It was quite a Cinderella season for the Buffs. Coming into the season expectations weren't very high, with many prognosticators slotting them in the bottom fourth of the Pac-12, but they ended up going 24-12, won four straight games to win the Pac-12 Tournament and get a berth in the NCAA Tournament, where they bumped off UNLV in the first round before losing to Baylor in the second. It was only the fourth time since 1969 that Colorado made it to the Dance.
Head Coach Tad Boyle received accolades, and deservedly so.
What the successful season did, among many things, was help Boyle sign the #22-ranked class in the country, and potentially set up the program for an upward swing for years to come.
The 2012-2013 season, though, could be a bit of a coming-back-to-Earth story for Colorado. They lose three senior starters and project to having a very young team next season, without a senior and only a couple of juniors that you could see being in the primary rotation.
It all starts with junior Andre Roberson, the 6-7 forward who averaged a double-double last season (11.6/11.1). He is one of the best rebounders in the country, and he could possibly be one of the nation's best all-around post players by the end of next season.
Also part of any starting lineup will be sophomores, 6-4 Spencer Dinwiddie and 6-1 Askia Booker. Dinwiddie will be the primary point guard, coming off a breakout frosh season where he shot a surprising 44% from three. The scrappy Booker is more of a shooting guard but will defend the smaller opposing guard.
Those three are clearly set, but then the rest is unknown. One of Colorado's big losses is post Austin Dufault, leaving a hole to fill in the middle. It could be either the bulky back-up center from last season, junior Shane Harris-Turks, or one of a couple of talented incoming freshmen -- 6-9 Josh Scott or 6-8 Wesley Gordon. Both of the frosh will have a ways to go from a strength standpoint, and have limited offensive games. Scott is a little bigger and more advanced, so we could see him moving into the starting lineup fairly quickly.
Junior wing Jeremy Adams, who got limited playing time last season, will probably fill the other starting spot, unless 6-6 freshman Xavier Johnson steps ahead of him.
Freshmen Chris Jenkins and Xavier Talton will probably provide depth, along with senior guard Sabatino Chen.
Colorado should also benefit from a pre-season trip to France, and the extra 10 days of practice that goes with it.
You can't count out any team that has Roberson -- and Dinwiddie and Booker -- but they're middle-of-the-conference level with so many unknowns.
There just isn't much hope for the Utes in 2012-2013. Last season they finished 6-26, and 3-15 in the Pac-12 (11th), and they lose seven players from the program, including two starters.
They do have eight new players coming in and there is a good chance that those eight will be better than the seven that departed. But there's also a good chance the five new freshmen among the eight will almost certainly go through some growing pains.
Utah is, really, hoping for a Colorado-type of season, where a small core of veterans mesh with some more-talented-than-expected newcomers for an against-all-odds miraculous season.
Sounds like a Hollywood pitch.
In reality, the Utes will probably have more talent than they did last season, but that's not saying much. Some of the guys that left were one-year stop-gaps that were intended to assist with the transition in coach Larry Krystkowiak's first year on the job. Krystkowiak is hoping that his three transfers and five freshmen will be a considerable upgrade.
The Utes start with a solid center inside, 6-10 senior Jason Washburn, who put up solid numbers a year ago (11.4, 6.2). At least Washburn knows the value of a big man drawing fouls and making his free throws (77%). There is also one other returning starter, 6-4 senior wing Cedric Martin, a decently athletic shooter who was more of a second or third option last season, and will have to be more.
So much will depend on 5-10, junior transfer point guard Glen Dean from Eastern Washington, who reports indicate is a decent scorer, and was named the Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year in 2009-2010. He actually underwent brain surgery in the off-season but is expected to make a full recovery. The transfer from LSU, 6-4 junior wing Aaron Dotson, is a former high school prospect from Seattle who was a starter in Baton Rouge and showed a pretty consistent three-point stroke (37.5%). Jared Dubois, the 6-3 guard will transfer from Loyola Marymount and be immediately eligible for one more year.
