No front runner in the Pac-12

Early on in 2015-16 conference play, it is fairly apparent that the Pac-12 imitates the rest of the nation by not having any one dominant program.

The national consensus is that the Arizona Wildcats will defend their Pac-12 title from last year, despite already having three conference road losses, which were decided by an average of two points and included four overtimes. Even with these early woes, they remain tied for second with a slew of five other teams, all at 4-3 in conference play.

Entering Thursday’s action, the Oregon Ducks were tied atop the standings with the Washington Huskies, at 5-2 in conference play. The Ducks managed to crack the national polls this week, earning a No. 23 ranking, after consecutively defending its home court from then-21st-ranked USC, and a good UCLA team.

The Trojans’ loss to the Ducks, followed by another defeat at the hands of Oregon State, bumped USC out of the Top 25 this week.

Speaking of the Beavers, they are playing pretty good ball under head coach Wayne Tinkle. Lead by Gary Payton II, son of nine-time NBA All-Star Gary “the Glove” Payton, OSU stands at 12-6 (3-4 in conference play) with the victory over USC snapping a three-game skid.

The younger Payton was recently selected to the U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) mid-season watch list for the Oscar Robertson Trophy, given to the men’s national player of the year. Only 20 players were selected for the honors nationwide and he was the only Pac-12 player named. Through his leadership and the monster win against the Trojans, the Beavers find themselves two games back in the division, trying to move up. The trend will hopefully continue and maybe even help sway the school’s national outlook into a more positive light after the referee tripping debacle last week…

For those who haven’t heard, it helps to digest the incident with the stage set, first:

It’s the final three minutes of a tied ballgame when OSU forward Jarmal Reid creates a turnover, stealing the ball from his Utah counterpart. During the theft, he gets bumped to the ground, but still manages to pass the ball off to a teammate. When there was no foul called on the play, Reid became upset as he picked himself up off the floor, sticking out his leg in the process and tripping the ref, who fell flat on his face. Consequently, Reid was given a Flagrant 2 foul and ejected from the game. The foul gave Utah a free throw, which was made, and the Utes had their first lead while regaining possession of the ball. OSU ultimately lost the contest, only scoring one after the incident, and some could argue that foul ultimately cost them the game. The university issued a sanction against Reid for violating code of conduct, and he is currently in the middle of serving a four game suspension.

Meantime, there are four teams, including the Ducks, that are still undefeated at home. This paints a picture of a collective group that needs to pull off a few key road victories over the remaining 11 games to decide the front-runner. Oregon, at 16-4 overall, specifically needs to improve its game away from Matthew Knight Arena in order to be crowned this year’s Pac-12 champions. With Arizona and USC stumbling on the road, right now that slight edge goes to USC and Colorado, both with 3-1 road records.

The Ducks are among a bunch of teams that follow with 2 road wins.

If they can beat Arizona (results from Thursday night not available at press time) or Arizona State this week on the road, that would be a big step toward earning Oregon a league title this year.DuckStatue

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