1) UCLA. The Bruins position at the top of these rankings is a no brainer. Their front court is heads and tails bigger, stronger and more talented than the rest of their conference competition. The action will be centered around the biggest load in all of college basketball - Josh Smith. The rotund, space-clearing sophomore tips the scales at well over 300 pounds, using his surprising mobility, strong body and explosive legs to dominate opponents. Reeves Nelson has cultivated his share of detractors during his three seasons in Westwood, but there's no denying his impact on the floor. When he's focused, he's easily one of the conferences top contributors and a legitimate Pac-12 player of the year contender – that is, if he can keep his emotions in check and avoid Ben Howland's doghouse. Six-foot-ten center Anthony Stover is a defensive force and would likely start for every other team in the conference. He's a superb shot blocker though raw offensively. A recent shoulder injury will likely sideline him until December. If that weren't enough, the Bruins added North Carolina transfers David and Travis Wear. Both players are highly skilled from the perimeter as well as under the hoop and will earn minutes at all three front court positions. Talented jump-shooting forward Brendan Lane will get whatever minutes remain. Because of their size, the Bruins should dominate the glass, but they could struggle defensively against smaller, more athletic teams. Regardless, few teams in the country have the athletes to match up with the Bruins in the post.
2) Oregon. The Ducks have had their struggles in the post in recent years, but the tide finally appears to be turning. The Ducks lost jack-of-all-trades Joevan Catron to graduation, and they'll be hard pressed to replace his 15.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. This season second-year head coach Dana Altman turned to the transfer ranks to fill out his roster, and with excellent results. Six-foot-seven post graduate Ola Ashaolu from Louisiana Tech and Touted JC transfer Carlos Emory will both play key roles. Ahaolu should emerge as one of the top newcomers in the PAC-12 after averaging 14.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per game in Conference USA. Altman also earned the services of Wake Forest center Tony Woods - a former blue chip recruit who was kicked off the team for a misdemeanor assault charge after allegedly shoving his girlfriend. At 7 feet and 250 pounds, he'll add a taller, physical presence the Ducks lacked last season. The Ducks also return 6-foot-8 senior forward Tyrone Nared, and versatile small forward E.J. Singler, both of who will provide veteran leadership. For an Oregon program that adds eight new faces, the biggest challenge will be putting the pieces together. If the Ducks gel, their front court could be as competitive as any team in the conference, save UCLA.
3) Oregon State. The 2011-2012 season is a make or break one for Oregon State Head Coach Craig Robinson. Up front, the Beavers are in pretty good shape, returning a veteran post rotation of quality talent. Joe Burton is one of the more intriguing post prospects in the Pac-12 this season. Standing 6-foot-7 and weighing in at a hefty 280 pounds, Burton is a gifted passer and incredibly versatile for a player of his immense bulk. Six-foot-seven sophomore forward Devon Collier scored 19 points and 8 rebounds in the Beavers Pac-12 tournament game against Stanford, giving Robinson a solid one-two starting punch. Six-foot-ten junior Angus Brandt and 6-foot-10 UTEP transfer Eric Moreland round out a deep Oregon State post rotation. If it weren't for the fact that the Beavers have been consistently underperforming for the better part of two decades, this would be a front court worthy of a Pac-12 title contender.
4) Arizona. While the Wildcats are short on experience up front, they're loaded with long term potential. Rugged small forward Solomon Hill can orchestrate the offense as a hybrid point forward and is one of the PAC-12s biggest breakout candidates. Senior Jesse Perry came out of know where last season, emerging as one of the Cats' most energetic, dependable players. Center Kyryl Natyazhko is a serviceable, big bodied seven-footer, who works hard despite limited skills. Coach Sean Miller can also count on the services of touted 6-foot-9 freshman Angelo Chol and raw freshmen forward Sidki Johnson, though both need time to develop. Despite an embarrassing debut loss to DII Seattle Pacific - the Wildcats were out rebounded 29-20 by the Falcons – this team is all about potential, and there's plenty of it in Tucson this season.
