Early 2011-12 Pac-12 Breakdown

The favorite to win the 2011-12 Pac-12 title will depend on the decisions of three players who are choosing between one more year of college and the NBA. Here's an early look at how the conference breaks down next season.

Arizona:

Losing: Jamelle Horne
Gaining: Josiah Turner, Nick Johnson, Angelo Chol, Sidiki Johnson
Possible Early Departures: Derrick Williams

Arizona has the most to gain and lose by a possible early departure. If Derrick Williams returns to school, the Wildcats could conceivably be the preseason #1 team in the country. If Williams doesn't return, UA will still be a Top 25 team most likely due to the talent and experience in the program, but the Wildcats are no question not the national contender they would be otherwise.

If Williams returns, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which UA doesn't win the Pac-12. Should he leave, Arizona will compete with a few other schools for the conference title, depending on what other players do.

Arizona State:

Losing: Ty Abbott, Rihards Kuksiks, Jamelle McMillan, Brandon Dunson
Gaining: Jahii Carson
Possible Early Departures: None

It's tough to know what to make of ASU, which severely underachieved last season. The Sun Devils have some talent and athleticism in the program, particularly with the addition of Jahii Carson, but return very little proven producers with the exception of Trent Lockett.

If Sendek were to change his offense to more of an up-tempo style, you could see guys like Carson, Lockett and Carrick Felix flourishing. However, it's tough to believe Sendek is going to change his system until he really does, especially considering he runs a style of play that he's found success with in the past.

This isn't a team that is going to compete for a Pac-12 title regardless, but there are pieces in place to be a much better squad next season. The best case scenario is still probably around the middle of the conference.

California:

Losing: Markhuri Sanders-Frison
Gaining: Christian Behrens, David Kravish
Possible Early Departures: None

With the return of everyone except Sanders-Frison, Cal should be a good team that competes for a Pac-12 title and is a very likely NCAA tournament squad.

Jorge Gutierrez should be one of the Pac-12's top players and freshman Allen Crabbe should be mentioned in the same breath with continued development. The Golden Bears aren't necessarily deep or overly talented, but they are well-coached and will have the senior leadership needed to have a tournament season.

Colorado:

Losing: Cory Higgins, Levi Knutson, Marcus Relphorde
Gaining: Damiene Cain, Spencer Dinwiddie, Askia Booker, Jeremy Adams
Possible Early Departures: Alec Burks

Colorado is facing some bad timing joining the Pac-12. The Buffs are expected to lose star Alec Burkes to the NBA Draft, meaning they'd be without the 2010-11 squad's four leading scorers next season.

The talent coming in could take some time to develop, so it's tough to see Colorado competing for the top half of the Pac-12 next season, unless Burks made the surprise decision to come back, in which case it could be a competitive team.

Oregon:

Losing: Joevan Catron, Jay-R Strowbridge
Gaining: Devoe Joseph, Carlos Emory, Jabari Brown, Brett Kingma, Bruce Barron, Austin Kuemper
Possible Early Departures: None

The loss of Joevan Catron is no doubt a big one for Oregon, but his production should be replaced by Jabari Brown, one of the top seniors in the country. Strowbridge averaged 9.5 points per game, but he's replaceable.

Gaining Minnesota transfer Devoe Joseph is also big, as the Ducks will have another scoring option in the backcourt. The frontcourt, however, is definitely going to be a concern.

The Ducks should have a team that competes to be in the first half of the conference, depending on what production Oregon can get from its big men. The guards are going to score points, but there is going to be a serious hole in the middle, making this team's ultimate upside questionable. If Oregon can get anything down low, Oregon will have an outside shot to make the NCAA tournament, assuming Brown and Joseph perform at the level they're capable of.

Oregon State:

Losing: Calvin Haynes, Omari Johnson, Saniel Deane, Lathen Wallace
Gaining: Daniel Gomis, Charles Barton Jr.
Possible Early Departures: None

This is a tough team to peg, but one that is most likely slated to be in the middle of the conference.

On paper, Oregon State has the players to be competitive. Jared Cunningham should be one of the Pac-12's best players, Ahmad Starks had a nice freshman season and Roberto Nelson and Devon Collier had impressive moments as well.

Still, you're looking at a lot of inexperience and maybe not the top level talent necessary to consistently win in the conference. It's a team that could finish in the top six, but not a squad that should be expected to compete for the NCAA tournament.

Stanford:

Losing: No one
Gaining: Chasson Randle
Possible Early Departures: None

Despite finishing 8th in the Pac-10 last season, this is a team that could really make a jump in 2011-12. Jeremy Green will be one of the Pac-12's best players and Josh Owens is more than capable complement in the post.

