It might not have been thinkable back in early December when UCLA was 1-5 against Division I competition, but the Bruins could actually win the Pac-12 this year, just as they were predicted to do before the season began. That would definitely be more a commentary on how weak the conference is than anything else, but it's certainly within the realm of possibility after UCLA swept the Arizona schools this weekend.
Meanwhile, Long Beach State remains the class of the Big West Conference, and of the LA Eight schools overall as they moved their conference record to 3-0 this week. The Beach appears positioned to make a strong run through conference play, but unfortunately it may all come down to the Big West Tournament for them, as their impressive non-conference schedule did not yield enough impressive wins to guarantee an at large bid to the NCAA tournament and there certainly aren't a lot of quality wins available in the Big West.
This week is rivalry week in LA hoops, as UCLA visits USC and Loyola Marymount heads up the coast to Malibu to face Pepperdine.
The LA Eight Rankings (through games of January 10):
1. Long Beach State 49ers 10-6 (Last week: 1)
Long Beach State handled Cal Poly at home and Northridge on the road during the week. The win over Cal Poly is particularly important: there simply aren't that many dangerous teams in the Big West but the Mustangs are one of them. The Beach has a couple of gimmes at home this week and then one more game before their big showdown with conference co-favorite, UC Santa Barbara.
This week: UC Davis (1-14) Jan 12, Pacific (4-10) Jan 14
2. UCLA Bruins 9-7 (3)
The Bruins got by far their best win of the season so far over Arizona last Thursday. Not only did they beat a team considered a co-favorite to win the Pac-12, but they did so without center Joshua Smith, sidelined with a concussion. Smith returned Saturday to lead the team over Arizona St., leveling UCLA's Pac-12 record at 2-2. Importantly, with Colorado now the only school without a loss in conference play, the Bruins are already back within a game of all of the favorites. If they're past the dysfunction, they certainly have as much talent as any other team in the conference.
This week: @ USC (5-12) Jan 15.
3. Cal State Fullerton Titans 10-5 (2)
In this space a week ago I wrote "This coming week will finally determine whether the Titans are for real, as they face tough road games at Santa Barbara and Cal Poly." Well, they're not for real as they lost both of those games. Fullerton will win plenty more conference games against the weaker teams in the Big West, but I don't think they can play with Long Beach and Santa Barbara and eventually they're headed for a semi-final loss in the Big West tournament at best.
This week: @ Cal State Bakersfield (9-9) Jan 14.
4. Loyola Marymount Lions 9-7 (4)
The Lions split their two games this week, winning on the road in San Diego after losing a close one to WCC power BYU. LMU managed to play the Cougars even through the first half, but eventually fell by 8. They remain without leading scorer Ashley Hamilton, and if they ever get him back (he was due back a while ago) they might be a very good team.
This week: @ Pepperdine (7-8) Jan 12.
5. Pepperdine Waves 7-8 (5)
Pepperdine has managed to win more games this year than most predicted they would, but they have also suffered some bad, bad, bad, bad losses. They were buried by UCLA back in December, 62-39. Then, in their second WCC game, they lost to St. Mary's 74-45. In their third WCC game last week, they did slightly better on the road against Gonzaga - they lost 73-45. They also lost at Portland, dropping to 1-3 in conference play. Gonzaga and St. Mary's are good teams, but 70-something to 40-something shouldn't happen.
This week: Loyola Marymount (9-7) Jan 12.
6. UC Irvine Anteaters 6-10 (7)
The Anteaters had a good week, and find themselves in third place in the Big West at 3-1 in conference play. However, as I mentioned the conference has several weak teams, and UCI has gotten fat on some of the conference cupcakes. It gets decidedly tougher this week against the Mustangs and the Gauchos.
This week: Cal Poly (10-6) Jan 12; @ UC Santa Barbara (7-5) Jan 14.
7. USC Trojans 5-10 (6)
After back to back home losses to the Arizona schools, USC finds itself in last place in the Pac-12, winless after four games. The Trojans are simply terrible on offense, as they've averaged fewer than 48 points per game in their last five, all of them losses. A win over UCLA on Sunday would of course go a long way towards salvaging the season for USC.
This week: UCLA (9-7) Jan 15.
8. Cal State Northridge Matadors 4-9 (8)
With their only game last week coming at Long Beach State, the Matadors had little hope of winning. This coming week things could be different, with Pacific and UC Davis visiting the valley.
This week: Pacific (4-10) Jan 12; UC Davis (1-14) Jan 14.
If you go to only one college basketball game in the Southland this week, make it:
UCLA visiting USC at the Galen Center, Sunday at 6 PM. If you go to two games, the second one can be LMU at Pepperdine Thursday night at 7 PM in Malibu. Rivalry week!