As conference play begins, the Pac-12 teams are beginning to show themselves, and not only should Oregon see an improvement, but even worse news is imminent for the conference.
In a season full of potential Pac-12 titles and NCAA Tournament bubble berths, it would appear that No. 10 Washington is the best-looking team in the conference, though No. 13 Arizona and the No. 3-ranked Stanford Cardinal and defending national champion Virginia all have a say in who owns the season crown.
Stanford, led by star forward Reid Travis, presents one of the toughest tests to Arizona, which begins conference play this week with a challenging home schedule in league play. Stanford has long been considered one of the best on-ball rebounding teams in the conference, but their backs are against the wall to play spoiler in its way. Not only does the Cardinal come to Arizona after last-second wins over Arizona State and Washington State, they also look to avenge a season-opening loss at home to Oregon State – another Pac-12 team in hot pursuit of the conference title. The big battle will pit the more physical Stanford against the versatile Paul Villarreal and his Oregon State attack. It might be three points, but it’s important for the Cardinal to not let Oregon State shoot over 50% for the second consecutive game and hope its defensive intensity keeps pace with ASU’s.
Virginia’s schedule gets tougher this week and the No. 7 Cavaliers will need a big game from guard Kyle Guy in Charlottesville. While Guy, a sophomore guard, took control of Virginia’s offense in recent games, the Cavaliers still struggled to put away Vanderbilt, Syracuse and Georgia Tech. Virginia has to try and take care of the ball and avoid turnovers, and guard Ty Jerome can take advantage of bigger match-ups off the bench. The Virginia offense works when it puts pressure on the ball, and as long as Virginia junior guard Devon Hall has his shooting stroke, the Cavaliers should be able to defeat the lesser-talented teams in the conference. However, the Cavaliers must avoid the teams that have already caught their attention, such as Kentucky.