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Pac-12 Season Preview: Power Rankings, Preseason Awards and the return of the Quack?

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Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2019-20 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Pac-12 Conference.



The Pac-12 is going to be one of the mot interesting conference races this year.

There are four teams that can win the league, and unlike past seasons, there looks to be at least five or six teams that are going to be good enough to earn an at-large bid.

There are also a number of teams with real question marks surrounding their talent.

How will it all play out?

Here is the Pac-12 preview:

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Oregon reloaded, and they’re the favorites to win the league

The Ducks started out the 2018-19 season in sloppy fashion. In late February, they were sitting at 15-12 overall with a 6-8 record in the Pac-12. But after winning four straight to close out the regular season, Oregon not only won the Pac-12 tournament but they took down Wisconsin and UC Irvine in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament to advance to the Sweet 16, where they came within a couple possessions of knocking off Virginia. Put another way, Oregon was playing like a top 10 team by the time that March rolled around.

And it looked like the Ducks had something to build off of moving forward, but this offseason, Altman lost Bol Bol, Louis King and Kenny Wooten to early entry. Throw in the guys that transferred and the players that graduated, and Dana Altman suddenly had a rebuilding job on his hands with just three rotation players coming back.

Well, he rebuilt. In addition to landing a pair of talented grad transfers – sharpshooting guard Anthony Mathis from New Mexico and talented four-man Shakur Juiston from UNLV – he brings in a talented recruiting class that is headlined by C.J. Walker and N’Faly Dante and includes a handful of impact players, including JuCo transfer Chris Duarte. All told, there are eight new bodies coming into the program, and when combined with the return of Payton Pritchard, it gives Altman a roster that looks to be the favorite to win the league.

They have the perfect combination of experience and young talent. They have the best point guard in the league and pair him with arguably the best head coach in the league. That’s how you win conference titles.

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

2. Arizona is back to normal

The thing that craters a college basketball program, what torpedoes recruiting more than actual violations and sanctions, is the uncertainty that surrounds an NCAA investigation. That’s what happened to Arizona two years ago, when they lost what felt like an entire recruiting class because of the FBI investigation into corruption in college hoops.

This year, however, there is stability and certainly. It’s pretty clear that Arizona is not going to fire Sean Miller, which is why the Wildcats were able to land a pair of five-star prospects in Nico Mannion and Josh Green. It’s why transfers like Jemarl Baker and Jordan Brown enrolled at the school. It’s how they solidified their backcourt with the addition of UC Irvine grad transfers Maz Hazzard.

There are some question marks, however, namely the fact that none of Arizona’s big men are all that impressive. I don’t think anyone will feel all that comfortable with the likes of Chase Jeter, Stone Gettings and Ira Lee. That said, there are a couple of promising freshmen in the mix, and they may just be good enough for Arizona to win the Pac-12.

3. Colorado brings back everyone that matters

Colorado quietly finished last season with a 23-13 record, a 10-8 mark in the Pac-12 and on a run where they won 12 of the 16 games that they played in February and March. Perhaps the most important part of that run is that the Buffaloes bring back everyone. McKinley Wright IV, a potential Pac-12 Player of the Year, returns for his junior season as one of the nation’s most underrated point guards. Tyler Bey, who is coming off of an all-conference season, is back as well. Evan Battey will be a sophomore. D’Shawn Schwartz, Shane Gatling and Lucas Siewert will be upperclassmen.

This team is talented, they are experienced and they have earned the right to be considered a favorite to win the conference this season.

(Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

4. Mick Cronin is taking over at UCLA

UCLA might be the most fascinating team in the Pac-12 this season.

On the one hand, they are losing their three most talented players off of last year’s team – Kris Wilkes, Jaylen Hands and Moses Brown. That’s not good. On the other hand, the Bruins finally cut ties with Steve Alford, they went out and hired Mick Cronin and they managed to keep the rest of their roster more or less intact. What that means is that the man that got Cincinnati to nine straight NCAA tournaments will take over a UCLA team that has more than enough talent on the roster to get to the Big Dance.

