A new Monday feature on the Hotline (now in its third week) that examines trends and issues on the court …
(For additional commentary on Pac-12 basketball, see our latest ‘Saturday Night Five‘ column.)
1. The chaos continues (continued).
— Mayhem on the court:
USC trailed by 21 points early in the second half and by five points with 13 seconds left, and won in overtime — thanks to a difficult game-tying 3-pointer by Elijah Weaver.
Oregon trailed by 16 points with 10 minutes remaining, and won in overtime — thanks to a ridiculous game-winning 3-pointer by Payton Pritchard.
Washington State, a 10-point underdog, beat Oregon.
Also, Washington State beat Oregon.
— Mayhem in the standings …
Washington State, which was picked 11th, is alone in sixth place
Cal, which was picked 12th, is tied for seventh.
Meanwhile, Washington, which was picked third, is tied for 10th.
It’s all well and good, except for the impact that upsets can have on resumes …
And the impact that resumes can have on NCAA Tournament seeding …
And the impact that seeding can have on the likelihood of advancing to the Sweet 16.
2. Home cooking, road woes.
Arizona at home in conference play: 3-0, with an average victory margin of 21.7.
Arizona on the road in conference play: 0-2, with an average margin of defeat of nine points. (Close loss in Eugene; bad loss in Corvallis.)
That’s not the least bit surprising: The Wildcats have a talented roster, but their top-three players are freshmen.
How does the home-road dynamic translate to their regular-season fate?
For the purposes of this exercise, let’s assume the Wildcats finish 8-1 at home in conference play — that they are mostly dominant but stumble once, either because of a flat effort or a stellar performance by the visitor.
They have seven road games remaining.
Win four of those seven, then add the eight home wins, and Arizona finishes 12-6.
That’s good enough for a top-four seed in Las Vegas.
But if the Wildcats only win three of their seven road games, plus the eight at home, they’re 11-7.
Last year, 11-7 was good enough for a top-four seed. But in 2017, it wasn’t.
Put another way:
Home blowouts look good, but relative gains for the young Wildcats will be made on the road.
And one win, anywhere, could be the difference between playing Wednesday in Las Vegas or observing the action.
3. The NET rankings are … evolving.
The NCAA Evaluation Tool used by the selection committee to pick the at-large field and craft the seedings isn’t an accurate reflection of the results — and won’t be for another four or six weeks.
Cases in point: Arizona, Oregon and Stanford.
(Data through Saturday’s results.)
* No. 11 Arizona is currently the highest-rated Pac-12 team in the NET even though the Wildcats are 1-4 in Quadrant 1 games and their best road/neutral court win is over No. 108 Wake Forest.
* Next on the list is No. 14 Stanford, which is 0-3 in Quadrant 1 games and claims as its best road/neutral court result a victory over No. 53 Oklahoma.
* Meanwhile, Oregon 5-2 in Quadrant 1 games and has four road/neutral court wins over top-50 opponents … yet the Ducks are No. 16 in the NET.
Their resume is far superior, but their NET ranking is slightly inferior.
The disparity isn’t rooted in a single metric, but consider this:
The Ducks’ narrow, late-November loss to North Carolina now stands as a major blemish on their resume.
UNC has lost eight of its last 10 and is No. 121 in the NET.
Of course, the Tar Heels had star point guard Cole Anthony at the time of their duel with the Ducks, and his injury-related absence coincides with UNC’s downturn.
The selection committee, in theory, will take that into account when evaluating Oregon.
4. USC’s early rise.
The Trojans have won nine of their past 10 overall and, based on the head-to-head victory over Stanford, are the current frontrunner.
Should we believe?
Should we believe the Trojans are capable of staying in the title chase for the next seven weeks?
The insertion of Daniel Utomi into the starting lineup (and removal of Elijah Weaver) has worked well, so far.
The support required for Onyeka Okongwu has been up to the needed standard, so far.
The late-game execution has been efficient, to date.
But here’s the contrarian view:
The Trojans needed a stunning comeback and improbable shot to beat Stanford at home.
They have yet to play Oregon, Arizona and Colorado.
And they are prone to long stretches of wobbly play, as we saw in the first half against Stanford (down 20) and the entire game at Washington (32-point loss).
The consistency of effort required for a run at the regular-season title hasn’t materialized, so far.
But we’re open to reconsidering that assessment at 10 p.m. Thursday night.
5. All eye on Eugene.
Had we mocked up a list of the 10 most-significant games of the season, USC’s visit to Matthew Knight Arena in mid-January wouldn’t have even been considered.
But with USC’s start and Oregon’s position just off the lead, the duel stands as the game of the week.
It’s the toughest test for the Trojans, by far, a chance to erase lingering public doubts about their worthiness as a contender.
If the Ducks lose, the preseason favorite would be two games off the pace with a head-to-head loss to the Trojans.
If the Ducks win — and if they follow up with a victory over UCLA on Sunday — they would remain the frontrunner for the regular-season title because of the manageability of their second-half schedule.
Tipoff on Thursday is 8 p.m. on ESPNU.
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