5) Washington. Head Coach Lorenzo Romar continues to tweak his front court philosophy as the Huskies growing stature as a west coast basketball power grant him access to a growing pool of uniquely versatile front court players. For 2011-2012 though, the Husky post rotation is a tough unit to project. Physically speaking, it's hard to go wrong with 7-foot brute Aziz N'diaye - the fleet footed but offensively limited post enforcer takes a Dikembe Mutombo-style mentality to stalking the paint. Fifth-year senior co-captain Darnell Gant is a perimeter oriented forward and one of the teams' most versatile defenders. His leadership will be critical for a team introducing seven new players to the system. Redshirt freshmen Desmond Simmons is hybrid forward with a junkyard dog mentality and excellent touch from outside. He'll likely earn major minutes as the Huskies' first forward off the bench. The other three post options are freshmen, and there's a good chance that at least one will earn a crack at joining the rotation. In typical Romar fashion 6-foot-10, 195-pound freshman Jernard Jarreau and 6-foot-8 German Martin Breunig are versatile playmaking forwards possessing guard-like abilities. Both are exceptional athletes capable of impacting the floor in multiple ways. Six-foot-ten Shawn Kemp, Jr. is a more prototypical post player, and shares his famous fathers raw athleticism around the basket. Offensively, the Huskies don't have an obvious back to the basket scorer, but the talent and size in the back court somewhat diminishes those concerns. Post productivity out of the senior Gant, as well as Simmons could, go a long way to determining the Huskies' fortunes this season
6) Stanford. Last season, the Cardinal simply didn't have the bodies to compete against the more physical front courts in the PAC-12. This year, that should change. Head coach Johnny Dawkins returns nearly everyone from last seasons team, and that should pay big dividends for their maturing posts. Dwight Powell is a talented sophomore who earned valuable experience playing for the U19 National team this past summer. The skilled 6-foot-9 forward will be a focal point for the Cardinal offense. Long-limbed 6-foot-8 post Josh Owens led the team in rebounding at 6.5 per game last season, while averaging 11.6 points per contest. He adds much needed athleticism to a unit that may struggle physically in individual match-ups. Rising sophomores John Gage and Josh Huestis - plus 6-foot-11 freshman Stefan Nastic - add size and depth to the Cardinal's post rotation, though it's all unproven. Dawkins has assembled one of the more promising young front courts in the conference, though they still may need a bit more seasoning before peaking for prime time.
7) California. Cal's front court is talented but flawed. For the Bears to compete for a conference title this season, Harper Kamp must remain healthy. The redshirt senior is one of the PAC-12's top returning scorers at 14.2 per game, but his surgically-repaired knees are being held together by duct tape and bubble gum. That means Sophomore Richard Solomon must step up. Solomon is a long-armed, slightly built 6-foot-10 sophomore with plenty of raw potential, but he's far from a finished product. Beyond that, the Bears don't have much, and they're vulnerable against taller, more physical front courts. Raw 6-foot-9 forward Bak Bak will battle another 6-foot-9 player, freshman David Kravish, and versatile forward Christian Behrens for what may prove to be significant back-up minutes. The Bears have earned considerable attention as a favorite to win the Pac-12 title, but that may be a stretch given the program's current post deficiencies.
8) USC. When the Trojans lost 7-foot transfer center DeWayne Dedmon to a broken hand, it may have doomed their already bleak hopes for a successful season. Fortunately, his injury has healed quicker than anticipated, but that may not be enough to change USC's fortunes this season. They do have Iowa transfer Aaron Fuller – a bruising, 6-foot-6, 235-pound forward who averaged 9.7 points and 6.2 rebounds a game for the Hawkeyes. Six-foot-six sophomore Garrett Jackson will be pressed into action at the power forward spot, though he's more perimeter-oriented. The Trojans also gained the services of 7-foot-1 Texas A&M transfer James Biasczyk.
9) Arizona State. The Sun Devils got little in the way of production out of the center position last season despite the presence of seven-footers Jordan Bachynski and Ruslan Pateev. With Rihards Kuksiks graduated, head coach Herb Sendek must find a way to coax some productivity out of his two headed monster in the middle, because there aren't many other options on the roster. As a result, the Sun Devils will likely utilize smaller lineups to maximize their strength on the wing with Carrick Felix, Kyle Cain and Keala King. Sendek has emphasized a more up tempo approach during the offseason and that's probably a good thing since ASU simply doesn't have the bodies up front to match up with the more physical front courts in the conference.
10) Washington State. Without defensive standout DeAngelo Casto, Ken Bone could be in trouble this season. The Cougars struggled with post depth last year despite the presence of Casto, who was one of the top post players in the conference. Their best option is 6-foot-10 Aussie Brock Motum, who average 7.6 points per game last season. While lacking great athleticism, he plays with great energy, earning his stripes with his hustle and solid jump shot. Sweet shooting 6-foot-8 perimeter oriented forward Patrick Simon returns and should take on a larger role in the offense. Bone will likely utilize off-guards Marcus Capers, Abe Lodwick and Fresno State transfer Michael Ladd to bolster their undermanned front court.
11) Colorado. The Buffalos debut season in the PAC-12 is going to be a challenging one to say the least. Six-foot-nine returning starter Austin Dufault averaged 6.6 points and 4.2 rebounds a game for the Buffs last season and will anchor the post. Off guard Andre Roberson averaged a team leading 7.8 boards per game from the wing but must take on a larger scoring role, after averaging just 6.8 points per game while improving on his 53 percent shooting from the charity stripe. Second year head coach Tad Boyle lost rising freshman 6-foot-7 forward Damian Cain who abruptly decided not to play collegiate basketball shortly before the start of the season. He was expected to play immediately.
12) Utah. If Colorado's front court situation appears bleak, the Utes have it even worse, with no proven returning front court players. Seven-foot junior Jason Washburn averaged 6 points and 4 rebounds in 19 minutes per contest. Seven-foot-three center David Foster nabbed 5.2 rebounds a game while swatting 3.2 shots, but must improve on his 2.9 per game scoring average. Right now he's out indefinitely with a foot injury he suffered in a one-point pre-season loss to DII Adams State. Besides the 7-footers rotating at the center, very little is known about their projected rotation.
Top PAC-12 Front Courts
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