The question is going to be how that roster adjusts to the new regime. Mick Cronin wants to play a certain way. He wants to defend. He wants to rebound. He wants to control tempo. His Bearcat program more or less ran itself over the course of the last decade, but his style of play would not exactly remind you of the Showtime Lakers.

UCLA has talent. Prince Ali, Tyger Campbell, Shareef O’Neal, Jalen Hill, Cody Riley, David Singleton, Jules Bernand, Chris Smith, Jaime Jaquez, Alex Olesinski. These are players that had plenty of offers coming out of high school. These are guys that were four- and five-star recruits during their high school days. They have the horses to make some noise this season.

5. Keep an eye on the freshmen at USC and Washington

Arizona isn’t the only program that brought in a pair of five-star guys this offseason.

Washington’s duo is more notable. Isaiah Stewart is a top five prospect in the class and a guy who could every well end up being the most productive player in the league. He will more than replace what Washington loses in Noah Dickerson. The more interesting freshman is Jaden McDaniels, a 6-foot-11 perimeter weapon that has immense skill for someone his size. How well will they acclimate to the college ranks?

Then there are the guys at USC. The biggest name is Onyeka Okongwu, a five-star center and a former teammate of the Ball family. He’s joined on the Trojan roster by Isaiah Mobley, the son of a USC assistant and the older brother of Evan Mobley, arguably the top player in the 2020 class.

PRESEASON PAC -12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: PAYTON PRITCHARD, Oregon

Pritchard is just such a good basketball player. He’s not flashy and he’s not going to draw NBA scouts into the arena, but he just knows how to play. He’s coming off of a season where he averaged 12.9 points, 4.6 assists and 3.9 boards while leading Oregon to the Sweet 16 as a No. 12 seed, and that came after he averaged 14.5 points and 4.4 assists while leading the Ducks to the Final Four as a No. 3 seed.

His experience is going to be so much more important this season as well. Oregon is going to be very new. They will have just three returning players in the mix and a large class of freshmen, JuCo transfers and grad transfers. Pritchard’s reliability will be more important than ever this year.

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

THE REST OF THE ALL-PAC-12 FIRST TEAM

  • MCKINLEY WRIGHT, Colorado: One of the most under-appreciated players in the country. Wright is right there with Pritchard as the favorite to win Player fo the Year in the Pac-12. He’s also the main reason that the Buffaloes are, on paper, an NCAA tournament team.
  • NICO MANNION, Arizona: The crown jewel of Arizona’s recruiting class, Mannion is a future lottery pick that will be the engine for this Arizona team.
  • TRES TINKLE, Oregon State: Playing for your father has to be a thrill for most college athletes, but it is a shame that Tinkle hasn’t been at a bigger program. He’s a terrific player that deserves more exposure.
  • ISAIAH STEWART, Washington: Stewart could end up being the most productive big man in the conference – and maybe the most productive freshman in college basketball – even if fellow five-star freshman Jaden McDaniels has the higher ceiling long term.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • REMY MARTIN, Arizona State
  • JOSH GREEN, Arizona
  • TYLER BEY, Colorado
  • JADEN MCDANIELS, Washington
  • ONYEKA OKONGWU, USC

BREAKOUT STAR: McKinley Wright, Colorado

Wright doesn’t technically qualify as a breakout star because he was so good last season, but I’m listing him here because I think that he is the guy that makes the leap from popular amongst Pac-12 nerds to being a bonafide star in the collegiate ranks. With an experienced roster coming back, the Buffaloes are a very real threat to win the league, and the biggest reason for that is Wright.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Jerod Haase, Stanford

This may be a year early on Haase, but this is his fourth season in Palo Alto, and the Caridnal have not really improved despite the fact that he has had improved talent coming through the ranks. He has finished under-.500 in two of his first three season, has a 25-29 record in a weak era for Pac-12 basketball and has yet to finish a season with fewer than 16 losses.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …

It’s been a while since we saw six Pac-12 teams in the NCAA tournament, but they got it done this year.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT …

Seeing veteran laden teams like Colorado and Oregon push around one-and-done factories Washington and Arizona.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR

