Monday February 16th, 2015

Have two losses in the Pac-12 Conference set the league on a collision course for its two best teams?

Seems that way.

And it might just be the most exciting power conference race as the end of February draws near. Because with only a handful of games left, Arizona and Utah have separated themselves from the rest of the pack.

Eight teams began Sunday, attempting to make a statement in the race for the Pac-12.

Arizona and Utah, as has been the case all season long, were the only teams that did anything.

One win by 27 points. The other by 15.

So, on Feb. 16, Arizona and Utah sit 2.5 games clear of Oregon and UCLA. Both of those challengers have been unable to make much of a dent in the march toward inevitability for the Wildcats and Utes. Utah split its games with UCLA and has yet to play Oregon. (It does so on Feb. 22.) Arizona meanwhile, swept its series with Oregon and plays UCLA on Saturday.

The conference appeared to be a runaway in Arizona's favor until last Saturday, when the Wildcats fell on the road to Arizona State.

And frankly, that might've been the best thing to happen to the league.

It's set up a virtual dead-heat heading into the stretch run of the regular season. Arizona holds the slight advantage, having already beaten the Utes in the only meeting between the two teams — a 69-51 win, back on Jan. 17. There is one more game between the league's top two teams, coming on Feb. 28 at Utah, which could even things up heading into the final 10 days of the season.

But look around the country and what other major conference is providing this much intrigue at this point?

ACC? Virginia holds a 1.5-game advantage over Notre Dame and a two-game advantage over Duke.

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Big 12? Kansas has a comfortable two-game cushion over Iowa State.

Big East? Villanova is pulling further away from Butler, thanks to Saturday's buzzer-beater at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Big Ten? Wisconsin stretched its lead to 2.5 games over Maryland and Purdue (surprise, surprise), with a lot of the preseason favorites sliding further back.

SEC? Well, it's Kentucky … and then everyone else.

The Pac-12 right now, is it. As Valentine's Day weekend moves to the rearview mirror, Arizona-Utah might be the best thing going in the regular season. We got two more examples as to why on Sunday night, with both teams punishing inferior teams throughout the league.

Utah has three games between its home game against the Wildcats, with two of those coming on the road. Arizona has three as well, with two coming at home. So, we've only got less than two weeks until the best conference race in the country takes its next turn.

Stay tuned.

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