The first Pac-12 Conference men's basketball season gets under way Thursday and the inescapable question is whether anyone is good enough to win it.
Someone must, of course. But no team has credentials that are convincing:
"Every time you start to identify a team, 'Oh yeah, they're going to be pretty good,' then they stumble," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. "I think everybody is capable. I think everyone feels vulnerable."
"I don't know who the favorite is," said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, whose Huskies lost by 19 points at home to South Dakota State.
The NCAA tournament outlook could be a bleak one for the Pac-12. As Montgomery said of the league, "We've already made our bed. The conference winner is going to go. Everybody else ..."
Here is how we see it:
1. Arizona (9-4): The Wildcats are a quick and athletic team that could give Cal trouble. They're not big, but they're aggressive and with two talented freshmen guards may have more upside than any team in the Pac-12. Coach Sean Miller is rebuilding a monster in Tucson and in a flawed conference, the Wildcats may be good enough to win it.
2. Cal (10-3): The Bears have the most experience in the league, probably the best coach, and the fiercest player in senior Jorge Gutierrez. But they lack depth and the losses to Missouri and UNLV suggest an ongoing problem matching up with teams such as Arizona.
3. Washington (6-5): "We've had teams," Romar said, "where the chemistry didn't look good, but by the end the chemistry was perfect." The UW sophomores may have to come to grips with the idea that freshman Tony Wroten Jr. could be the team's best player. By the end, maybe the best in the league.
4. Stanford (10-2): Can a team have too much depth? Yes, if that means the first eight players cannot separate themselves from the next four. The Cardinal won't reach its potential unless sophomores Anthony Brown and Dwight Powell blossom.
5. Oregon State (10-2): The Beavers have better depth and talent, including a potential conference player of the year in Jared Cunningham from San Leandro. But we've been teased by them before. We need to see results.
6. UCLA (7-5): Picked to win the league, the Bruins were 2-5 when coach Ben Howland booted disruptive star junior Reeves Nelson from the roster. Chemistry is better, but their past five wins came against teams with a combined record of 15 games under .500.
7. Oregon (9-3): Minnesota transfer Devoe Joseph makes the Ducks better, but those nine wins came via a strength-of-schedule rating of No. 246.
8. Washington State (8-4): Are the Cougars a mirage? Their ongoing six-game win streak featured five teams with an average Sagarin rating of 197, plus a Division II snack.
9. Colorado (7-4): There is hope for the future. Sophomore Andre Roberson entered the week averaging a double-double (11.6 points, 11.5 rebounds), and freshman Spencer Dinwiddie is scoring at a 15.7 clip the past six games.
10. USC (5-8): Yes, the Trojans played a challenging schedule. They also have scored 41 points or fewer three times and rely excessively on 5-foot-7 sophomore Maurice Jones, who could be ground down to 5-3 if he continues to play more than 39 minutes per game.
11. Arizona State (4-8): The Sun Devils won't get would-be freshman lifesaver Jahii Carson (ruled ineligible by the NCAA) until next season. In the meantime, they're already 2-6 at home.
12. Utah (3-9): Even if not statistically speaking, Utes are the league's worst offensive team, worst defensive team and worst rebounding team. That about covers it.
Contact Jeff Faraudo at firstname.lastname@example.org.