  • 11/12, Memphis at Oregon
  • 11/16, Tennessee vs. Washington (Toronto)
  • 12/7, Arizona at Baylor
  • 12/8, Gonzaga at Washington
  • 12/14, Gonzaga at Arizona
(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

PREDICTED FINISH

1. OREGON: The more I think about it, the more I believe that the Ducks are the clear favorite to win the Pac-12. They have the best player in Payton Pritchard. They have arguably the most talent in the league. They have added high-level freshmen talent (C.J. Walker, Chandler Lawson, N’Faly Dante) and impact veteran transfers (Anthony Mathis, Shakur Juiston, Chris Duarte). Perhaps most importantly, they have a head coach that has proven he has the ability to get a roster of new faces to buy in and play together.

2. ARIZONA: I love the backcourt talent on Arizona’s roster. I don’t think anyone is questioning how good Nico Mannion and Josh Green can be. The issue is whether or not the big guys are going to step up and be good enough, and if guys like Max Hazzard can provide enough experience to carry the freshmen through the tough moments.

3. COLORADO: The Buffaloes are far and away the most experienced team in the Pac-12. They essentially bring back everyone from last season’s rotation, two of whom – McKinley Wright and Tyler Bey – were all-conference players last year. This looks like it will be Tad Boyle’s best team in Boulder, and they have the horses to make a run at the league title.

4. WASHINGTON: I can see the Huskies finishing anywhere from first to fourth in the conference and I would not be surprised. Just how good is Jaden McDaniels going to be in his one season on campus? Will Quade Green get eligible immediately? Can the likes of Naz Carter and Hameir Wright fill the void left by Matisse Thybulle? There is talent on this roster. There are question marks as well.

5. USC: In theory I really like this USC team. Their frontcourt is absolutely loaded, they have a couple of very good freshmen in the mix and they added experience and shooting in the grad transfer market. What I’m not convinced of is whether or not this group actually has the point guard play they are going to need to crack the top four in the Pac-12.

6. ARIZONA STATE: There are things to like about this Arizona State program. Their starting backcourt of Rob Edwards and Remy Martin is talented and old, which is the perfect combination in the college ranks, Romello White is back up front and Bobby Hurley has brought in enough new pieces to help fill in the gaps on the roster. The key to the Sun Devils approaching their ceiling will center around Taeshon Cherry and Kimani Lawrence. If they play up to their ability, this should be a tournament team.

7. UCLA: I tend to err on the side of success when it comes to Mick Cronin, and the truth is that there is talent on his roster with the Bruins. The key is going to be the buy-in, and while everyone said all the right things when I wrote this piece, it’s hard to know exactly what is going on in that locker room or how the players will react when Mick goes full Mick.

8. OREGON STATE: It’s not crazy to say that Tres Tinkle is the best player in the Pac-12 right now. He’s a big-time scorer that can space the floor, play in the paint and create offense for his teammates. The problem is that outside of Tinkle, Ethan Thompson and maye Kylor Kelley or Payton Dastrup, there just isn’t all that much talent on the roster.

9. STANFORD: My general apathy towards the Stanford program is more or less explained in the Coach Under Pressure section, but at the very least we can say the Cardinal have a roster that looks stronger than the bottom of the Pac-12. Daejon Davis, Bryce Wills, Kodye Pugh, Oscar Da Silva, Jaiden Delaire. There are some good pieces here, but struggling with good pieces more or less sums up Stanford basketball this decade.

10. UTAH: Larry Krystkowiak is a good coach that can get the most out of the players on his roster, but the Utes have just one player on their team that is an upperclassmen and that’s junior JuCo transfer Alfonso Plummer.

11. CAL: Mark Fox takes over for Wyking Jones at Cal after Jones went 8-23 last season and won just three Pac-12 games. It’s not pretty in Berkeley, but there are two things that give me confidence about the Golden Bears. On the one hand, Matt Bradley will be back for his sophomore season and I think he’s a guy with all-conference potential. I also tend to trust Mark Fox, who has had some success at the high-major level, to find a way to be more competitive than Cal was last season. That’s about all the nice things I have to say.

