Pac-12 Basketball Preview

Just two seasons ago, the Pac-12 conference hit rock bottom. It produced only two NCAA tournament bids and had the dubious distinction of becoming the first power conference not to get its regular season champion into the field of 68. The conference bounced back with a vengeance last season, and now the league looks poised to take yet another step in restoring some respect for the conference.

Let's take a deeper look into the Pac-12 conference and offer our predictions for the upcoming 2013-14 college basketball season.

Projected Order of Finish:

1. Arizona

Projected Starting Lineup: C – Caleb Tarczewski (So.); F – Brandon Ashley (So.); F – Aaron Gordon (Fr.); G – Nick Johnson (Jr.); G – T.J. McConnell (Jr.)

Key Reserves: F – Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Fr.); G – Jordin Mayes (Sr.); G – Gabe York (So.); F/C – Zach Peters (So.); F/C – Matt Korchek (Jr.)

Good News: The Wildcats have more talent than any other team in the conference. They legitimately have at least three future NBA first-round picks on their roster. Arizona will have a well-balanced attack this season and have the versatility to beat teams in a variety of ways. Gordon, Ashley, and Johnson will receive the bulk of media attention this season, but McConnell may be the difference-maker.

Bad News: Although extremely talented, the frontcourt is young and that proved to hurt Arizona at times last season. Also, the Wildcats have a relatively thin bench this season. Hollis-Jefferson and Mayes should be solid, but there is a significant drop-off after those two bench players.

Bottom Line: Sorry Sun Devil fans, but this team has all the pieces to make a deep run into the NCAA tournament. Don't be surprised to see the Wildcats advance to the Elite Eight or even the Final Four.

2. Colorado

Projected Starting Lineup: C – Josh Scott (So.); F – Wesley Gordon (Fr.); F – Xavier Johnson (So.); G – Spencer Dinwiddie (Jr.); G – Askia Booker (Jr.)

Key Reserves: F – Tre'Shaun Fletcher (Fr.); G – Jaron Hopkins (Fr.); F – Dustin Thomas (Fr.); G – Xavier Talton (So.); C – Ben Mills (Sr.)

Good News: Colorado returns four starters including the dynamic backcourt of Dinwiddie and Booker. The Buffaloes also have two talented frontcourt players in Scott and Johnson. The redshirt freshman Gordon has been solid in the preseason. Colorado also has a talented, yet underrated, recruiting class coming in. Under coach Tad Boyle, the Buffs will always be prepared and rarely beat themselves.

Bad News: It will be difficult to replace Andre Roberson, who declared early for the NBA draft. The versatile forward was Colorado's best defender and rebounder. Although they have a solid starting five, the Buffs' bench is suspect. It is mostly comprised of freshmen and unproven role players.

Bottom Line: Colorado is a top-25 team and they will continue to build on the program's recent success. With Dinwiddie leading the charge, the Buffs have the talent (and savvy) to win a few games in the tournament.

3. Oregon

Projected Starting Lineup: C – Austin Waverly (Sr.); F – Mike Moser (Sr.); F – Elgin Cook (So.); G – Damyean Dotson (So.); G – Dominic Artis (So.)

Key Reserves: G – Joseph Young (Jr.); G – Jonathan Loyd (Sr.); F – Ben Carter (So.); F/C – Richard Amardi (Sr.); G – Jason Calliste (Sr.)

Good News: Eugene has become the trendy landing spot for D-I transfers. This season the Ducks add three significant transfers to the mix with Moser, Young, and Calliste. All three players should provide instant offense for Oregon. Moser, an NBA prospect, is eager to bounce back after a disappointing junior year at UNLV. The Ducks also return the solid backcourt of Artis and Dotson, who were both pleasant surprises as freshmen last season. This is an athletic team that will be fun to watch.

Bad News: The Ducks will be forced to do a complete overhaul yet again this season. They lost a lot of experience and toughness with their departing seniors from last year. The center position could be an area of concern for Oregon this season with unproven big men Waverly and Amardi getting a bulk of the minutes.

Bottom Line: Oregon is a top-25 team that is loaded with talent and athleticism. Despite having a completely new roster every season, coach Dana Altman always seems to get the most out of his team…and this year will be no different. The Ducks have the talent to make the Sweet 16 this season.

