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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
SO FAR: The Ducks have played a pretty soft schedule and have lost by double digits to the good teams on their schedule like Vanderbilt, BYU and Virginia. They did beat Nebraska on the road by 13.
TOP PLAYERS: Senior guard Garrett Sim averages 12.8 ppg on 55.7 shooting and 47.8 from 3-point range. Junior forward E.J. Singler averages 12.2 ppg and leads the team in rebounding.
OUTLOOK: The Ducks have made improvement under coach Dana Altman, but may be no better than a .500 team this year.
SO FAR: The Cardinal have had the best record in the league all preseason and made it to the finals of the NIT Season Tipoff, where they lost to No. 5 Syracuse by six points. Top wins were against Oklahoma State and North Carolina State.
TOP PLAYERS: Senior forward Josh Owens leads the Cardinal in scoring (12.7 ppg) and rebounding (5.4 rpg) and shoots 61.9 percent from the field. Sophomore point guard Aaron Bright leads the team in assists and 3-point shooting while scoring 11.3 ppg.
OUTLOOK: This should be the best team for fourth-year coach Johnny Dawkins, who was 49-48 coming into this season. With a good start in a weak league, the Cardinal could make the NCAAs for the first time since 2008.
SO FAR: The Trojans have had trouble scoring, with five games under 50 points, including an embarrassing 42-36 home loss to Cal Poly.
TOP PLAYERS:Maurice Jones, a 5-foot-7 sophomore guard, is the top scorer (14.9 ppg) and 3-point shooter (37.1 percent). Junior forward Aaron Fuller is second in scoring (11.9 ppg) and tops in rebounding (6.8 rpg).
OUTLOOK: Unless they find some offense, the Trojans will finish worse than predicted and end up with a losing season.
Oregon State (10-2)
SO FAR: The Beavers are tied with Stanford for the best record, and their win over Texas in New Jersey might be the best in the league thus far this year. Most of the rest of their wins were over cupcake teams and they lost at home to Idaho by 14 points.
TOP PLAYERS: Sophomore forward Devon Collier averages 14.1 ppg and is second in the league in field goal percentage at 65.7 percent. Sophomore guard Ahmad Starks scores 12.5 ppg and is second in the league in steals.
OUTLOOK: The Beavers, who have been best-known for having a coach who is the brother-in-law of President Obama, have just one senior and could challenge for an NCAA berth this year.
Arizona State (4-8)
SO FAR: The Sun Devils have already lost six home games this year, as well as a neutral-court game to Fairfield. Their only good win came against Wake Forest.
TOP PLAYERS: Sophomore guard Keala King scores 14.2 per game and junior Trent Lockett scores 13.8 and leads the team with 6.9 rebounds per game.
OUTLOOK: After three 20-plus win seasons, the Sun Devils went 12-19 last year and are headed for a similar record this year, if they're lucky.
Washington State (8-4)
SO FAR: After losing three straight in late November, the Cougars have run off six straight wins, although they've come against the likes of Grambling, Western Oregon and Eastern Washington.
TOP PLAYERS:Brock Motum, a 6-10 junior, leads the team in scoring (14.2 ppg), rebounding (6.4 rpg) and shooting (55.7 percent), while junior point guard Reggie Moore leads the Pac-12 in assists at 5.5 per game.
OUTLOOK: Third-year coach Ken Bone led his team to the NIT semifinals last year, and a return trip to the NIT might be a good season for the Cougars.
SO FAR: The Buffaloes haven't had any great wins and have lost to both Colorado State and Wyoming, the latter at home.
TOP PLAYERS: Former Ute Carlon Brown leads the Buffs in scoring at 12.5 ppg and is second in assists. Sophomore forward Andre Roberson leads the league in rebounding by a wide margin with 11.5 per game, while scoring 11.8 ppg.
OUTLOOK: After a great season last year when they should have made the NCAAs behind Alec Burks, the Buffaloes will struggle to stay above .500 this year.
SO FAR: The Utes are undoubtedly the worst Utah team in over 75 years, with 30-point losses to average teams such as Fresno State and Cal State Fullerton and a recent 29-point loss to Weber State. They did show some life with back-to-back wins over Idaho State and Portland.
TOP PLAYERS:Josh Watkins is second in the Pac-12 in scoring (16.1 ppg and assists (5.3 apg), while Jason Washburn scores 11.3 ppg and is fifth in the league in rebounding (7.1 rpg)
OUTLOOK: Don't expect the Utes to pick up any road wins this season. The best bets for victories will be home games against Washington State and Arizona State in January and perhaps a home upset or two in February. Things should get much better in 2012-13.
Pac-12 opening-week schedule
(All times MST)
UCLA at Stanford, 9 p.m.
USC at Cal, 7 p.m.
Oregon State at Washington, 7 p.m.
Oregon at Washington State, 7 p.m.
USC at Cal, 2 p.m.
Arizona State at Arizona, 3:30 p.m.
Utah at Colorado, 4 p.m. (ROOT)
Oregon State at Washington State, 4 p.m.
USC at Stanford, 4:30 p.m.
Oregon at Washington, 8 p.m. (ESPN2)
email: [email protected]