12. WASHINGTON STATE: Kyle Smith takes over a Washington State program that is not exactly in a great spot right now. In five years in Pullman, Ernie Kent has never won more than 13 games, and he leaves Smith with a roster that went 4-14 in the conference last year and lost its best player, Robert Franks. That’s less than ideal.

Three Things To Know: Memphis embarrassed; Luka Garza shows out again

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The story of the night in hoops was Zion Williamson’s return to the basketball court.

But there was plenty of action in the college ranks that is worthy of talking about.

Here are the three things that you need to know:

1. No. 20 MEMPHIS LOST BY 40 TO TULSA

That is not a typo.

The 20th-ranked team in the country went into Tulsa, Okla., and lost to the Golden Hurricane, 80-40. Tulsa was up 40-17 at halftime. This was a butt-whooping that was so bad that all Tulsa needed to do was score a single point in the second half and they would have been able to get the win.

Memphis shot 28 percent from the floor. They were 2-for-21 from three. They finished the night with more turnovers (20) and fouls (22) than field goals (16). This was the worst loss that a top 25 team has suffered against a ranked team in 27 years, since UConn beat then-No. 12 Virginia by 41 points.

For Tulsa, this is a massive, massive win. They are currently sitting all alone in first place in the American standings, a half-game up on Houston.

So good for Frank Haith.

But the story here is Memphis, because the Tigers, considered title contenders before the season began, look anything-but right now.

“We let our defense dictate our offense,” head coach Penny Hardaway told reporters after the game. “We didn’t play any defense today. I think today was the first day we’ve done that ll year. I don’t know if guys overlooked Tulsa because of the name. We did our due diligence as a coaching staff to let them know what was going to happen with the matchup zone and how hard they play.

“It’s pretty embarrassing.”

2. LUKA GARZA WENT NUTS AGAIN

If it seems like Garza is putting up monster numbers every games, it’s because he is.

On Wednesday night, the Hawkeyes welcomed newly-ranked Rutgers to campus and sent them home with an entertaining, hard-fought, 85-80 win. And Garza was the star of the show. He finished with 28 points, 13 boards, four blocks and two steals in the win, anchoring the paint as Iowa out-scored Rutgers 47-37 in the second half.

The big fella is now averaging 23 points and 10.5 boards.

Iowa has now won four straight games to move into a tie for third in the Big Ten standings — with Rutgers, among others — and they have won eight straight games in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. They are a third of the way through a three-game homestand as well.

3. VIRGINIA TECH TAKES DOWN NORTH CAROLINA

Virginia Tech kept up their push to finish as the fourth-best team in the ACC with a 79-77 double-overtime win over North Carolina.

The Hokies are now 14-5 overall and 5-3 in the ACC, but the more interesting story might actually be the Tar Heels.

They are 8-10 on the season and 1-6 in the ACC. They have been a disaster for the last month, but there may be some reinforcements on the way in the shape of Cole Anthony. If he returns and the Tar Heels, who are 2-7 in his absence but have wins over Alabama and Oregon with him, get things back on the right track, they are likely going to find themselves in an incredibly awkward situation on Selection Sunday.

Big 12 hands down Kansas-Kansas State fight suspensions

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The Big 12 handed down suspensions to four Kansas and Kansas State players for their role in the fight that occurred in Phog Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday night.

Silvio De Sousa, who tried to fight three different Kansas State players and picked up a stool during the melee, received a 12 game suspension from the conference. David McCormack, who went into the stands to confront James Love III, received a two game suspension. Love was given eight games for part in the fight, while Antonio Gordon, the freshman that turned a messy situation into a fight, was hit with a three game suspension.

“This kind of behavior cannot be tolerated and these suspensions reflect the severity of last evening’s events,” said Commissioner Bob Bowlsby.  “I am appreciative of the cooperation of both institutions in resolving this matter.”

In the final seconds on Tuesday night, after DaJuan Gordon stole the ball from him at halfcourt, De Sousa blocked Gordon’s shot and towered over him. That sparked an incident that turned into a full-fledged brawl, as De Sousa threw punches at three different players on Kansas State before picking up a stool as the fight spilled into the handicapped section of Kansas seating.

Self called the fight “an embarrassment” after the game, adding on Wednesday that “we are disappointed in [De Sousa’s] actions and there is no place in the game for that behavior.”

