Ducking Through Hoops: Oregon Will Regain The PAC-12 Lead

By John Engel
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The PAC-12 Conference has been about as predictable as an early episode of “Lost”, and with the Oregon Ducks and Arizona Wildcats even at the top, only J.J. Abrams could accurately plot the remainder of the season.

Despite still playing without standout freshman point guard Dominic Artis, the Ducks are more likely to regain the lead over No. 7 ranked Arizona. Though Oregon is playing shorthanded and sloppily–the Ducks have turned the ball over 65 times in the last three games–they happen to be heading into the easiest stretch of their conference schedule.

Artis is expected to return on the road against Washington on Feb. 13 for Oregon (18-4, 7-2 PAC-12), after missing games against the Huskies, Stanford and Cal. The Ducks should secure two easy wins at home against Colorado and Utah, regaining them the No. 1 seed in the PAC-12.

The Wildcats won’t be so lucky.

With Oregon facing a devastating injury to a top contributor (Artis), their couldn’t be a better time for Arizona (19-2, 7-2 PAC-12) to capitalize in the conference standings. Unfortunately, the Wildcats are facing Stanford and Cal, each of which are coming off inspiring wins over No. 10 ranked Oregon and Oregon State. Arizona, on the other hand, narrowly squeaked by Washington 57-53 this week.

Now before I completely condemn the Wildcats, a team likely to win the conference tournament, it is likely they will come away with two conference wins against Cal and Stanford. But, the Cardinal is riding a three-game winning streak. If Arizona drops one game to the Bay Area tandem, it will be nearly impossible to catch an Oregon team which will finish out the season against some of the conference’s worst teams.

All of the pressure for Arizona will fall on the shoulders of senior forward Solomon Hill, who may finish the season as the PAC-12 Player of the Year. Much like Derrick Williams was in 2010-11 for the Wildcats when he one the award, Hill has been inside-outside weapon all season.

The PAC-12 Conference tournament is now less than six weeks away and the next four days will determine the No. 1 seed. With Oregon facing the softest portion of their schedule, Arizona will have to settle for second best in 2013.

Follow John Engel on Twitter: @engelsportsguy

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