Among the newcomers that Utah is counting on the most is Jordan Loveridge, the 6-6, 220-pound freshmen, who was the jewel of Krystkowiak's recruiting class and will probably step in and start at the power forward spot. Loveridge is one of those undersized power forwards that always tends to give the bigger-sized versions fits since he can face up but is also quick with his back to the basket. He's probably at least a year away from really finding himself, but he'll have to be throw into the fire early.
After that, Krystkowiak will try to find a bench among a ragtag crew (another Hollywood pitch line). In the frontcourt he won't have many options: There is 7-0 sophomore Dallin Bachynski, the younger brother of ASU's Jordan Bachynski who is returning from a Mormon mission; and 6-10 frosh post Jeremy Olson, who was considered a solid mid-major level prospect out of high school that also is returning from a Mormon mission. In the backcourt, back-up point guard duties will probably go to 5-9 freshman Brandon Taylor, who is one of the small, quick, pesky types. Another freshman, 6-3 Justin Seymour, could also get some time at point but is more likely a shooting guard.
Utah fans found some encouragement from some late-season wins and, given their circumstances, considered it an accomplishment that the Utes finished in 11th and not the cellar of the Pac-12. Krystkowiak's impact on the program will start to resonate and probably be worth a few more wins in 2012-2013, but it's going to be another tough season, unless that Hollywood storyline comes through.
If Utah is going to be a team with many new faces, you'll definitely also need a media guide when you watch USC. USC has had four players leave their program, and has added six new players and gotten a couple back from sitting out last season.
Let's start inside and work our way to the backcourt.
The 7-foot junior, Dewayne Dedmon, is the real known quantity in the frontcourt. WIth an NBA body and good athleticism, Dedmon averaged 7.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1 block last season before he tore his MCL. USC had high expectations for him coming into last season, and he didn't quite live up to them, but if you expect just an average amount of improvement Dedmon should be a solid center for the Trojans.
A good guess for the starting power forward spot is Eric Wise, the 6-6, 240-pound transfer from UC Irvine who averaged 16 points per game for the Anteaters. Ari Stewart, the 6-7 transfer from Wake Forest who is a good athlete with a nice outside stroke, is a good bet for the small forward spot.
USC coach Kevin O'Neill will have a lot to mix and match in the backcourt, which must feel good after last season in which he didn't have many options.
He has Maurice Jones, the 5-7 jitterbug who led the Trojans in scoring last season with 13 points per game; There is Jio Fontan, the 5-11 lead guard who had a big role in USC's NCAA Tournament team in 2010-2011, returns from a knee injury and surgery that kept him out of the entire 2011-2012 season; and there is J.T. Terrell, the 6-3 transfer from Wake Forest who averaged 11 points per game as a freshman Demon Deacon. Terrell will have a very good chance to start immediately for the Trojans, giving them a good-sized option at the shooting guard spot that can defend the position, while also providing USC a scoring boost, which they desperately need (the Trojans averaged just 52.6 PPG and shot 27% from three last season).
There is also sophomore Byron Wesley, the 6-5 wing who showed flashes as a freshman last season and has some considerable upside. He could compete to start at either the shooting guard or small forward position.
That's seven completely viable players right there, which is probably a couple more than O'Neill had last season. He'll then have a few more legit options to give him something he might not have any idea what to do with: a bench.
Aaron Fuller, the 6-6, 240-pound senior power forward, played quite a bit last season (29 minutes per game), and averaged 10 points and 6 rebounds. Renaldo Woolridge, the 6-8 forward, transferred from Tennessee and will be immediately eligible due to a medical-hardship waiver. The 7-1, 260-pound senior James Blasczyk had to play last season, which gave him experience to fulfill the back-up center role next season. Coming in as true freshmen are Brendyn Taylor, the 6-1 combo guard from L.A. with decent athleticism and a nice stroke that we've always liked; and Serbian native Strahinja Gavrilovic, a fairly skilled 6-8 power forward, who is probably a few pounds away from playing much next season, but he has some upside.
There is an element to consider here, too, of how this team will mesh. It's a bit of O'Neill's Home for Wayward Boys, with so many transfers having left their original programs because of various issues (Terrell was arrested for a DWI). It will be interesting to see if O'Neill, who isn't exactly Father Flanagan but a difficult personality himself, can minimize the off-the-court drama.