McCormack will be eligible to return for Kansas on Feb. 1st when they play Texas Tech at home. De Sousa will be available to play in the final game of the regular season at Texas Tech. Gordon can return on Feb. 3rd, when the Wildcats host Baylor, while Love will be out until late February. But he has played just one game and two minutes on the season, so there is no clear indication of when he will actually put on a Kansas State jersey again.

The four most important questions after Kansas-Kansas State fight

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Very other sport can treat brawls like comedy, and I think it’s about time that we did the same for basketball.

So let’s take a look at the four funniest moments from last night’s Kansas-Kansas State fight. Shouts to Jomboy:

1. IS THE KANSAS MASCOT OK?

Throughout the entire fight, the mascot is just in utter disbelief. He cannot believe what he just saw, and he certainly cannot be consoled:

2. CAN JEREMY CASE START AT LINEBACKER FOR KU’S FOOTBALL TEAM?

Case is the video coordinator for Kansas. He’s also a former Kansas point guard. He knows what this rivalry is all about, and he also is not going to be afraid to get in the middle of it.

Case starts out on the wrong side of the melee:

But when he sees De Sousa and Love squaring up and throwing punches, he intervenes by throwing himself into a player six inches taller than him:

3. WHAT HAPPENED TO JAMES LOVE III’S SHOE?

James Love the third has played in exactly one game this season. He has spent more time on the court fighting that he has actually playing, but he still found a way to get into the middle of this fight and, in the process, lost his shoe:

He’s not dressed for the game.

Did he bring an extra pair of shoes? Did he have to head back onto the bus without a shoe on this right foot? So many questions, so few answers.

4. WHO IS THE MAN IN THE ORANGE HAT?

He’s some kind of photographer.

He got his shot, that’s for sure:

Kansas-Kansas State fight: Nuance, context the key in Silvio De Sousa discussion

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So I wanted to elaborate on a point that I made on twitter this morning because 280 characters just is not enough to be able to parse through the nuance of this situation.

If you missed it, the thread is here.

First and foremost, everyone involved in this needs to be punished. Silvio De Sousa needs to be suspended. Antonio Gordon needs to be suspended. James Love III needs to be suspended. David McCormack, and potentially Marcus Garrett, probably need to be suspended, although I’m not sure either of them actually through a punch. Point being, anyone else that threw a punch needs to be suspended.

Full stop.

I am not saying otherwise.

But I think that it is important to add some context to the conversation, and I also think that it is important to say this: This doesn’t make any of the young men involved in this fight bad people. Silvio De Sousa is not inherently a bad person because he picked up a stool, and the faux-trage of people calling for him to get booted out of school, arrested or even deported are, at best, completely over-reacting and, at worst, showing off a bit of their racial bias.

Before I get into this, one more thing: I am not condoning any of it. Fights like this should not happen.

But the reality of hyper-competitive athletics is that in emotionally charged situations, fights are going to happen. And if you’ve ever been in a fight like this, you know that things happen incredibly quickly. You’re not thinking, you’re reacting. You can’t call a 20 second time out to come up with a way to defend yourself when someone is throwing haymakers, you just do what you can in the moment.

So let’s talk about the moment, shall we?

De Sousa is the guy that set this entire thing in motion with the way that he reacted to DaJuan Gordon’s steal and layup attempt. The reason the Kansas State bench rushes over to the scene is because De Sousa is towering over one of their freshman teammates, and the reason the Kansas sideline runs over is because the Kansas State sideline does. What turned this incident into a full-fledged brawl was Antonio Gordon flying in and shoving De Sousa over the back of the basket stanchion. De Sousa reacts by throwing punches at two different Kansas State players when a third player — James Love III, in the black polo — comes flying in and squares up with him. They both throw a few punches at each other, knocking De Sousa back over the stanchion again as Kansas staffer Jeremy Case comes flying in to break them up.

Put yourself in De Sousa’s shoes here. In the span of 10 seconds, he’s fought three different Kansas State players, sees nothing but purple in front of him and just got knocked to the ground. Is he getting jumped? Does he have to fight them 1-on-3? That’s when he grabs the stool, to defend himself, and when he sees that no one is coming after him anymore, he drops it:

Context.

