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Pac-12 title still very much up for grabs

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 8 2012 2:44 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — The Pac-12 basketball season is nearly two-thirds complete, but the race for the title is wide open with half of the league's teams possessing a legitimate chance of winning the regular-season title.

Washington has emerged from the pack of what most folks are saying is the most mediocre bunch of Pac-12 basketball teams in years, as the season lurches toward the home stretch.

The Huskies improved to 9-2 last week, extending their winning streak to five with home wins over UCLA and USC. They are a game ahead of Cal and Colorado at 8-3 and two games ahead of Arizona and Oregon at 7-4.

However, the Huskies are perhaps no better off than UCLA, which is three games behind them at 6-5. That's because the Huskies have played seven of their 11 games at home, while the Bruins have played just four home games out of 11.

With 12 schools, Pac-12 teams play an unbalanced league schedule of 18 games, meaning every team in the league plays seven schools twice and four schools just once. So far, everyone has played anywhere from four to seven home games.

Looking at "plus-minus standings" — road wins vs. home losses — it's a four-way tie right now between Washington, Arizona, Oregon and UCLA, which are all plus-2.

UCLA is just 6-5 in league play, but the Bruins have played just four home games and seven on the road, while Washington has played seven home games and just four on the road.

Stanford is also 6-5, but is even in the plus-minus standings with one road win and one home loss. Oregon State (5-6) is actually in better shape at plus-1 with two road wins and one home loss. Those two schools are a longshot to win the regular-season title.

As for the rest of the league, Arizona State is minus-1, Washington State minus-2 and Utah and USC bring up the rear at minus-4.

It's hard to figure which team has the easiest schedule from here on out.

Washington doesn't have to play at Cal, which doesn't have to play at Arizona. The Wildcats avoid the two Oregon schools, which don't have to play at UCLA, but get the almost gimme win at USC. We likely won't know until the first weekend of March, which team will win the title.

NCAA BIDS: With such a mediocre league this year, the Pac-12 is unlikely to get more than a couple of NCAA bids and could end up with only one.

The tournament winner, of course, will get one, but after that it's going to be shaky.

In the latest RealTime RPI rankings, California is the highest-ranked team in the league at No. 48, followed by Arizona at 63, Colorado at 74 and Washington at 76.

Traditionally, teams in the RPI top 40 usually get at-large bids and after that just a handful of teams make it.

CONFERENCE RPI: The Pac-12 has fallen to No. 10 among the conferences in the country according to RealTime RPI. The league has been No. 9 most of the year, but has been surpassed by Conference USA.

Other "non-BCS" conferences ahead of the Pac-12 include the Mountain West (No. 5), Atlantic 10 (7) and Missouri Valley (8).

SCOTT STAYING: The Pac-12 has come a long ways under commissioner Larry Scott the past couple of years, which is why the league isn't about to let him go.

Earlier this week, the conference board of directors extended his contract through 2016 on a unanimous vote.

The 47-year-old Scott, who formerly headed the Women's Tennis Association, has overseen the expansion of the league to 12 teams and begun the Pac-12 network with a TV deal worth some $3 billion over the next 12 years.

His original contract was for around $1.5 million per year and you can bet he received a substantial raise to stay in his current position.

Commissioner Scott, by the way, is in Salt Lake today participating at a leadership summit at the University of Utah with representatives from all Pac-12 schools.

Pac-12 standings

Team Record Road wins vs. Home losses

Washington 9-2 +2

Colorado 8-3 +1

Cal 8-3 +1

Arizona 7-4 +2

Oregon 7-4 +2

UCLA 6-5 +2

Stanford 6-5 E

Oregon St. 5-6 +1

Wash. St. 4-7 -2

Arizona St. 3-8 -1

Utah 2-9 -4

USC 1-10 -4

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