2014-15 Basketball Preview: Pac-12 Conference
Losing talent to the pros is nothing new, but the amount of talent exiting the conference would suggest that the Pac-12 is due for a drop-off this upcoming season. Arizona reloaded its roster and will be the clear-cut favorite to repeat as conference champions. However, after Arizona, the conference is wide open . The parity amongst the rest of the pack should make for an exciting season of Pac-12 basketball. We’ll take a deeper look at the conference and offer our predictions for the upcoming 2014-15 season. Projected Order of Finish: 1. Arizona Projected Starting Lineup: C – Caleb Tarczewski (Jr.); F – Brandon Ashley (Jr.); F – Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (So.); G – Stanley Johnson (Fr.); G – T.J. McConnell (Sr.) Key Reserves: G – Gabe York (Jr.); C – Dusan Ristic (Fr.); G – Elliott Pitts (So.); G – Parker Jackson-Cartwright (Fr.); F – Craig Victor (Fr.) Good News: Arizona’s roster is stockpiled with NBA-level talent and coach Sean Miller has been able to persuade four and five-star recruits to buy into the team philosophy. The Wildcats brought in a top-5 recruiting class – highlighted by blue chipper Stanley Johnson – to compliment the talented returning core of Tarczewski, Ashley, RHJ, and McConnell. This year’s squad seemingly has all the ingredients to be a great team: size, talent, athleticism, and depth. Bad News: Despite reloading their roster with elite talent, Arizona will miss the leadership and defensive grittiness of Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon. And the Wildcats’ perimeter shooting – an Achilles heel last year – could very well plague them again this season. Bottom Line: Barring unforeseen injuries or a meltdown of epic proportions, Arizona should run away with the Pac-12 crown – and it won’t even be close. If they can improve their perimeter shooting and continue to defend at a high level, Miller will finally shake the label of being the best active coach to never make a Final Four. 2. Colorado Projected Starting Lineup: C – Josh Scott (Jr.); F – Wesley Gordon (So.); F – Xavier Johnson (Jr.); G – Askia Booker (Sr.); G – Xavier Talton (Jr.); Key Reserves: F – Tre’Shaun Fletcher (So.); G – Jaron Hopkins (So.); G – Dominique Collier (Fr.); F – Dustin Thomas (So.); F – Tory Miller (Fr.) Good News: Colorado returns nearly its entire rotation from a team that reached the NCAA Tournament last season. A trio of upperclassmen – Booker, Johnson, and Scott, an all-conference selection – will lead the attack this season. Role players like Gordon, Talton, and Fletcher and poised to have a bigger role this year. The Buffaloes have a nice blend of size and athleticism on their roster, which goes about two deep at every position. Under coach Tad Boyle, you can always count on Colorado to control the tempo and crash the boards. Bad News: This was barely a .500 team after they lost their star player (Spencer Dinwiddie) to a season-ending injury in mid-January. And despite their rebounding and tenacious defense, the Buffs struggled mightily to score points down the stretch last season. Remember, they recorded a mere 48 points in an embarrassing loss to Pittsburgh in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Bottom Line: The Buffaloes will continue to flourish under Boyle and will earn its fourth consecutive bid to the NCAA tourney. Colorado is talented, well-coached, and disciplined. That’s a good combination when you’re looking to make a run in a March. Don’t be surprised to see this team make the Sweet 16. 3. Utah Projected Starting Lineup: C – Dallin Bachynski (Sr.); F- Brekkott Chapman (Fr.); F – Jordan Loveridge (Jr.); G – Delon Wright (Sr.); G – Brandon Taylor (Jr.) Key Reserves: G/F – Dakari Tucker (Jr.); F – Jeremy Olsen (Jr.); F – Kyle Kuzma (Fr.); G – Isaiah Wright (Fr.); F – Chris Reyes (Jr.) Good News: The rebuilding project is well ahead of schedule in Salt Lake City. Utah enters the season ranked No. 25 in the AP poll and are led by Wright, who went from a virtual unknown to budding superstar in only one year. Loveridge is one of the conference’s best forwards and Taylor is a steadying presence at the point. Bachynski, a defensive-minded center, will anchor the frontcourt. He should get plenty of help from Chapman, a highly regarded combo forward and top-100 recruit. Bad News: Simply put, Utah could not close out games last season. They had an abysmal 2-8 record in games decided by five points or less. They need to drastically improve in this area if they want to be considered an elite team. The Utes – who like to use a deep bench – must also rely on a bevvy of