We've analyzed UCLA's lineup for next season a few times and will do it countless more times between now and next school year, so we won't get into too much detail here.
UCLA will have the most talent in the conference, with Arizona a competitive second. With a blend of some very high-level elite freshmen and the returning players, the Bruins should have the best blend of talent and experience, too, of any team in the conference.
As we've said, any starting lineup next season for the Bruins is going to include nationally elite incoming freshmen Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson. Muhammad is quite simply a type of talent that can carry a pretty good team to the national championship. In the immortal words of a former UCLA assistant, he has the potential to "Carmelo-ize" the situation. Anderson, while he might not have as much of a flashy impact on the team as Muhammad, might have as big of an influence. Anderson has a feel for the game and a passing ability that is very rare, to go along with an advanced skill set.
A big key to UCLA's season is Josh Smith, the mammoth junior-to-be center that is saying he's taking his conditioning, training and workouts very seriously in this off-season. Smith is very talented, and with his size, he has the potential to be among a handful of players in all of college basketball that it's near impossible to match up against. If Smith has developed, and looks like he's actually delivering on his potential, UCLA has a chance to be one of the best teams in the country in 2012-2013.
UCLA will be deep up front, too, with Travis Wear and David Wear, now juniors, having been in Howland's system for two years and getting tons of playing time last season. The aren't great athletes, and just decently skilled, but they play hard and set a standard of work ethic in the program. There's also junior center Anthony Stover, who will have to develop beyond just his shot-blocking skills to probably see much of the court next winter. What was a huge pick-up for the Bruins was getting one of the elite center prospects in the country, 6-8 Tony Parker, in the late signing period. He'll, at the very least, push Smith, and if Smith falters or falls back into his immature ways, Parker will be an option to step in.
The backcourt returns starting shooting guard Tyler Lamb, who made strides as a sophomore and should be improved as a junior. Sophomore shooting guard Norman Powell is the best athlete on the team and exudes potential; if he makes advances in the off-season it will be a huge boost to next year's team. There is North Carolina point guard transfer Larry Drew, who you'd expect to compete for a starting spot or at least many minutes. There is also incoming sharp-shooting freshman, 6-4 Jordan Adams, who isn't a great athlete but might garner some playing time since one of the weaknesses of the team could be its outside shooting. He's easily the best shooter to come to the program since Mike Roll.
That's a roster that goes 11-deep, and that's 11 players who clearly can contribute at the high-major level, as opposed to some of the other teams we've written about in the conference whose rotations might be populated by quite a few mid-majors.
UCLA Coach Ben Howland will have quite a bit to figure out, however. He has some issues: 1) How does he get all this to mesh? 2) The team still isn't greatly athletic and not really made up of elite defenders, which will almost undoubtedly mean the team won't be great defensively, 3) can Howland go against the type he's established over his nine years at UCLA and actually let the team try to out-score opponents with a transition game and a looser half-court approach? And 4) Will all of the McDonald's All-Americans be happy not necessarily getting the playing time they want or the spotlight?
Defense could be the biggest question mark. If you have Anderson on the floor he has to guard an opposing forward (either power or small), even if he's running the offense on the other side of the floor. So, then, UCLA needs an effective defender to match-up against the opposing point guard. Who will that be? Drew, Powell or even Lamb? Really, overall, this team is best suited for a zone, but we all know Howland detests zones, and these potential NBA players are coming to UCLA to be taught how to play man-to-man defense, not a zone.
There's also a question of how quickly Anderson can recover from off-season surgery on his thumb, and Stover returning from shoulder surgery.
So, yes, there are details to work out. If there weren't, the Bruins would be picked to win the national championship in 2013. If a few do get worked out -- say, UCLA can actually play decent defense -- the Bruins could actually compete for the national crown. They have that kind of talent.
A big intangible is how much the character, drive and will of a player like Muhammad -- and even Anderson -- will impact a program. Muhammad's all-business attitude and competitiveness is strong enough to transform a program.
The Bruins will get those 10 extra practices and a tour of China to work through some of the issues in the pre-season.
Predicted Order of Finish for the 2012-2013 Pac-12 Season:
Early Pac-12 Hoops Analysis: Part 3