4. Arizona State

Projected Starting Lineup: C – Jordan Bachynski (Sr.); F – Jonathan Gilling (Jr.); G/F – Shaquielle McKissic (Sr.); G – Jermaine Marshall (Sr.); G – Jahii Carson (So.)

Key Reserves: G/F – Brandan Kearney (Jr.); F/C – Eric Jacobsen (So.); F – Richie Edwards (Sr.); G –Calaen Robinson (Fr.); G/F – Egor Koulechov (Fr.)

Good News: Carson is back – and should arguably be the best player in the conference this season. Bachysnki had an impressive off-season with the Canadian national team and looks poised to have a breakout year. Gilling's high basketball IQ and shooting ability is invaluable. A slew of transfers (Marshall, McKissic, Kearney & Edwards) should provide additional scoring punch for the Sun Devils. This is probably the deepest and most talented team in the Herb Sendek-era.

Bad News: It will be hard for Arizona State to replace the production and leadership of Carrick Felix. Additionally, ASU will have to incorporate eight new players into their system – and that's a tall order for any coaching staff. Rebounding and interior defense, which plagued the Devils last season, could be an issue this year as well.

Bottom Line: With Carson at the helm, the Sun Devils will return to the NCAA tourney for the first time since 2009 and might even win a game or two. This is good news for Sendek, who has been on the hot seat the last few seasons.

5. UCLA

Projected Starting Lineup: C – Tony Parker (So.); F – Travis Wear (Sr.); G/F – Kyle Anderson (So.); G – Jordan Adams (So.); G – Norman Powell (Jr.)

Key Reserves: F – David Wear (Sr.); G – Zach Lavine (Fr.); G/F – Noah Allen (Fr.); F – Wannah Bail (Fr.); G – Bryce Alford (Fr.)

Good News: UCLA returns most of the nucleus from a team that finished first in the Pac-12 last season. Adams and Anderson are two of the most talented players in the country. The Wear twins are versatile big men, and fifth-year seniors, who provide the Bruins with valuable experience. Parker has trimmed this offseason and is expected to play a much larger role in coach Steve Alford's system. Five-star recruit Levine is a dynamic guard who is capable of providing instant offense off the bench.

Bad News: There is usually an adjustment period whenever a new head coach is hired. So, it wouldn't be surprising if the Bruins get off to a slow start this season. Additionally, UCLA struggled mightily with rebounding and interior defense last season. And none of their newcomers will help significantly in these areas. The lack of a true point guard will hurt the Bruins this year. Finally, the bench will be terribly thin for a second consecutive season.

Bottom Line: UCLA has a nice collection of talent, but probably not the "right" parts to be a contender this year. Not having a true point guard and adjusting to a new coach will be pressing issues for the Bruins this season. Despite these obstacles, UCLA will make the tournament and may possibly win a game.

6. Stanford

Projected Starting Lineup: F – Dwight Powell (Sr.); F – Josh Huestis (Sr.); G/F – Anthony Brown (Jr.), G – Chasson Randle (Jr.); G – Aaron Bright (Sr.)

Key Reserves: F – John Gage (Sr.); G – Marcus Allen (Fr.); F – Rosco Allen (So.); F/C – Schuyler Rimmer (Fr.); Robbie Lemmons (Sr.)

Good News: Stanford returns nearly the entire roster from last season. They will be the most experienced team in the conference this year. Powell emerged as a star last year and is a future NBA player. Huestis is one of the most versatile (and underrated) players in the nation. The backcourt tandem of Randle and Bright is solid. Brown is returning from a hip injury and has looked stellar in the preseason. The Cardinal have a solid bench, possibly the deepest in the conference.

Bad News: Stanford returns nearly the entire roster from last season. All kidding aside, this same group of players were relatively underwhelming last year. As a team, they struggled with their shooting (finishing dead last in the conference). They also showed a propensity to wilt under pressure.

Bottom Line: Stanford will go dancing this year – for the time in the Johnny Dawkins-era. In the process, they may just save their coach's job. However, the Cardinal will likely be one-and-done in the tourney.