inexperienced reserves. Bottom Line: Utah is a burgeoning Pac-12 program. After the school fell into an abyss of mediocrity and irrelevance, coach Larry Krystowiak was able to restore respectability to the once-proud program. Now, in his fourth season, he will lead the Utes back to the NCAA Tournament, where they should win a game or two. 4. Stanford Projected Starting Lineup: C – Stefan Nastic (Sr.); F – Reid Travis (Fr.); F – Rosco Allen (Jr.); G – Anthony Brown (Sr.); G – Chasson Randle (Sr.) Key Reserves: G – Marcus Allen (So.); F – Grant Verhoeven (Jr.); G – Robert Cartwright (Fr.); F – Michael Humphrey (Fr.); G- Dorian Pickens (Fr.) Good News: Stanford returns three senior starters from a team that made the Sweet 16 last season. The most notable is Randle, an all-conference point guard who has steadily improved each season. The other two seniors, Nastic and Brown, should provide scoring and leadership. Rosco Allen, a versatile forward, looks to bounce back from an injury that sidelined him most of last season. The Cardinal also have a strong incoming class, ranked No. 17 by Scout. Humphrey, Travis, and Cartwright are all expected to contribute as freshmen. Bad News: Under Johnny Dawkins, Stanford has developed a reputation of being perpetual underachievers. To compound matters, the Cardinal lost Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis to graduation. The versatile forward tandem was the identity of Stanford basketball the last few seasons. Bottom Line: Stanford has just enough talent (and experience) to go dancing for a second consecutive season. However, don’t expect another magical run this time around. They are likely a one-and-done team in this year’s tournament. 5. UCLA Projected Starting Lineup: F/C – Tony Parker (So.); F – Kevon Looney (Fr.); G – Isaac Hamilton (So.); G – Norman Powell (Sr.); G – Bryce Alford (So.) Key Reserves: C – Thomas Welsh (Fr.); G/F – Noah Allen (So.); F – Wannah Bail (So.); F – Gyorgy Goloman (Fr.) Good News: UCLA signed Scout’s No. 3 recruiting class, headlined by the trio of five-star big men Looney, Welsh, and Jonah Bolden. The incoming freshmen should be ready to contribute from day one. Powell, a senior guard, leads a solid core of returning players. The Bruins are also expecting a breakout season from Parker and Alford, both of whom will have increased roles this season. However, the difference maker may be Hamilton, an ultra-talented shooting guard who sat out last year as a transfer. Bad News: The Bruins lost as much talent as any Pac-12 school, having three players selected in the first round of the NBA draft. To make matters worse, their depth took a major hit before the season even began. Bolden, a five-star recruit, was ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA and forced to sit out the season. And a few days later, transfer guard Jon Octeus, a potential starter, was denied admission to the school. That leaves UCLA with only nine scholarship players this season. Bottom Line: UCLA may not have a deep roster, but they have some exceptionally talented players. If they can stay healthy and get strong point guard play from Alford, they will sneak into the NCAA Tournament. However, these Bruins are likely to bow out in the first round. 6. Washington Projected Starting Lineup: C – Robert Upshaw (So.); F – Jernard Jarreau (Jr.); G/F – Mike Anderson (Sr.); G – Andrew Andrews (Jr.); Nigel Williams-Goss (So.) Key Reserves: G – Darin Johnson (Fr.); F – Shawn Kemp, Jr. (Sr.); G/F – Quevyn Winters (Jr.); G – Jahmel Taylor (So.); C – Giles Dierickx (Fr.) Good News: Williams-Goss returns for his sophomore season after flirting with the idea of leaving school early. He has plenty of help in the backcourt with Andrews, Johnson, and Anderson. However, the most improved area of the team is their frontcourt. Upshaw, a 7-foot transfer from Fresno State, is a skillful shot-blocker with NBA potential. And Jurreau, a 6-foot-10 athletic forward , returns after sustaining a season-ending ACL injury last year. Bad News: The Huskies lost C.J. Wilcox – and his 18 points per game – to the NBA. It’s unlikely any one player will be able to replace his production. And despite his potential, there has been mixed reviews about Upshaw this preseason. Washington has been trending downward the last few seasons, and may feel the pressure to save their coach, who is firmly on the hot seat heading into the 2014-15 season. Bottom Line: Led by their stellar point guard, Washington will have a balanced attack this season. They should be much improved and fight for a NCAA tournament berth. However, they will likely be on the wrong side of the bubble come March. 