Ranking the PAC-12 back courts

The Pac-12 Conference has been long recognized for the quality of its guards and wings. Southern California is a breeding ground for the country's finest athletes, while northern California, the Puget Sound region, and even the Portland area have emerged as talent hot beds. After three down seasons, the conference is finally back on track, and as usual it's the guards that are leading the way.

PAC-12 Back Court Rankings

1) Washington

The Huskies' backcourt easily tops the conference back court rankings, and it can be argued that they belong among the top perimeter rotations in the country. Even the recent foot injury to senior co-captain Scott Suggs doesn't diminish their immense potential. Former McDonald's All-American Abdul Gaddy leads the offense and is one of the craftiest players in the conference. He'll be flanked by the top trio of shooters in the country in Suggs - who will be sidelined until early December, sophomore sensation Terrence Ross, and the conference's most dangerous three-point marksman, C.J. Wilcox. The expectations for Ross have risen to ridiculous heights – expectations range from NBA lottery pick to conference Player of the Year candidate. What is certain however, is that all three wings are capable of hitting for 20-plus points on any given night. Wilcox hit for 24 points in a breakout performance against UCLA – in the first half. If that weren't enough, the Huskies welcome freshman phenom Tony Wroten, a brilliant talent and frontrunner to win conference Freshman of the Year honors. He's already drawing raves for his attitude, defensive effort and overall commitment to the program. The Husky back court's biggest advantage may be their size - their guard rotation will average 6-foot-5 inches tall. Defensively, UW Head Coach Lorenzo Romar has long coveted a lineup with the kind of length they now possess. Their back court is long on firepower, but they're going to need it as they look to replace four veteran starters from last year's Pac-12 Tournament title holders.

2) Arizona

The Huskies may be the obvious pick to top these rankings, but the Arizona Wildcats aren't far behind – at least in terms of raw talent. The key word for the ‘Cats this season is potential, and they've got a ton of it. They'll be led by senior Kyle Fogg, one of the more underrated players in the conference and a stabilizing presence for an otherwise inexperienced backcourt rotation. Jordin Mayes and Brandon Lavender provide depth and leadership, but its the freshmen that could really make the backcourt pop. Josiah Turner is among the top freshman point guards in the country. He'll inherit the reigns from the talented Momo Jones, who unexpectedly transferred after last season's Elite Eight run. High-rising shooting guard Nick Johnson doesn't garner the same name recognition as Turner, but he may have more impact season and will be one of team's top scorers. He's an explosive athlete with serious range. If the chemistry clicks right away, they've got the potential to gel into one of better backcourt rotations in the West. It may take a couple of months to mold into shape, however.

3) California

While the California Golden Bears may lack the outrageous athleticism of Washington and Arizona, they're still scary good. Jorge Gutierrez is a front-runner for conference Player of the Year honors. He's one of the most dangerous defenders in the Pac-12 as well as one of the conference's leading returning scorers. Reigning league Freshman of the Year Allen Crabbe is a deadly shooter, and with Guterrez gives Cal a deadly 1-2 scoring punch. Point guard Brandon Smith is a steady defender whose primary responsibility will be to guide the offense and keep defenders honest. Coach Mike Montgomery's biggest challenge will be keeping his thin backcourt on the floor. With little depth, the Golden Bears need an injury-free season from Gutierrez, Crabbe, and Smith.

4) UCLA

The Bruins' guard contributions have been on the decline since Darren Collison graduated in 2008, but it appears coach Ben Howland has managed to finally stop the bleeding for the time being. At the point guard position, Howland will ask two seniors - Jerimie Anderson and Lazeric Jones - to lead the Bruins. Both players bring familiarity with UCLA's system and should do a serviceable job running the offense. When junior Malcolm Lee announced he was declaring for the NBA draft at the end of last season, sophomore Tyler Lamb was thrust into the spotlight. The athletic 6-foot-5 shooting guard showed signs of future stardom during his freshman campaign and will see his role in the offense expand significantly. It usually takes a year or two for guards to pick up Howland's system, and Lamb may be the Bruins' next breakout candidate. Six-foot-five JC transfer D'end Parker adds size and physicality to the rotation and will battle for back up minutes with touted freshman Norman Powell. While the Bruins' guards don't match up individually with Washington, Arizona and California, they aren't expected to. Their primary responsibility will be to feed their fabulous front court. Somebody is going to have to hit to hit the three-pointer consistently, though. Big seasons from Jones and Lamb, in particular, could make the difference between a Pac-12 title, rather than another disappointing season in Westwood.

5) Stanford

The Cardinal fielded the youngest team in the conference last season, but their over-reliance on youth should play major dividends this winter. Anthony Brown is one of the conference's most exciting young athletes, but must step into a primary scoring role. Incumbent point guard Jarrett Mann was serviceable, but it's freshman Chasson Randle that has the Stanford faithful really excited. During the team's preseason trip to Spain, Randle led the team in scoring on three occasions and cemented himself as the team's starting point guard heading into fall camp. Bellevue, Wash. native Aaron Bright won't overwhelm anyone with his size or athleticism, but the sophomore is a suave pass-first point guard with a high IQ and above average feel for the game. With nearly the entire roster returning, Stanford isn't going to sneak up on anybody this year.