7. California

Projected Starting Lineup: F – David Kravish (Jr.); F – Richard Solomon (Sr.); G/F – Jabari Bird (Fr.); G – Tryone Wallace (So.); G – Justin Cobbs (Sr.)

Key Reserves: G/F – Ricky Kreklow (Jr.); G – Jordan Matthews (Fr.); G/F – Jeff Powers (Sr.); C – Kameron Rooks (Fr.); F – Christian Behrens (Jr.)

Good News: California returns four starters from last year's squad, a team that tied for second place in the conference and made the NCAA tournament. Cobbs, a senior, is one of the best point guards in the conference. The other returning starters (Kravish, Solomon, and Wallace) should provide the Bears with a well-balanced attack. The Bears are looking forward to the arrival of Bird, the highest-rated recruit in the program's history. The rest of the recruiting class is solid as well.

Bad News: Allen Crabbe, the Pac-12 Player of the Year last season, left college early for the NBA. Although Bird is capable of replacing some of that production, the Bears lost a lot of leadership and intangibles with Crabbe and Thurman, a post player who graduated. Cal's big men were often outmatched last season – and that could be a concern again this year.

Bottom Line: California is well coached and will compete hard this season. Unfortunately, they slightly regressed from last season, while other teams in the conference leap-frogged them. The Bears will probably be a bubble team most of the year, but will narrowly miss the NCAA tourney. Instead, they are headed to the NIT tournament.

8. Washington

Projected Starting Lineup: F/C – Perris Blackwell (Sr.); F – Shawn Kemp, Jr. (Jr.); G/F – C.J. Wilcox (Sr.); G – Andrew Andrews (So.); Nigel Williams-Goss (Fr.)

Key Reserves: F – Desmond Simmons (Jr.); G – Darin Johnson (Fr.); F – Jernard Jarreau (So.); G – Hikeem Stewart (Jr.); G/F – Mike Anderson (Jr.)

Good News: Wilcox, one of the best shooters in the country, is back for his senior season. Along with Andrews and highly touted freshman Williams-Goss, the Huskies will have a solid backcourt this season. Blackwell, a post player who transferred from San Francisco, should provide interior scoring for Washington. Kemp Jr. has improved and should have a larger role this season. The Huskies have an athletic bench led by Jarreau and Johnson, a four-star recruit.

Bad News: The Huskies don't have a clear-cut leader on this year's squad. Wilcox is great, but is more of a "silent leader" on the court. Williams-Goss has the potential to be an all-conference guard someday, but he's probably not ready to take a leadership role quite yet. Washington will also miss N'Diaye, who was an intimidating presence in the paint last season.

Bottom Line: Overall, the talent level is down for Washington this season. They have the pieces in place to contend in the future, but this is a transitional year for Washington and its Dawg Pack. The Huskies are headed to the NIT tournament.

9. Oregon State

Projected Starting Lineup: C – Angus Brandt (Sr.); F – Devon Collier (Sr.); F – Eric Moreland (Jr.); G – Roberto Nelson (Sr.); G – Challe Barton (Jr.)

Key Reserves: F – Olaf Schaftenaar (So.); F – Jarmal Reid (So.); G – Langston Morris-Walker (So.); G – Malcolm Duvivier (Fr.); F/C – Daniel Gomis (So.)

Good News: Oregon State will have a trio of seniors (Brandt, Collier, and Nelson) to rely on this season. Nelson, one of the best scorers in the conference, should anchor the team. The Beavers caught a break with Brandt, who was granted a medical hardship waiver after a season-ending knee injury last year. Moreland, a versatile forward, oozes athleticism and has NBA potential.

Bad News: Ahmad Starks, who was supposed to be the starting point guard, unexpectedly transferred to Illinois in the offseason. To make matters worse, Moreland will miss the entire non-conference schedule after being suspended for 14 games this summer (for violating team rules). In addition, the Beavers did not add any significant pieces in the offseason to offset these losses.

Bottom Line: Oregon State may notch a few upset victories this season with their vaunted zone defense. However, it will not be enough to contend for an NCAA tournament berth, a feat the Beavers have not accomplished since 1990.

10. USC

Projected Starting Lineup: C- Omar Oraby (Sr.); F – Nikola Jovanovic (Fr.); G/F – Byron Wesley (Jr.); G – J.T. Terrell (Sr.); G – Pe'Shon Howard (Sr.)