7. Arizona State Projected Starting Lineup: C – Eric Jacobsen (Jr.); F – Willie Atwood (Jr.); F – Shaquielle McKissic (Sr.); G – Roosevelt Scott (Jr.); G – Tra Holder (Fr.) Key Reserves: F – Jonathan Gilling (Sr.); G – Gerry Blakes (Jr.); G – Bo Barnes (Sr.); F – Savon Goodman (So.); F/C – Connor MacDougall (Fr.) Good News: The NCAA granted McKissic a sixth year of eligibility this summer – and he returns as the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. In addition to McKissic, Arizona State returns a group of solid role players in Gilling, Barnes, and Jacobsen. The Sun Devils signed a talented, yet underrated, seven-man recruiting class. Among the newcomers are four highly touted JUCO transfers – Atwood, Goodman, Blakes and Scott. The recruiting haul also features Holder, a four-star point guard, who will see significant playing time as a freshman. Bad News: Arizona State lost their three top players – Jahii Carson, Jordan Bachynski and Jermaine Marshall – from a squad that made the NCAA Tournament. The trio accounted for 60 percent of their scoring last season. However, a bigger issue might be the loss of the conference’s all-time leading shot blocker (Bachynski). Without a proven rim protector patrolling the paint, the undersized Sun Devils could be in big trouble. Bottom Line: With seven newcomers on the roster, it may take some time for this team to gel. However, they will come together just in time for Pac-12 play. Ultimately, Arizona State will be better than most pundits think, but it won’t be good enough to go dancing. Instead, this team will have to settle for an NIT berth. 8. California Projected Starting Lineup: F – David Kravish (Sr.); F – Christian Behrens (Sr.); G/F – Jabari Bird (So.); G – Jordan Matthews (So.); G – Tryone Wallace (Jr.) Key Reserves: G – Sam Singer (So.); F – Dwight Tarwater (Sr.); C – Kingsley Okoroh (Fr.); F – Roger Moute a Bidas (So.) Good News: California might have the best collection of wing players in the conference with Bird, Wallace, and Matthews. After a disappointing freshman campaign, Bird is ready to live up to the hype that he garnered as a five-star prospect coming out of high school. In the frontcourt, the Bears will rely heavily on rising senior forward Kravish, who is a versatile big man with surprising athleticism. Singer, a combo guard, will provide solid play off the bench. Bad News: The Bears have major concerns at the point guard and center positions. They do not have a pure point on the roster after former signee Ahmaad Rorie decommitted in April as a result of Mike Montgomery’s retirement. Unfortunately, this leaves the point guard duties to Wallace or Singer, who are better suited to play off the ball. Cal received even more bad news in July when Kameron Rooks, the team’s projected starting center, suffered a season-ending ACL injury. As a result, the Bears will have a terribly thin bench. Bottom Line: This is a transitional year for California. New coach Cuonzo Martin has some talent on his roster, but there is simply not enough firepower to make a significant run in the Pac-12. This team is likely bound for the NIT Tournament. 9. Oregon Projected Starting Lineup: C – Michael Chandler (Jr.); F – Dwayne Benjamin (Jr.); F – Elgin Cook (Jr.); G – Joseph Young (Jr.); G – Ahmaad Rorie (Fr.) Key Reserves: F – Dillon Brooks (Fr.); F – Jordan Bell (Fr.); G – Casey Benson (Fr.); G – Jalil Abdul-Bassit (Sr.) Good News: Young returns as one of the conference’s leading scorers. The all-conference second-team selection might average over 20 points per game this season. Cook, the Ducks’ only other rotation player from last season, will provide athleticism and versatility. Oregon will also get production from Chandler and Benjamin, who came from the JUCO ranks. The other newcomers (Rorie, Brooks and Bell) will play significant roles as freshman. Bad News: You would be hard-pressed to find another school that endured as much turmoil as Oregon since the end of last season. Five seniors graduated, sophomore forward Ben Carter transferred and top recruits JaQuan Lyle and Ray Kasongo failed to qualify academically. Oh…and don’t forget about the rape scandal that resulted in the expulsion of three players, starters Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson, as well heralded transfer Brandon Austin. When the dust settled, Oregon was left with only nine scholarship players – and only two returners who saw significant action last year. Bottom Line: Oregon was poised to make a third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament – and pose the biggest threat to Arizona this season. But then the wheels fell off the wagon. Dana Altman is a great coach, but even he can’t overcome all of the obstacles this season. 