With three weeks remaining, Arizona is well-positioned not only for the Pac-12 regular-season title and the No. 1 seed in Las Vegas but also for going where no team has gone before.
The Wildcats could be the first men’s team in Pac-12 history to win 18 conference games.
Granted, this is only the second year of the 20-game schedule. But there’s plenty of room for the Wildcats to carve a deserving place on the Pac-12 pantheon.
They are currently 12-1 in league play with seven games remaining and no indication that COVID will prevent them from playing all 20.
Win five of the seven, and they would join the short list of teams to reach the 17-victory mark. The feat would be particularly impressive if the Wildcats collect their 17th win before their second loss, so as to match the 17-1 record set by teams in an 18-game season.
Win six of their final seven, and they would become the first team to win 18 conference games — at least, the first on the men’s side.
(The Stanford women have several 18-0 seasons on their resume and, in fact, went 19-2 last year when the pandemic forced additional games to be added to their schedule.)
The conference created the 18-game schedule when the Arizona schools became members in the 1977-78 season. Since then, no men’s team has gone undefeated, although Stanford came close in 2004 when it reached 17-0 but lost at Washington in the regular-season finale.
In the era of 18-game seasons, only seven teams have finished 17-1 — and none since the Cardinal did it 18 years ago: Oregon State ’81, Arizona ’88, ’89, ’93, ’98 and ’03, and Stanford ’04.
We give the Wildcats an excellent chance to join the short list.
Of their seven remaining games, four are at home and only two are against teams near the top of the standings.
Remaining games with each opponent’s current conference record:
This week: vs. Oregon State (1-11), vs. Oregon (10-4)
Next week: at Utah (2-13), at Colorado (7-7)
Final week: at USC (10-4), vs. Stanford (8-7), vs. Cal (4-11)
The trickiest stretch is the Tuesday game at USC (March 1) that follows the trip to the Mountain schools, but at least there are two days between their game at Colorado and the showdown at USC.
From here, the Wildcats appear to be a near-lock for 17 wins. The question is whether they can get to 18, which would require them to win six out of seven. (Once they clinch the regular-season title, motivation could wane.)
And this: Can they get to 18 wins in their first 19 games?
If so, we’ll need to start pondering their place on the list of greatest teams in conference history.
To the power ratings …
(NET rankings through Sunday)
1. Arizona (22-2/12-1)
Last week: 1
Results: won at WSU 72-60 and Washington 92-68
Next up: vs. Oregon State (Thursday)
NET ranking: No. 2 (last week: 2)
Comment: We continue to believe the Wildcats’ 29-point throttling of Wyoming (NET: No. 25) is the most impressive non-conference win of the season for the Pac-12.
2. USC (21-4/10-4)
Last week: 3
Results: beat Pacific 74-68 and UCLA 67-64
Next up: vs. Washington (Thursday)
NET ranking: No. 28 (last week: 27)
Comment: The Hotline wrote last week that USC’s resume was a tad flimsy due to the absence of a signature victory. Never mind.
3. UCLA (17-5/9-4)
Last week: 2
Results: won at Stanford 79-70, lost at USC 67-64
Next up: vs. Washington State (Thursday)
NET ranking: No. 14 (last week: 15)
Comment: So a team with a Final Four-or-bust mentality and its NCAA bid assured staggers through the February grind in road games against desperate opponents. Yawn. Wake me when it’s March.
4. Oregon (17-8/10-4)
Last week: 5
Results: beat Stanford 68-60, lost to Cal 78-64, beat WSU 62-59
Next up: at Arizona State (Thursday)
NET ranking: No. 62 (last week: 49)
Comment: The victory over WSU didn’t offset the abysmal loss to Cal; it merely slowed the Ducks’ fall. To reverse course, they must win in Tucson this weekend.
5. Washington State (14-10/7-6)
Last week: 4
Results: lost to Arizona 72-60 and ASU 58-55, lost at Oregon 62-59
Next up: at UCLA (Thursday)
NET ranking: No. 46 (last week: 36)
Comment: A difficult stretch is about to get exponentially tougher for the fading Cougars, whose path to an at-large bid could be completely blocked by the end of the weekend.
6. Stanford (15-10/8-7)
Last week: 6
Results: lost to UCLA 79-70, lost at Oregon 68-60, won at OSU 76-65
Next up: vs. Utah (Thursday)
NET ranking: No. 91 (last week: 89)
Comment: The goal for the Cardinal down the stretch is clear: Do whatever is required to create a Pac-12 quarterfinal matchup with USC, then pray to the basketball gods that it gets that far.
7. Washington (13-10/8-5)
Last week: 8
Results: beat ASU 87-64, lost to Arizona 92-68
Next up: at USC (Thursday)
NET ranking: No. 128 (last week: 131)
Comment: What’s even crazier than UW being 8-5 in league play at this point? That UW being 8-5 isn’t the craziest thing to happen to Washington athletics in the 2021-22 school year.
8. Colorado (15-9/7-7)
Last week: 7
Results: beat Utah 81-76
Next up: at Oregon State (Tuesday)
NET ranking: (last week: 92)
Comment: The Buffaloes have six left and are good enough to win five. Of course, they’re also bad enough to lose five, which explains why they’re 7-7.
9. Arizona State (8-15/4-9)
Last week: 9
Results: lost at Washington 87-64, won at WSU 58-55
Next up: vs. Oregon (Thursday)
NET ranking: No. 135 (last week: 136)
Comment: Plenty of wins available for the erratic Sun Devils with Oregon State and the Bay Area teams visiting Tempe down the stretch, plus a less-than-daunting Mountain trip.
10. Cal (11-15/4-11)
Last week: 11
Results: won at OSU 63-61 and Oregon 78-64
Next up: vs. Colorado (Thursday)
NET ranking: No. 134 (last week: 148)
Comment: Never in eight bajillion years would we have believed Cal would wipe the Ducks off their home floor. A few days later, it still feels surreal.
11. Utah (9-16/2-13)
Last week: 10
Results: lost at Colorado 81-76
Next up: at Stanford (Thursday)
NET ranking: No. 130 (last week: 125)
Comment: If you took the Under in the number of seasons coach Craig Smith would need to revamp the program, our sympathies.
12. Oregon State (3-19/1-11)
Last week: 12
Results: lost to Cal 63-61 and Stanford 76-65
Next up: vs. Colorado (Tuesday)
NET ranking: No. 248 (last week: 243)
Comment: We’ll end this column where we started, only from the opposite perspective: The Beavers are threatening to become the first team in Pac-12 history to lose 19 conference games.
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