Dwight Powell could make a big jump forward as a sophomore, and Anthony Brown should be expected to make similar progress.

Stanford is weak at point guard, which is no doubt a concern, and other than the aforementioned players, there isn't a lot more talent to work with. However, standard freshman to sophomore progress from Powell and Brown combined with the expected production of Green and Owns should make the Cardinal a team that finishes in the first half of the conference.

It shouldn't be expected to make the NCAA tournament, but if Stanford hits its potential, it's a team that is in the conversation.

UCLA:

Losing: Tyler Honeycutt
Gaining: Norman Powell, De'End Parker, Travis Wear, David Wear
Possible Early Departures: Malcolm Lee

The success of this team really depends on Malcolm Lee's decision. He's already put his name in the NBA Draft, and whether or not he returns to school is a question mark.

Should Lee come back to school, UCLA has the pieces to be a Top 10 squad and a Pac-12 title contender. Should Lee stay in the draft, UCLA is solid but likely about as good as it was this season. Regardless, it is a top 3-4 team in the league, but UCLA could really bounce back nationally if Lee returns.

Point guard is solid but not spectacular with the combination of Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson. There are a ton of players in the front court, and if Josh Smith loses weight he should have a huge season next to Reeves Nelson, who will always get his points.

One of Powell and Parker should be able to step in and play, but the overall potential of this team is really hinging on Lee's decision.

USC:

Losing: Alex Stepheson, Nikola Vucevic, Marcus Simmons, Donte Smith
Gaining: Greg Allen, James Blasczyk, Alexis Moore, DeWayne Dedmon, Byrson Wesley, Aaron Fuller
Possible Early Departures: None more (Vucevic already declared)

The additions of Fuller and Dedmon will give USC some bodies in the frontcourt, but not nearly enough to replace the production of Stepheson and Vucevic. Losing Simmons' defense and Smith's sporadic three-point shooting also hurts.

Jio Fontan and Maurice Jones should be able to put up some points for the Trojans in the backcourt and Fuller is a nice piece in the frontcourt. However, this team just doesn't have enough scoring to be a first half of the Pac-12 squad.

Utah:

Losing: Jay Watkins
Gaining: George Matthews
Possible Early Departures: None

The firing of head coach Jim Boylen from a 13-18 team doesn't give much reason to have confidence in Utah's squad next season. That said, the Utes do return most of the team, including leading scorers Will Cyburn and Josh Watkins, who average 31.6 points per game between the two of them.

As of now, it's tough to project the Utes' team next season, but as it is you wouldn't expect them to compete for the first half of the Pac-12.

Washington:

Losing: Isaiah Thomas, Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Justin Holiday, Venoy Overton
Gaining: Andrew Andrews, Tony Wroten, Jernard Jarreau, Hikeem Stewart, Kevin Davis
Possible Early Departures: None (Thomas already declared)

It's hard to know what to make of this team but while there was some hope of Washington competing for the Pac-12 title next season, that was really lost with Isaiah Thomas' surprise announcement that he would be entering the NBA Draft.

The backcourt still has scorers, shooters and distributors and the Huskies should be fun to watch, as always.

However, there is a serious concern about the Huskies' frontcourt. Aziz N'Diaye is a returning starter, but only averages 4.6 points and 5.7 rebounds in 17.4 minutes. It's hard to point to a place where Washington will be able to replace Bryan-Amaning's production of 15.2 points and 8.0 rebounds per game.

The Huskies should compete for an NCAA tournament team berth and has the talent to finish in the top four of the conference, but the team's overall upside has to be considered questionable unless Lorenzo Romar finds someone to step up in the post.

Washington State:

Losing: No one
Gaining: D.J. Shelton, Greg Sequele, Davonte Lacy
Possible Early Departures: Klay Thompson

Washington State had the players to be a much better team than it was this season, but it was a crazy year with injuries, suspensions and questionable team chemistry.

Klay Thompson is expected to go pro, which would technically end all hopes of the Cougars making too much out of their 2011-12 season. The trio of DeAngelo Casto, Faisal Aden and Reggie Moore would make Washington State a team that should still finish in the top half of the conference, but it wouldn't likely be an NCAA tournament squad without some seriously improved team chemistry.

That said, if Thompson does return, Washington State should compete for the Pac-12 title and would easily make the NCAA tournament. There appears to be some issues within the program that need to get straightened out, but there would be too much talent in the starting lineup to not field a good team.

Thompson's upcoming decision will really make or break this team's potential.

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