He should be suspended for 8-10 games.

He set this entire thing in motion.

But maybe, just maybe, tone down the rhetoric.

Women’s Wednesday: A new column dedicated to the women of college basketball

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Welcome to CBT’s first ever weekly women’s basketball column. I’m here to help provide you with some insight into the world of women’s college hoops.

Women’s sports are reaching new heights, especially in basketball. The WNBA announced a new collective bargaining agreement starting in the 2020 season that includes a 53 percent raise, maternity benefits, a base salary and performance-based bonuses. This year’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament will be broadcasted in its entirety on ESPN, with the semifinals and championship game premiering in primetime.

Female athletes are beginning to garner the attention they deserve. Sabrina Ionescu is drawing national attention for a historic senior season, as she has 22 career triple-doubles and became Oregon’s all-time leading basketball scorer in her career-high 37-point performance against Stanford last week. In the WNBA, women such as Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, and more are shattering gender stereotypes and proving that women can play basketball at a high level, just as men can.

While women’s sports have made a push into the public eye, there is still quite a way to go. It’s important to place an emphasis on the women who excel in their sport and give them the spotlight they deserve. Too many times women are only given credit through a masculine lens, whether that’s only getting attention after receiving praise from men, being compared to a male counterpart, or being a footnote in a male athlete’s story. Female athletes deserve to be their own story.

That’s what I’m hoping to do with this column over the rest of the season — give women a place to shine. I’d like to use this space to highlight some of the amazing women that play in the NCAA and hear from them about their experiences, the records they’re setting and their basketball journey. While I won’t even begin to make a dent in the breadth of talent available in women’s college basketball, I hope to use this column each week to take a deeper dive into some incredible women, as well as give you an idea of what’s happening around the country that week.

WEDNESDAY’S NEWS AND NOTES

South Carolina sits atop the world of college hoops, earning 22 first-place votes from the AP panel to nab the No. 1 spot. The Gamecocks have an 18-1 record with wins over ranked opponents such as Maryland, Baylor, Kentucky and most recently Mississippi State.

Baylor — the reigning national champs —- sits in the No. 2 spot in the rankings after dethroning UConn and ending its dominant 98-game winning streak at home. The Lady Bears received six of the first-place votes from the AP committee.

The rest of the top five is filled out by UConn at No. 3, Oregon at No. 4 after beating then-No. 3 Stanford, and Louisville rounds it out at fifth, receiving the last two first-place votes.

In a monster performance against Stanford, Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu had a career-high 37 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. She has four triple-doubles on the season and has a chance to become the NCAA’s first player to eclipse 2,000 career points, 1,000 career rebounds and 1,000 career assists. As of Jan. 18, she has 2,265 points, 904 rebounds and 928 assists.

DePaul remains unbeaten in the Big East, with Chante Stonewall leading the team with 17.9 ppg while Kelly Campbell has 102 assists on the season, ranking No. 8 in the country.

Baylor’s 40-point victory over then-No. 17 West Virginia is their 45th consecutive Big 12 win.

Mississippi State’s JaMya Mingo-Young and Aliyah Matharu combined for 24 points and four steals off the bench in a close 79-81 loss to South Carolina on Monday.

Star freshman and No. 1 recruit Haley Jones suffered an apparent right knee injury and left Stanford’s Sunday win over Oregon State. She is scheduled to have an MRI but the team has given no further updates.

North Carolina State’s Elissa Cunane has 20+ points in four of her last six games and 10 double-doubles on the season, helping the Wolfpack to a dominant win over Florida State last week.

UCLA became the last undefeated team to fall with a double overtime loss to USC — who hadn’t yet won a Pac-12 matchup —  on Friday.

Northwestern made its debut this season in the Top-25, coming in at No. 22 — its first ranking since the 2015-2016 season.

No. 3 Oregon faces rival No. 7 Oregon State on Friday in a crucial Pac-12 matchup.

Stanford freshman Fran Belini threw down a one-handed dunk in pregame warmup before facing Oregon that you HAVE to see: