Utes are down, but so is rest of Pac-12

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 27 2011 11:00 p.m. MST

Scott Bamforth, of WSU, Byron Fulton, of WSU, and Blake Wilkinson, of Utah reach for a rebound as Weber State University faces the University of Utah in NCAA basketball in Ogden, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Of all the years to join the Pac-12 Conference, this would seem to be the best one for the University of Utah men's basketball team to make its mark.

The Pac-12 is down, even from last year's down year when only three teams made it to the NCAA Tournament.

Currently, there are no Pac-12 teams in the Top 25 rankings and the league is listed at No. 8 in the latest Sagarin conference rankings, below the Mountain West (5) and Missouri Valley (7) and barely ahead of the Atlantic 10. This year, the MWC, Utah's old league, has an 11-3 record against the Pac-12.

Unfortunately for the Utes, though, this isn't a good year for them to be joining any new league as they are off to one of the worst starts in Ute history with an inexperienced team under first-year coach Larry Krystkowiak. Not since 1972-73 have the Utes been 3-9 and only once (1935-36) have they been worse through 12 games.

So perhaps all this means is Utah won't lose by as many points as it would have in a more normal year for the Pac-12.

The Utes will get to see a whole new set of venues beginning Saturday afternoon when they open the season against Colorado in Boulder.

Eight of the league's teams begin play Thursday night, with Utah, Colorado, Arizona and Arizona State opening on Saturday.

Here is a look at each of the Pac-12 teams in order of their of the preseason poll by the league's media.

UCLA (7-5)

SO FAR: The Bruins got off to a shaky start with home losses to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee State. But after the 2-5 beginning they've reeled off five straight wins.

TOP PLAYERS: Senior guard Lazeric Jones averages 13.3 points per game, while 6-10 sophomore Travis Wear averages 10.5 points and 5.1 rebounds.

OUTLOOK: The Bruins have the talent to live up to their preseason billing and win the league. At the very least, they should be heading to the NCAA Tournament in March.

Cal (10-3)

SO FAR: The Bears have looked like the best team in the league most of the season, but have lost road games to Mountain West Conference teams UNLV and San Diego State and were blown out by 39 at Missouri.

TOP PLAYERS:Allen Crabbe is the team's top scorer (15.8 ppg) and 3-point shooter, while Jorge Gutierrez averages 13.8 points and shoots 87 percent from the line.

OUTLOOK: By the end of the season, the Bears should have between 20 and 25 wins and be on their way to the NCAAs.

Arizona (9-4)

SO FAR: Aside from the exhibition loss to Seattle Pacific, the Wildcats' regular-season losses have come against good teams such as Gonzaga, Florida, Mississippi State and San Diego State. Their best win was a 16-pointer over Clemson.

TOP PLAYERS:Solomon Hill averages 12.2 points and 7.7 rebounds and Kyle Fogg is right behind at 12.1 ppg and leads the team in 3-point shooting at 46.2 percent.

OUTLOOK: The Wildcats should contend for the regular-season title and have a decent shot at an NCAA berth.

Washington (6-5)

SO FAR: The Huskies have lost every road game so far and were embarrassed at home by South Dakota State 92-73 10 days ago.

TOP PLAYERS: Freshman guard Troy Wroten averages 16.0 ppg, while Terrence Ross averages 15.1 points and 6.5 rebounds. Former Pleasant Grove star C.J. Wilcox averages 14.5 points and is the leading 3-point shooter.

OUTLOOK: The Huskies have as much talent as anyone in the Pac-12 and should finish in the top half of the league, but may be NIT-bound this year.

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