The Pac-12 opens conference play Friday and with it comes a road map to determine who’s for real, who’s a pretender and who’s on the verge.
And the favorites are?
Try No. 3 Arizona State (12-0) and No. 17 Arizona (10-3) for starters. ASU and Arizona are the only Pac-12 schools ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 Poll going into conference play.
ASU’s hot start has people trying to search for weaknesses and so far, there haven’t been many. The Sun Devils have wins over ranked opponents in Kansas and Xavier. They also beat San Diego State, which upset Gonzaga. Kansas State (10-2) is the only team to come within five points and even then, it still lost by two points.
Arizona has won seven in a row, including a win over ranked Texas A&M. Arizona went through a three-game slide with losses to then-No. 18 Purdue among others. Not to mention, the Wildcats might have the best player in America in freshman center DeAndre Ayton.
We’ll know more Saturday when the Sun Devils and Wildcats open Pac-12 play against each other.
UCLA (9-3) has also played well of late, grabbing a win over No. 7 Kentucky and those three losses — to Creighton, Cincinnati and Michigan — came against teams with a combined record of 32-7.
What about the dark horses?
Oregon (10-3) has an impressive record but losses to Boise State (10-2) and Oklahoma (10-1) show it struggles against top teams.
UW makes a case too. The win over Kansas helped but the blowout loss to Gonzaga showed the Huskies aren’t a finished product.
Another team to consider is Utah (8-3) given the Utes are among the league’s better defensive teams. Utah’s three losses — Butler, BYU and UNLV — came to teams with a combined record of 33-7.
From here, it gets difficult. There’s a logjam of five teams with records above .500 but they all come with the caveat of either having bad losses or not having a strong non-conference win.
Who are the top players?
Ayton. Sports Illustrated projects him to go first in the NBA Draft while CBS has him going third. He’s averaging 19.5 points and 11.4 rebounds while shooting nearly 62 percent from the field for Arizona.
UCLA forward Kris Wilkes is another player who could get some first-round buzz. He’s averaging 12.3 points and 5.8 rebounds.
USC forward Chimezie Metu is putting up 18.0 points and 7.9 rebounds. He also has the makings of a late-first rounder, per CBS and SI.
Stanford might be in for a long season but having junior Reid Travis helps. The 6-foot-8 Travis leads the Pac-12 with 21.4 points per game.
What does it mean for UW?
It’s not far-fetched to suggest the Huskies could finish in the Pac-12’s top six.
UW can stay with elite teams if it follows the game plan set up by Hopkins. The Huskies have an established post presence with Noah Dickerson, a star scorer in Jaylen Nowell and a strong supporting cast.
The Huskies finished 2-16 in conference play last year and it appears they should improve that mark in 2017-18.