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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Expect the unexpected in the Pac-10

    Michael Schwartz
    Michael Schwartz

    Schwartz on Sports

    Many pundits and fans believe the Pacific 10 Conference is the best league in the nation.

    Although fans of the Atlantic Coast Conference may argue for their league, which ranks No. 1 to the Pac-10’s No. 2 in conference RPI, there’s no debating that the Pac-10 features the nation’s streakiest teams in league play.

    A mere four weeks into the conference season, five different teams have enjoyed winning streaks of at least three games and suffered losing streaks of at least three as well, including now-scorching hot Arizona, who looked to be headed for ninth place three games ago.

    Those five teams – Arizona (4-3), ASU (4-3), Southern California (4-3), Washington (3-4) and Oregon (3-5) – are bunched up in the middle of the conference, separated by a game and a half.

    Moreover, every conference team has either won or lost three in a row except No. 9 Washington State, who streaked to 14 straight wins to start the season and has twice won two in a row in conference play. “”I think there’s a lot of good teams in the Pac-10, so to me whether people are hot or not to me doesn’t mean so much as what kind of basketball team they are,”” said UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill.

    “”I see newspapers do it all the time, who’s hot, who’s not, who’s this, who’s that,”” he added. “”I never look at things like that, I really don’t. I’m used to the fact that if teams play well all of a sudden they soften up. It’s the biggest thing in the NBA you ever fight.””

    Pac-10 teams are fighting that as well.

    Arizona’s game at USC tomorrow did not look so appealing a couple weeks ago when both teams were struggling through three-game losing streaks. With the Trojans winning four in a row and the Wildcats three straight, now it can be billed as a marquee matchup between the league’s hottest teams.

    Sticking instate, the Sun Devils looked like a challenger for a top spot in the Pac-10 to some when they jumped out to a 4-0 league start and led the Wildcats by three games following play on Jan. 17. After going three games in the opposite directions, both teams are now tied, and ASU’s tailspin has no end in sight with games at No. 5 UCLA, USC and Arizona onthe horizon.

    Oregon, meanwhile, has dropped four in a row after winning three straight, and Washington had won three in a row after losing three in a row before its loss in Tucson Saturday.

    “”That’s the Pac-10,”” said guard Jawann McClellan. “”I never would have thought Washington would beat Oregon, and I definitely didn’t think Washington would go down and beat ASU (Thursday) night, so it’s just the funny way of the season. You can’t take anyone for granted.””

    Well, maybe except for Oregon State, which has lost all of its first eight Pac-10 games and should be the underdog in its last 10 contests.

    If any team has an excuse for its streakiness, it would be Arizona. The Wildcats lost the first two of those three games during a 1-3 stretch without star guard Jerryd Bayless, which came on the heels of a six-game winning streak. They followed that with their three-game win streak.

    Going back to what O’Neill was saying about complacency in the NBA, Bayless said it’s tough to stay on an even keel after big wins like last weekend’s.

    “”I think we all know that we have to stay level-headed, because we can see how fast it can go downhill,”” Bayless said. “”That’s what we’ll continue to do.””

    Although O’Neill admitted that boisterous crowds like those the Wildcats played in front of during their last homestand have more of an effect in the college game than the pro game, he does not feel like home teams have much of an advantage in the Pac-10.

    Believe it or not, O’Neill is absolutely right. If you take out the Beavers’ four road losses, Pac-10 teams are 17-15 on the road, and even with Oregon State’s defeats, that’s only two games under .500.

    “”I try to approach every game that we’re playing whether it’s home or away like it’s a neutral-site game,”” O’Neill said.

    “”We have good teams. The better the teams, the less homecourt advantage you have, and that’s what I see in this league now. In terms of talent I think every game’s a toss-up whether it’s home or away.””

    Through four weeks in the conference season it looks like UCLA, Washington State and No. 14 Stanford will finish near the top of the league and California and Oregon State will end up near the bottom, with the other five teams too close to call.

    But then again, if we’ve really learned anything from the first four weeks of play it’s that streaks could flip the standings upside down faster than a Nic Wise dart to the basket.

    Michael Schwartz is a journalism senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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