
ASU G Frankie Collins (Michigan)
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