6) Oregon

Things are finally looking up for the long under-achieving Ducks, and much of that is due to the presence of blue chip freshman guard Jabari Brown. Brown is a rugged, 6-foot-5 shooting guard who uses his big body to penetrate the paint and get to the free throw line. Fellow freshmen Brett Kingma is a slightly built volume shooter with deep range and the ability to get white hot from behind the arc. The Ducks lost talented point guard Malcolm Armstead to transfer, and will look to 5-foot-8 Jonathan Lloyd to cement the point guard spot. Senior Garrett Sim provides veteran leadership backing up the point. Second year head coach Dana Altman will also benefit from the debut of former Minnesota malcontent Davoe Joseph when he becomes eligible in December. Joseph averaged over 11 points a game for the Gophers before transferring. Realistically, like most young rotations, the Ducks are going to need some seasoning to deliver on their potential, but there's enough talent to be competitive with the host of quality Pac-12 backcourts.

7) Oregon State

The most dangerous defensive player in the conference resides in Corvallis; it's junior Jared Cunningham. His skills aren't limited to the defensive end either, as Cunningham is a legitimate scoring threat and one of the Pac-12's most dynamic athletes. Speedy 5-foot-8 Ahmad Starks emerged as one of The Beavers' top scorers during conference play. If sophomore Roberto Nelson ever manages to transition his much-hyped scoring prowess into game situations, Oregon State's back court would be one of the better rotations in the conference.

8) Arizona State

The Sun Devils will be dealt a huge blow if sensational freshman Jahii Carson doesn't qualify academically. He's an electrifying, 5-foot-10 Nate Robinson clone that would bring an explosive new dimension to an otherwise sluggish system. He's also the only pure point guard in the fold for coach Herb Sendek. Trent Lockett is an athletic, second-team all-conference pick who must emerge as ASU's go-to player after losing three key seniors - he's also the team's only viable alternative to the point guard position if Carson isn't cleared. Wings Carrick Felix and Keala King have potential, but underwhelmed in their debut seasons. The Sun Devils have good size, athleticism and potential in the back court, but need breakout seasons from Lockett and company to compete consistently in the Pac-12 this season.

9) Washington State

Last year, The Cougars' talented backcourt - which included NBA bound standout shooting guard Klay Thompson - never really gelled. Junior Reggie Moore battled injury and discipline issues, never really delivering on the potential he demonstrated during his all-freshman season in 2009. Faisal Aden also returns after enduring a promising, if injury plagued debut in Pullman. He can light it up in hurry. Standing at a solidly built 6-foot-5, former WAC Freshman of the Year Michael Ladd adds a quality scoring threat to the Cougars' undersized backcourt rotation, while athletic 6-foot-4 wing Marcus Capers will be utilized in the post to bolster their thin depth under the hoop. Freshman DaVonte Lacy is generating buzz and is expected to be an immediate factor in the rotation as well.

10) Colorado

The Buffs' inaugural season in the Pac-12 could be a frustrating one. Star shooting guard Alex Burks departed for the NBA Draft, leaving behind a patchwork backcourt rotation led by senior Nate Tomlinson, 6-foot-7 rebound machine Andre Robinson, and Utah transfer Carlon Brown, who averaged 12.6 points per game two years ago for the Utes. Talented 6-foot-5 freshman point guard Spencer Dinwiddle is expected to battle for a starting role as well and has a bright future with the program. Second year head coach Tad Boyle has some talent to work with, but lacks proven contributors. For a program that's been basically stuck in the mud for decades, it's likely to be more of the same this season.

11) Utah

Like Boyle, new Head Coach Larry Krystkowiak faces an uphill climb this season. The Utes lost leading scorer Will Clyburn to transfer and turned over nearly the rest of the roster. Point guard Josh Watkins returns at a key position but the rest of the backcourt is unknowns. Chris Hines is the only other returner and will see his role increase after averaging 18 minutes and 4.9 points per game. Freshmen Kareem Story and Anthony Odunsi are expected to battle for key roles in the rotation. there's hope for the future in touted transfers Aaron Dotson and Glen Dean, who will be eligible for the 2012-2013 season.

12) USC

Poor Trojan head coach Kevin O'Neill cant buy a break. The second year head man took over a program in total turmoil, and made it…a little less so. Had star point guard Jio Fontan not suffered a season ending ACL tear, we might be talking about an NCAA bubble team. Alas, that was not to be, and the long suffering USC hoops fans (what few remain judging by the crowds at the Galen Center) are in for another rough season. Even with Fontan, the Trojans are tiny on the perimeter. Maurice Jones stands all of 5-foot-7, but he is one of the more difficult players in the conference to cover. Using his blazing speed to blow by defenders, Jones can be a terror penetrating the lane, though he struggles from outside at times. The rest of the backcourt is filled with unknowns.


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