10. USC Projected Starting Lineup: F – Malik Martin (Fr.); F – Nikola Jovanovic (So.); G – Katin Reinhardt (So.); G – Elijah Stewart (Fr.); G – Jordan McLaughlin (Fr.) Key Reserves: G – Julian Jacobs (So.); F – Darion Clark (So.); F – Malik Marquetti (Fr.); F – Strahinja Gavrilovic (Jr.); G – Chass Bryan (Jr.) Good News: Coach Andy Enfield was able to successfully land USC’s highest rated recruiting class (ranked No. 12 by Scout) in his first year on the job. Three members of that class (McLaughlin, Stewart and Martin) are expected to start on opening night. The Trojans are also expecting big things from Reinhardt (UNLV) and Clark (Charlotte), a couple of transfers who excelled at their previous schools. However, the Trojans will go as far Jovanovich takes them. He was a pleasant surprise as a freshman – and should be one of the conference’s premier post players this season. Bad News: The Trojans are painfully inexperienced. With no seniors and only three juniors on the roster, expect some major growing pains this season. A lack of shooting and perimeter defense will be chief concerns for USC. Bottom Line: Enfield is recruiting at a high level and assembling the appropriate personnel to run his vaunted breakneck style of play. However, the Trojans are a year (or two) away from making a serious run in the Pac-12. Until then, they will at least be enjoyable to watch. 11. Washington State Projected Starting Lineup: C – Jordan Railey (Sr.); F – Junior Longrus (Jr.); G/F – Dexter Kenrich-Drew (Sr.); G – DaVonte Lacy (Sr.); G – Ike Iroegbu (So.) Key Reserves: G/F – Que Johnson (So.); F – Aaron Cheatum (Jr.); F – Josh Hawkinson (So.); G – Ny Redding (Fr.); G – Trevor Dunbar (Fr.) Good News: The Ken Bone era has finally come to an end after a dreadful five-year run in Pullman. New coach Ernie Kent inherited a squad that returns most of its eight-man rotation from a season ago, including senior guard DaVonte Lacy who averaged 19.4 points per game. Kenrich-Drew, a savvy wing player will provide additional scoring and leadership for the Cougars. Kent has expressed a keen desire to run this season and he has the athletes (Longrus, Johnson and Iroegbu) to make that happen. Bad News: This is largely the same bunch of players that finished 11th in the Pac-12 last season. Experience is important – but that doesn’t compensate for the lower-tier talent the Cougars possess. They were at or near the bottom of most statistical categories last season and failed to add any newcomers that will move the needle. Bottom Line: The Wazzu faithful are undoubtedly ecstatic to get rid of Ken Bone. However, don’t expect Kent to turn around this program overnight. This is a long-term rebuilding project for the Cougars. 12. Oregon State Projected Starting Lineup: F – Daniel Gomis (Jr..); F – Olaf Schaftenaar (Jr.); G – Langston Morris-Walker (Jr.); G – Gary Payton II (Jr.); G – Malcolm Duvivier (So.) Key Reserves: G/F – Victor Robbins (Jr.); F – Jarmal Reid (Jr.); F – Cameron Oliver (Fr.); C – Cheikh N’diaye (So.) All rebuilding projects need a starting point – and the 2014-15 season is the dawn of a new era for Oregon State basketball. New coach Wayne Tinkle should inject some enthusiasm into an otherwise apathetic fan base. Bad News: The Beavers were decimated by offseason graduations, early exits to the pros and a transfer. They lost all five starters from last year’s team and their returning scorer (Morris-Walker) averaged a paltry four points per game last season. And if that doesn’t paint a picture of how bleak this season will be, then consider the following statement. Last week Oregon State lost an exhibition game 57-47 to Western Oregon. FYI – Western Oregon is a Division-II school. Bottom Line: Oregon State will struggle against Pac-12 competition. The cupboard is bare for Tinkle – and it’s not inconceivable to think the Beavers will fail to win a conference game this season. They are truly that bad. ---------------------------------- Awards: Player of the Year: Delon Wright, Utah Freshman of the Year: Stanley Johnson, Arizona Defensive Player of the Year: T.J. McConnell, Arizona All-Pac-12 First Team: G/F – Stanley Johnson, Arizona G – T.J. McConnell, Arizona F – Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona G – Jabari Bird, California F/C – Josh Scott, Colorado G – Joseph Young, Oregon G – Chasson Randle, Stanford F – Kevon Looney, UCLA G – Delon Wright, Utah G – Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington
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