Having reached the halfway point of the Pac-12 Conference schedule, it's time to digest what we've seen and project what's to come.
College basketball writers Jeff Faraudo and Jon Wilner tackle six questions:
1. Which Pac-12 team is best positioned to win the regular-season title?
JF: Co-leaders Cal and Washington both have four more home games and end the schedule with three straight on the road -- the Bears at Utah, Colorado and Stanford; the Huskies at Washington State, USC and UCLA. Hardly an edge there, but my hunch is that Cal wins on the final day and Huskies falter.
JW: Cal. The Bears possess a slightly easier second-half schedule than the Huskies with three games left against the bottom feeders (Arizona State, USC and Utah) compared with UW's two. And Cal has the tiebreaker with its head-to-head win.
2. Who is the conference player of the year so far?
JF: Washington freshman guard Tony Wroten is a scorer and playmaker but is raw (poor shooter, too many turnovers). I'll take versatile senior Jorge Gutierrez, Cal's emotional glue and the toughest man in the Pac-12.
JW: There isn't an obvious choice. Wroten has been impressive (despite all the turnovers), and Colorado's Andre Roberson has five double-doubles in nine games. But the pick here is Gutierrez, Cal's heart and soul (and so much more).
JF: How about the legions who have been booted, suspended, ruled ineligible or have transferred midstream? That epidemic includes UCLA's Reeves Nelson, Arizona State's Keala King, Utah's Jiggy Watkins, Cal's Richard Solomon, Colorado's Damiene Cain, Arizona's Sidiki Johnson and Oregon's Jabari Brown.
JW: Do you have an hour? The list starts with UCLA's egregiously out-of-shape center, Joshua Smith. Arizona rookie guard Josiah Turner has been less than advertised. Oregon State's Roberto Nelson is a perennial member of the all-disappointing team. Stanford's Dwight Powell and Anthony Brown have struggled.
4. What has been the biggest surprise?
JF: Did not expect Arizona would be 5-4 at the turn. The Wildcats backcourt is erratic, and Arizona already has lost two Pac-12 games at McKale Center.
JW: Two things: UCLA's struggles (even at 5-4, the Bruins haven't been nearly as competitive as expected) and Colorado's success. The Buffs were projected to be a bottom-tier team -- and might yet end up there -- but they have been unbeatable at home and are tied for third. Tad Boyle is one of the league's best coaches.
5. Which Pac-12 teams will earn spots in the NCAA field?
JF: Cal and whoever wins the Pac-12 tournament title, probably Washington. No one else has an RPI rating that even guarantees them a spot in the NIT right now.
JW: Cal probably has the best chance to earn an at-large berth, but the Bears are hardly a lock given their lack of quality wins. Everyone else is on the wrong side of the bubble, or off it. The Pac-12 could be a one-bid league, just like the Big Sky.
6. Where would Saint Mary's College finish in the Pac-12?
JF: Trendy pick would be to say the Gaels could win it, and they are good enough to beat any Pac-12 team on a given day. I'll give them second place. As bad as the Pac-12 is, its teams from fourth through ninth place still are superior to those in the middle of the West Coast Conference.
JW: The Gaels have the size and depth to hold up over 18 games, but their dominance of the WCC simply doesn't translate to comparable success in the Pac-12. They'd finish in the top three, for sure.
If the Gaels (21-2) win their next four -- and that would require a Feb. 9 win at Gonzaga -- they will be 100 games over .500 (131-31) since the start of the 2007-08 season heading into their Feb. 18 ESPN BracketBusters game at Murray State.
The Racers (21-0) will be favored to win all five of their games in the meantime, so the Gaels will have a chance to knock off the country's lone remaining unbeaten.