The national luster is dulling for the Pac-12 Conference.
Two years ago, the conference sent a league-record nine teams to the NCAA Tournament. Last year three teams were mainstays in the weekly top 25 poll with one of them, Oregon, making its first Final Four appearance in 78 years. The Pac-12 also boasted the eventual top two picks in the NBA draft, Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball, as part of the league's six first-round selections and league-record 14 picks overall.
There remains plenty of talent individually in the Pac-12, but early indications are the league will be challenged to repeat the postseason success it enjoyed the past two seasons.
It was another rough week for one of the league's front-runners, as this time it was then-No. 14 USC losing on the road at SMU, which now has logged wins against both Pac-12 favorites, the Trojans and Arizona. USC also was coming off a home loss against Texas A&M, which moved up to No. 7 this week.
Yet the struggles go beyond a few surprising hurdles for Arizona and USC, as detailed with only ASU earning a spot in this week's edition of ESPN's power rankings. Besides the Colorado Buffaloes losing at state rival Colorado State, Washington State had been 6-0 before suffering a home loss against UC Davis, while Oregon saw its nation's-best 46-game home win streak come to an end against Boise State.
Granted, the Ducks lost on a half-court buzzer-beater, but the reality is heading into December quality nonconference wins within the league have been scarce, though Arizona pulled out a solid overtime victory at UNLV Saturday. Beyond Arizona State (and maybe WSU until Saturday's loss), it is difficult to argue any Pac-12 team has performed beyond expectations so far.
This week the Pac-12 will have an opportunity to reshape that national narrative. In addition to CU's Saturday visit to Xavier, which moved up to No. 13 this week, Arizona hosts Texas A&M on Tuesday. Second-ranked Kansas takes on Washington in Kansas City Wednesday before hosting the 16th-ranked Sun Devils on Sunday. Also on Sunday, Washington hosts No. 12 Gonzaga. On Saturday, Arizona, still unranked this week, hosts Alabama, which was ranked 24th last week before dropping out this week.
USC, which dropped to No. 25 this week, hosts Oklahoma on Friday at the Staples Center. The Sooners' 5-1 start includes a 10-point win against Oregon in Portland.
As the Ball turns
In another chapter of the continuing basketball reality show concocted pretty much entirely by family patriarch LaVar Ball, freshman LiAngelo Ball was pulled out of UCLA on Monday without having played a game for the Bruins.
LiAngelo Ball was one of three UCLA players suspended indefinitely after being arrested for shoplifting during the team's season-opening trip to China. Monday's turn of events was first reported by TMZ, with LaVar Ball telling ESPN:
"I'm not sitting back and waiting. He wasn't punished this bad in China. We get back over here and the consequences are even stiffer than China. So basically they're in jail here."
Younger brother LaMelo Ball remains committed to UCLA for the 2019 freshman class.
One player who could still continue the Pac-12's run of high lottery picks in the NBA draft is Arizona 7-foot-1 freshman Deandre Ayton, who on Monday was named the Pac-12 Player of the Week.
Ayton was the catalyst of the Wildcats' comeback win in overtime at UNLV, going 12-for-23 from the field before finishing with 28 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocked shots. Ayton also went 6-for-6 with 13 points, nine rebounds, and three assists in a win against Long Beach State.
Give credit to CSU's nonconference schedule. The Rams already have played on the road against a Florida State team getting votes in the national poll and at New Mexico State, which was picked second in the preseason WAC coaches and media polls. This week, CSU will follow its win against CU with games at Arkansas and at Oregon in a four-day span...Local basketball fans can check out two former CU coaches in action Tuesday night as Jean Prioleau's San Jose State Spartans visit Rodney Billups' Denver Pioneers at Magness Arena (7 p.m., Altitude 2).