Key Reserves: F – Roschon Prince (Fr.); G – Julian Jacobs (Fr.); G – Chass Bryan (So.); F – Strahinja Gavrilovic (So.); C – D.J. Haley (Sr.)

Good News: Pac-12 fans will no longer be subjected to the torturous style of play orchestrated by former coach Kevin O'Neill. With new coach Andy Enfiled at the helm, "Dunk City" has invaded Los Angeles. The Trojans are returning Oraby, Wesley, Terrell – who all played major minutes last season. Howard and Haley, two senior transfers, were added late in the offseason. Both players will provide much needed experience for USC.

Bad News: Enfield inherited a roster that isn't ideal for his up-tempo style of play. As a result, the Trojans will likely struggle adapting to this new brand of basketball. The Trojans also lack the talent to compete at a high level in the Pac-12 this season.

Bottom Line: Although the Trojans will be more entertaining to watch this season, they are a few years away from making any noise. However, don't be surprised if Enfield has this program turned around sooner rather than later.

11. Washington State

Projected Starting Lineup: C – Jordan Railey (Jr.); F – D.J. Shelton (Sr.); G/F – Que Johnson (Fr.); G – DaVonte Lacy (Jr.); G –Royce Woolridge (Jr.)

Key Reserves: Dexter Kenrich-Drew (Jr.); G – Ikenna Iroegbu (Fr.); F – Junior Longrus (So.); G – Will DiIorio (Sr.); F – James Hunter (Jr.)

Good News: Washington State has some exciting players in the backcourt this season. Woolridge and Lacy are both coming off sophomore seasons in which they averaged double figures. Johnson, a redshirt freshman, is able to play this season after being academically ineligible last year. He should make an immediate impact for the Cougars. In the frontcourt, Shelton should provide scoring and rebounding.

Bad News: Brock Motum is gone…and Washington State seemingly has nobody to replace him. In addition to the gaping hole in the middle, the Cougars do not have a true point guard to run the show. Woolridge and Lacy are both combo guards, who struggled when they were forced to play the point last season.

Bottom Line: The Cougars have struggled under Ken Bone, who took over in 2009. Unfortunately, he has not been able to attract elite talent to Pullman. If this trend continues, it does not bode well for the coach's long-term job security.

12. Utah

Projected Starting Lineup: C – Dallin Bachynski (Jr.); F – Jordan Loveridge (So.); G/F – Dakari Tucker; G – Delon Wright; G – Brandon Taylor

Key Reserves: F – Jeremy Olsen (So.); F – Renan Lenz (Sr.); G – Parker Van Dyke (Fr.); C – Marko Kovacevic (Fr.); G – Princeton Onwas (So.)

Good News: Loveridge, arguably the team's best player last year as a freshman, trimmed down this offseason and looks poised to have a monster year. Taylor was a pleasant surprise at the point and should be even better this year. Wright was one of the best JUCO players in the country last season and will pay immediate dividends for Utah. The Utes have proven to be a scrappy team under coach Larry Krystowiak.

Bad News: Utah lost a lot of experience and production due to player graduation. As a result, the Utes will be terribly inexperienced this season. Loveridge has the most career starts on the team – and he's only a sophomore. The Utes will also struggle to score this season. They return only one double-digit scorer (Loveridge) from last year's squad.

Bottom Line: The Utes will play hard, but they are simply not talented enough to compete with the upper-echelon of the conference. Krystowiak inherited a program in shambles and is slowly trying to build it back to respectability. He has made some progress on the recruiting front, but this is a long-term project.

Awards:

Player of the Year: Jahii Carson, Arizona State

Freshman of the Year: Jabari Bird, California

Defensive Player of the Year: Josh Huestis, Stanford

All-Pac-12 First Team:

G – Jordan Adams, UCLA

F – Kyle Anderson, UCLA

G – Jahii Carson, Arizona State

G – Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado

F – Dwight Powell, Stanford

All-Pac-12 Second Team:

G – Dominic Artis, Oregon

G/F – Jabari Bird, California

F – Aaron Gordon, Arizona

G – Nick Johnson, Arizona

G/F – C.J. Wilcox, Washington


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