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Pac-12 update: Are the No. 2 UCLA Bruins now the team to beat?

A lot has changed since the preseason, but the UCLA Bruins have consistently been the best team in the Pac-12.

The balanced Bruins—with Charisma Osborne, Lauren Betts, Angela, Dugalic and Kiki Rice—look like the team to beat in the Pac-12.
Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images

Our Pac-12 preseason preview projected where we thought all would be in the conference hierarchy. Now that conference games are underway, we have more data and have seen how teams look. It’s a perfect time to update those projections and see where teams currently stand as conference games kick into high gear for the final season of Pac-12 competition.

No. 2 UCLA (12-0, 1-0)

UCLA sophomore center Lauren Betts.
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the Utah Utes suffering a huge injury with Gianna Kneepkens out for the rest of the season, UCLA is now the undisputed team to beat in the Pac-12. They've been dominant all year and started conference play with a convincing win against the USC Trojans, beating the JuJu Watkins-led team 71-64.

With star-level guard play from Charisma Osborne and center Lauren Betts coming into her own in her sophomore season, it will be difficult to beat the Bruins, even as doing so will be the goal of every team out West. So far, no team has accomplished it, as they have begun the season 12-0.

No. 8 Stanford (12-1, 1-0)

Duke v Stanford University
Stanford senior forward Cameron Brink.
Photo by John Todd/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Don't call it a comeback! Stanford has been here for years! With Cameron Brink averaging a double-double a night and Kiki Iriafen averaging 16.4 points and 9.7 rebounds a game, the Cardinal is a force to be reckoned with.

With both forwards being so consistent, Hannah Jump may be the key to maximizing their potential. If she can take her game to another level, she could elevate Stanford from contenders to champions in the spring.

No. 9 USC (10-1, 0-1)

USC freshman guard JuJu Watkins.
Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images

Watkins will soon be the best player in the country. The freshman has changed the Trojans overnight. She might also be one of the greatest freshmen in women’s college basketball history.

She's that good! With a player that talented on the floor, USC has a chance of beating anyone on any given night. If her teammates can just hit open shots and McKenzie Forbes can continue jelling with Watkins in the backcourt, USC can again rise in the rankings and be a factor in deciding who wins the Pac-12.

Tier 2: No. 5 Colorado (11-1, 1-0), No. 15 Utah (10-3, 0-1)

Colorado grad guard Jaylyn Sherrod.
Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post

Injuries happen, but they are never a fun part of the game. Due to Kneepkens being out, Utah has dipped into the second tier. There's just too much talent in the conference to overcome if such an important player is missing.

Colorado has been impressive and started the season 11-1.

Tier 3: Arizona (9-4, 1-0), Oregon (9-5, 0-1), Washington State (11-3, 0-1), Washington (11-1, 1-0)

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - First Round - Pennsylvania
Washington State senior center Bella Murekatete.
Photo by Eric Hartline/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Here, we have some solid programs, but just out of contention given how talented the top of the Pac-12 is. Arizona, Oregon, Washington State and Washington have had mixed results in non-conference competition and will likely struggle against the cream of the crop in the Pac-12.

Tier 4: Oregon State (12-0, 1-0), Arizona State (8-5, 0-1), California (10-3, 0-1)

We have Oregon State, Arizona State and California to round out the conference. Some teams have to be at the bottom, and right now, these programs are in the developmental phase and will be looking to spoil the contenders' season with some upset wins.

Closing thoughts

Conference play kicks into high gear this weekend and this iteration of the Pac-12 looks to be one of the best yet. With a Southern California rivalry at the top and Stanford and Utah still vying for the title, we should be getting intriguing matchups throughout conference play. It will be interesting to witness which teams rise and fall now that competition in the Pac-12 is underway.