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Pac-12 Basketball Notebook: Here Come the Oregon Ducks

Arizona looks a lot like Gonzaga and has the leader for conference player of the year

Two questions to answer this week:

---Are the  Oregon Ducks what we thought they were?

When thinking about Oregon's recent surge I am reminded of the immortal words of the late Dennis Green:

"They are who we thought they were."

Before Pac-12 play began, some idiot actually picked Oregon to win the conference title. And when the Ducks were slogging around with a 6-6 record, it appeared the Ducks and their talented transfers might never get it going, as they have in the past.

But, as teams with good coaching and new assortment of athletic, talented parts often do, they have found the sweet spot midway through the season. Cliche mavens would say they are "in sync," for lack of a better descriptions, and when Dana Altman's skilled, quick players are "in sync" they are a moving, passing, 3-point-shooting, fast-breaking, pressing joy to watch.

They have now won five games in a row, including this week's consecutive victories over No. 3 UCLA and No. 5 USC, both on the road. Granted, road wins in the COVID era are not as impressive as they are when arenas are filled with loud, obnoxious spectators, but it's still advantage to play at home.

Two of the Ducks' top three scorers -- Jacob Young and De'Vion Harmon -- are transfers, but the guy holding it together has been at Oregon seemingly forever -- Will Richardson. 

Two games don't prove the Ducks are title contenders, but there is no reason to believe they will regress.

They are, in fact, who we thought they were.

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---Is Arizona becoming another Gonzaga?

I can't remember who said it, but one of the TV talking heads, when asked which team Arizona reminds him of, answered "Gonzaga."

The comparison is unavoidable since first-year Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd was a Zags assistant coach for 20 years.  

But there is more. 

Gonzaga and Arizona both have efficient, high-scoring offenses that depend on balanced scoring. 

Gonzaga and Arizona are first and second in the country in scoring at the moment, averaging 90.9 points and 88.5 points, respectively.  They also rank first and eighth in the country in field-goal percentage, the Zags at 53.85% and the Wildcats shooting 49.9%, which leads the Pac-12. Both teams have four players averaging in double figures in scoring. 

Both schools make use of transfers. Two Gonzaga starters played elsewhere last season. and three transfers are making contributions at Arizona.

Both make use of foreign-born players. Arizona's roster includes eight players who are from outside the United States, and while Gonzaga has only two foreign-born players this season, it has history of using foreigners.

And, oh yeah, both are good. 

Gonzaga and Arizona rank first and second in the current NET rankings, which are used for NCAA tournament selections and seedings, and they are likely to be first and third, respectively, when the new AP rankings are released Monday. (Auburn will probably be between them.)

Top Five Pac-12 Teams (at the moment)

---1. Arizona (14-1, 4-0 Pac-12) -- The only defeat was a close loss at Tennessee, and the Wildcats won on the road against Illinois, which is in first place in the Big Ten.

---2. UCLA (11-2, 3-1) -- The only losses have been to Gonzaga and Oregon, but the Bruins should not have been ranked No. 2 in the preseason.

---3. Oregon (11-6, 4-2) -- Maybe we a little premature in putting the Ducks this high, but if you saw the Ducks against USC on Saturday, you might agree.

---4. USC (14-2, 4-2) -- When you look at who the Trojans have beaten (i.e., no one), you may wonder whether they deserve a top-10 ranking. Their best win was probably San Diego State.

---5. Stanford (10-5, 3-2) -- The win over USC gives the Cardinal a razor-thin edge over Colorado. 

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Pac-12 Player of the Year Standings:

---1. Bennedict Mathurin, Arizona -- He's averaging 18.0 points on 50% shooting and 6.3 rebounds for the conference's best team, and he has performed well against the best opponents, scoring 30 and 28 points in road games against Illinois and Tennessee.

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---2. Isaiah Mobley, USC -- His 15.3 points per game and conference'-leading 9.2 rebounds are impressive, but what sets him apart is that he is a 6-foot-10 player who is making 44.4% of his 3-pointers.

---3. Tyger Campbell, UCLA -- Johnny Juzang is the Bruin who gets the publicity, but Campbell makes them go. He's averaging 12.6 points with 4.1 assists against 1.1 turnovers, but the eye-opener is his 47.3% 3-point shooting after hitting 25.0% and 26.7% from long range the previous two years.

---4. Will Richardson, Oregon -- The leader of Oregon's surge is averaging 14.4 points, 3.3 assists, 3.4 assists, 45.1% 3-point shooting.

---5. Azuolas Tubelis, Arizona -- 15.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, 57.4% shooting.

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Player of the Week: 

Will Richardson, Oregon:

It's difficult to overlook Azuolas Tubelis, who had 32 points in the win over Utah, but Richardson averaged 18.0 points while collecting 10 rebounds, seven assists and four steals with just two turnovers in the Ducks' three wins this past week, including the upsets of UCLA and USC.

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Team on the Rise

---Oregon (11-6, 4-2) -- Uh, have you read this story?

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Team on the Skids

---Utah (8-9, 1-6) -- The Utes were 8-4 not long ago, but have lost five straight by an average margin of 13 points.

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Team on a Mystery Tour

---Washington (8-7, 3-2) -- The Huskies had early-season losses to Northern Illinois and Winthrop, so it seemed Mike Hopkins' days as coach were numbered. But they swept Cal and Stanford this week, making you wonder whether Terrell Brown Jr. and his teammates have found something.

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Numbers of Note:

16 -- The smallest margin of victory by Arizona in its four conference wins. The Wildcats have won those four contests by an average of 20.0 points.

1 -- Number of Pac-12 teams in the top 15 of the current NET rankings. Arizona is No. 2; that's it.

2 -- Number of Pac-12 teams in the top 25 of the NET rankings. Arizona is No. 2, and UCLA is No. 20.

2 -- Number of Pac-12 teams that have yet to win a game away from home. Oregon State is 0-7 in games on its opponent's court and neutral-site games and Cal is 0-6.

5 -- Number of Pac-12 teams outside the top 100 in the NET rankings.  Utah 119, Cal 128, Washington 143, Arizona State 168, Oregon State 204.

9 -- Number of times, in his 15 games, that Washington's Terrell Brown Jr. has scored 20 points or more. The Huskies are 5-4 in those games.

0 -- The number of times a Pac-12 team had a swept a conference road trip against. two top-10 teams before Oregon did it this week.

0 -- Number of times Oregon had defeated top-five teams in back-to-back games before the Ducks did it this week.

1976 -- The last time any team beat two AP top-five teams on the road in a five-day span.  Clemson did it in January 46 years ago, beating No. 5 Wake Forest and No. 2 Maryland.

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Top Upcoming Game This Week

---Thursday, January 20, at CU Events Center, Boulder, Colo., 4:30 p.m. Pacific time, Pac-12 Network – USC (14-2, 4-2) vs. Colorado (12-4, 4-2 Pac-12) – The Trojans are ranked No. 5 for one more day, but they have lost two of their last three games, and it's always tough to play at altitude in Boulder, where Colorado is 10-1 this season.

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Cover photo of Bennedict Mathurin by Randy Sartin, USA TODAY Sports

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Follow Jake Curtis of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jakecurtis53

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