Observations: Pac-12 looking stronger than many predicted

The Pac-12 is primed for a banner season.

It’s hard to believe that three and a half years ago (2012) this conference only put two teams (Cal, Colorado) into the NCAA Tournament and neither of those teams won the regular-season league title (Washington did).

Most people in college basketball expected Arizona, Utah, Oregon, UCLA and Cal to all be factors nationally, but the strong starts at Arizona State (10-3), Oregon State (9-2), and USC (11-2) have given the Pac-12 a different feel from a national perspective.

Instead of people looking at this conference as a weak link they’re instead trying to decipher who’s legitimate and who’s not. Both Arizona and UCLA should be NCAA Tournament teams, but they’re not the elite squads we’ve seen in past years in Tucson, Arizona and Westwood respectively.

That should make for a competitive league slate which will ultimately make the Pac-12 more entertaining moving forward.

Six bids to the NCAA Tournament in March seems like a very realistic possibility based on what we’ve seen so far.

The 12 teams in the Pac-12 currently have a combined record of 117-33.

Dererk Pardon proved that injury is indeed opportunity: Northwestern received really bad news on Sunday when its starting center Alex Olah was sidelined indefinitely with a foot injury.

Immediately the questions arose: would the Wildcats be able to keep things going after an 11-1 start?

How long would Olah be out and how would that affect Northwestern moving forward?

Pat Riley once said that “injury is opportunity” and apparently Pardon was listening.

The 6-foot-8 freshman was going to red shirt during the upcoming season before Olah’s injury and now he’s all of a sudden become a revelation for the Wildcats after his performance yesterday in a win at Nebraska.

Pardon came off the bench to score 28 points and grab 12 rebounds in 29 minutes all while providing a major presence in the paint for Chris Collins’ club in its Big Ten opener.

Northwestern is now to a 13-1 start — the best in school history.

Is this the year that the Wildcats finally advance to the NCAA Tournament?

It’s a realistic possibility especially if Pardon keeps producing until Olah returns to the lineup.

Diamond Stone has officially arrived: Just ask Pat Chambers.

Penn State led Maryland by double-figures in the second half on Wednesday night in College Park, but Stone’s relentlessness propelled the Terps to a 70-64 win in their Big Ten opener.

The 7-foot freshman scored 39 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and made 19-of-25 free throws in the win all while scoring 32 of his team’s 47 second-half points.

You can debate who the best player is on Maryland’s roster because some days it may look like Melo Trimble or Rasheed Sulaimon and others it may look like Robert Carter.

But you can’t debate who this team’s most dominant player is after Wednesday because it’s clearly Stone.

This guy is starting to show why he was an All-American before ever stepping foot on a college campus.

USC Trojans basketball (USATSI)
Southern Cal has quietly jumped out to an 11-2 start. (USATSI)

This and That

  • LSU may be 7-5 after Tuesday night’s loss to Wake Forest, but people should be very tepid before they write off the Tigers completely. Why? Even if LSU doesn’t put together an NCAA or NIT caliber resume it still will be a trendy team to steal a bid during the SEC Tournament because it has Ben Simmons on its roster.
  • UConn freshman Jalen Adams has played 20 or minutes in each of his last five games and is starting to cement himself as a key cog in the Huskies’ attack. The 6-2 point guard gives Kevin Ollie a true floor general to run his offense and allows the rest of UConn’s players an opportunity to get into more comfortable positions on the floor. After Daniel Hamilton this may be this team’s most important player.
  • Purdue doesn’t have the same type of pop it had last year at point guard with Jon Octeus, but P.J. Thompson is excelling in his role thanks to ability to take care of the basketball. The 5-10 sophomore has only committed a total of eight turnovers in 300 minutes played this season — that’s stellar. Purdue is 13-1 overall and next hosts Iowa on Saturday night in West Lafayette.
  • Cincinnati has given up an average of 78.6 points in its three home losses this month to Butler, Iowa State, and Temple. That’s far from the vintage Bearcats’ defense we’ve come to expect under Mick Cronin. Cincinnati is 10-4 and is straddling a fence: it’s either going to get tougher or it’s going to get left behind.
  • We’ll know pretty quickly if Florida State has the chops to be a real player in the ACC. After opening the conference slate at Clemson the Seminoles host North Carolina then travel to Miami and NC State back-to-back before returning home to face Virginia. After that Leonard Hamilton’s team will head to Louisville. This is life in the ACC.
  • Texas freshman Tevin Mack is Shaka Smart’s new Treveon Graham. The 6-6 forward had 20 points and six rebounds in Tuesday’s loss to UConn and should see extended time moving forward as an undersized four-man. Smart would prefer to play small and if Mack can be consistent he know has that option.
  • The best player on SMU that nobody’s talking about? Junior forward Ben Moore. The 6-8 Moore is averaging 12.1 points and 8.4 rebounds while shooting 55.7 percent from the floor. Last year as a sophomore Moore averaged 7.1 points and 4.7 rebounds while shooting just 43.9 percent. This kid is a gamer.
  • Think Adam Smith is making a difference for Georgia Tech? The transfer from Virginia Tech has already made 38 3-point shots this season and is shooting 43.7 percent from long range. Nobody on the Yellow Jackets’ roster made more than 32 3-point shots during all of last year. Smith is averaging 13.1 points for Georgia Tech, who is 10-3 overall.
  • Iowa has built major equity thanks to some of its early victories. The Hawkeyes have beaten Marquette at Marquette, Florida State, and Michigan State (without Denzel Valentine). Fran McCaffery’s squad is trending towards its third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and has the type of experience that should keep it at the top of the Big Ten standings all season.
  • Looking for another mid-major gem? Try UC Santa Barbara’s Michael Bryson. The 6-4 senior if a gifted scorer (18.9 points) and had 17 points to lead the Gauchos to a road win at Washington on Monday night. This is the type of player that could carry a team to an automatic bid in the Big West Tournament.

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