The past few years have been especially trying for Pac-10 basketball fans. The two traditional powers have been in turmoil; Arizona missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in a quarter century due to the chaos surrounding Lute Olson's retirement while UCLA posted a rare losing record in 2010. With the exception of Washington, no schools were there to pick up the slack.
While the conference struggled on the court the last few years, events were unfolding that laid the groundwork for a conference revival.
Sean Miller's decision to come to Arizona in 2009 was a key component to an eventual Pac-12 national resurgence.
In just his second year Miller guided the Wildcats to the Pac-10 regular season championship and within one possession of reaching the program's first Final Four in ten years.
He has simultaneously dominated the high school recruiting scene by signing a slew of elite recruits. He reeled in Scout's fourth ranked 2011 recruiting class and is in contention for the top class of 2012. The Arizona Wildcats figure to be among the elite programs in the nation as long as Miller is the coach.
Arizona's chief nemesis for the last quarter century, UCLA, has also struggled in recent years due in part to missed recruiting evaluations, but coach Ben Howland, leader of three straight UCLA final four teams, seems to have corrected course as the Bruins recently received a commitment from Kyle Anderson, the top rated small forward in the class of 2012. The Bruins are far from done as they are heavily involved with Shabazz Muhammad, the top-rated player in the 2012 class.
"Getting Kyle Anderson was huge," said Scout national analyst Josh Gershon. "Besides being an elite player, he gives UCLA major credibility on the recruiting scene and you can expect it to pay dividends with other talented kids in the next few classes."
With a boon in recruiting and a coach with a sterling track record it's reasonable to assume UCLA will perform at a high national level for the foreseeable future.
While UCLA and Arizona struggled in recent years, the Washington Huskies filled some of the resulting power vacuum. Over the last three years the Huskies have won the most Pac-10 conference games and were the only Pac-10 team to go to the NCAA tournament each year.
"Washington really relies on Seattle high school kids so it's not good for them if elite players don't come out on a yearly basis," Gershon said. "The recent recruiting success of Arizona and UCLA also hurts. But Romar has proven he's great recruiter and I would expect him to maintain success."
While Washington has been the most consistent Pac-10 program over the past few years, the California Golden Bears are a favorite to win the upcoming season. While Cal will lose numerous key contributors after the 2011-12 season, as long as one person stays the program will be fine.
"As long as (Mike) Montgomery is at California they are going to be good," Gershon said. "He's a real good coach. He'll get the kids he needs to compete and his track record obviously speaks for itself."
While Stanford has fallen off the lofty perch of the Montgomery years, there is reason to be excited in Palo Alto. Coach Johnny Dawkins' squad figures to be competitive as he will be able to roll out a lineup comprised of Dwight Powell along with some very talented perimeter players.
The conference dark horse for the coming years figures to be Oregon. Located in the talent laden Pacific Northwest, the school has first class facilities and is the Nike school.
"Altman is going to get good players," Gershon said. "Oregon is definitely a school to keep a close eye on."
While Arizona and UCLA figure to consistently comprise the conference elite, there figures to be a multitude of other quality Pac-12 programs. With the increased talent coming into the league combined with numerous relatively young coaches, expect to see the Pacific-12 conference emerge in a major way in the coming seasons.